righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
The spring of 1970 was a tense time on Ohio college campuses. I was two years post-graduation from Bowling Green State University that spring and working in the news service office there. From our 8th floor offices we could see the action below on the open quad of the campus.
“Oh my God, is he carrying a gun!?” one of my colleagues called out. Upon closer inspection we decided it was not a gun, but rather a camera with an extra long lens. We had reason to suspect it could have been a gun. It was becoming a daily routine to have outside agitators come onto campus to stir things up. Students had been protesting the seemingly unresolvable Viet Nam war for months. As the weather warmed up so did the number of protests, sit-ins, boycotts, and rallies.
Our office kept contacting the wire services to announce that we were NOT closed, as many other state universities were. As the intensity increased university administrators cancelled classes, in an effort to calm things down and protect the safety of faculty and students alike.
In May the tension boiled over. The National Guard was sent into Kent State University, 140 miles east of Bowling Green. James Michener devoted an entire book (Kent State: What Happened and Why, 1971) to sorting out what led up to the deaths of four young people on May 4, 1970. His conclusion, “Everyone contributed to it.”
Students, often egged on by outside agitators, went into town with threatening statements and stances that frightened the residents of Kent and made their livelihoods from their businesses. They pushed back against the very real prospect that their property and means of supporting themselves and their families might be vandalized and destroyed. The ROTC building on campus had already been set on fire. They had reason to be afraid.
The students were angry about a war they believed was unjust and unwinnable. They were tired of their friends and relatives being sent off to the jungles of Vietnam or criticized as traitors for refusing to go there.
The faculty was afraid of the escalating violence. Governor James Rhodes was afraid the situation would keep getting worse and the violence would spread into town. The National Guard young men he sent into get the situation under control were afraid of the angry mobs roaming around campus. Rocks were thrown. Weapons were discharged. When it was all over four young people lay dead on the grassy lawn. One of them wasn’t even a student. She was a fourteen-year-old run-away from Florida who got all caught up in the emotional indignation of the older teens and young adults.
In a few more weeks we know the name of the next President of the United States. Some people are truly anxious about what will happen if we elect Hillary Clinton. Others are equally anxious about what will happen to us if we don’t. Anxiety drives people to irrational thinking. Irrational thinking leads people to erratic and often dangerous behavior. If it escalates enough people die. Good people. People who feel great passion about the positions they hold. They believe with great sincerity that their position is the key to solving the many problems that plague us in the middle of the second decade of the current century.
Perhaps it matters less who wins and more how the ones who don’t win respond. Or react. There is a crucial difference. Responding means taking a deep breath, evaluating what went wrong, the best path forward from here, and determining how to make the best of the outcome. That is the mature response to defeat.
Reacting means deciding who’s to blame, doing whatever it takes to sabotage the winners, and seeking revenge in whatever ways are available. Name calling. Mud-slinging. Stonewalling. Spreading rumors and lies. Even armed rebellion. This will of course lead to death, destruction, more division among us, and for all practical purposes; bring the government we need to a grinding halt. This is the immature response to defeat.
We may not like the government. We may despise the waste, the corruption, and the behind-locked-doors wheeling and dealing that deals too many out of the game. However, it is impossible for millions of people to live together without some form of government. Other societies have tried other forms. Monarchies are certainly not without limitations. Good monarchs are great. But history is full of inept, crazy, demented, and mean people who acquired the throne merely by virtue of to whom they were born. Dictatorships don’t work. Ask anyone who’s had to live in one. Communism was a grand experiment that pretty universally got a flunking grade. Socialism is highly suspect by the majority. That leaves us democracy. It’s not perfect. It’s often not pretty. It often degenerates into petty politics.
Nonetheless, this grand experiment to build one nation consisting of hundreds of sub-groups of people has been slowly improving generation by generation for over four hundred years now. We’ve still got a lot of work to do to live up to our creed of providing liberty and justice for ALL, but we have a system that allows us ways to work toward that ideal. The ballot is one of those tools.
So whether my side wins or loses when all the votes are tallied, I pray winners and losers alike will think this one nation is worth continuing. I pray we will all pledge to focus more on what each of us can to do improve our country and less on the sins of those who see things differently. We’ve survived this long. Surely we can survive another four years regardless of who wins.