The 40th Anniversary of the Violence at Kent State – a gap in our historical memory?

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5 Responses

  1. desa0122 says:

    My response is to Dena’s question of, “Why do we remember certain historical events and not others?”

    There is an age-old saying that “History is written by the winners.” In the case of Kent State, the Vietnam War was the driving force behind the protests across the country. Throughout the War, however, it was clear that America was losing, which is why we eventually left Vietnam to govern itself. Part of the reason that many do not remember an event such as Kent State is because of the very fact that we lost. No student wants to hear about how accurate all of the protestors were in opposing a war–young students like to hear that their country is invincible and mighty, building a sense of patriotism and developing nationalism. Additionally, students that are taking history classes are often ill equipped for meaningful discussions such as politics and motives. If the issue of Kent State were to ever surface, one of the obvious questions is, “Well, why was America in Vietnam to begin with? Why did America feel the need to intervene in another country’s affairs?” When even historians and politicians can’t successfully answer that question, why would we burden youth with having to deal with such heavy topics?

    I also believe another key force in why we don’t hear much about Kent State is simply the scope of history. It is an inevitable fact that history will always be increasing in its scope–time, after all, does keep progressing. With currently over 400 years of US history alone to cover, there are more important things that classes can focus on in the limited time they have. Dena brought up the issue of Pearl Harbor; where these two instances differ is that Pearl Harbor was a major factor in getting the United States into World War 2. Someone came and attacked our country–how would we respond? In the instance of Kent State, it was Americans speaking out about us attacking another country–nowhere near as grand an act.

  2. mele0051 says:

    Personally I think we remember certain events more-so than others because oh how the greater society views and remembers them. If you take Pearl Harbor, each and every year elementary school kids have special lesson plans due to the tragic day in our history. It causes an imprint in their minds that resurfaces over and over and over again. What happened at Kent State is not nationally “taught” like the start of WWII for America. I really think that our education system is to blame for what gets remembered and what doesn’t. People are going to remember repetition.

    Now, I am in no way saying the events of Kent State are nothing to worry about. The lives taken from the world that day should always be remembered and honored. Any time American lose their lives by the hands of wrongdoers, all of America should pay their respects.

    In a final statement I want to add this last thought that came in to my head. The events that have become so remembered throughout our history all seem to be either the culmination of something or the beginning of something. Some events, such as Kent State, seemingly just happened. Nothing huge before. Nothing huge after.

  3. applescruff0 says:

    As someone who was born in 1987, I know I never learned about Kent State in school; in fact, I’m pretty sure my knowledge about the event comes from some research I did after hearing the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song “Ohio” that describes it.

  4. Dena T. Smith says:

    I think all of you make interesting points. I agree that events that are the “start” of something are remembered more often as they are contextualized, synthesized into a larger historical narrative. However, I also think it’s important that we realize that we also create starting points, just as we create history more generally. The notion, for instance, that Pearl Harbor is a starting point of something is because it was the impetus for US involvement in WWII. However, we could just as easily start the narrative with attempts by European countries to involve the US in the war, with Hitler’s rise to power, etc. The way we frame starting points and turning points is just as important as the history overall — Eviatar Zerubavel’s work is focused on just this notion. If this subject interests you, I highly recommend it.

    I also think Cohort has an important effect here, for sure. Applescruff, you say you were born in the late 80’s, which is earlier than many of my students and yet you were not taught about Kent State, which points to the importance of the education system in framing events as important or irrelevant for history. I wonder if your history book mentioned the event, since we never cover everything in our textbook in the classroom or if it was deemed irrelevant overall.

  1. 5th May 2010

    […] They don’t even have to acknowledge the terrible consequences of their perfect freedom. Sociology Lens | Beyond theory, it seems frightening that we could collectively forget an event such as one in […]

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