Saturday was the 43rd anniversary of Kent State Massacre, when members of the Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds into a crowd of student protestors, killing four and wounding nine others.
May 4 for some years now has been recognized in some circles as Star Wars Day, because of the silly pun, “May the fourth be with you.”
On Saturday the hashtag #StarWarsDay was trending much higher than #RememberKentState and other variants on Twitter. Some people were upset about this. They were so upset, that by midday all sorts of people were posting apologies, some of them rather abject, for desecrating the memory of the four students killed at Kent State.
I was flabbergasted. So I took to twitter myself and posted the following:
How dare you people talk about either Star Wars or Kent State while totally ignoring the assassination of Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson! Not to mention the deaths of the Haymarket Square Riot. Or those twenty sailors killed on HMS Sheffield! (In other words, can we please tone down the outrage? Please?)
If you aren’t familiar, HMS Sheffield was a British warship involved in the Falklands War, which was struck by missiles fired by the Argentineans on May 4, 1983. The initial strike disabled several ship systems, including fire suppression systems. The excess rocket fuel in each missile ignited, and the ship’s diesel stores burned for days after the crew had been evacuated. The ship sank while it was being towed in for repairs. And as I mentioned above, 20 members of the crew died in service to their country.
The Haymarket Square Riot broke out near the end of a long labor demonstration in Chicago on May 4, 1886, when police marched in on demonstrators, someone threw a bomb, the police started shooting indiscriminately. Seven police officers were killed (almost all by bullets fired by other policemen, by the way), four demonstrators were killed, well over a hundred people were wounded by either gunfire or shrapnel from the bomb. The demonstration itself had been called to support an ongoing strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which had escalated to the point on May 3 of police and Pinkerton guards firing into the crowd of striking workers, killing two, and wounding many more. Eight anarchists were later arrested and convicted of throwing the bomb, though everyone agrees now that none of them actually threw the bomb, and only one of them was probably involved in the making of bombs. Reaction to the incident kicked off a renewed series of police repression of labor activists and anarchists that many historians refer to as the first Red Scare. While May Day parades and demonstrations by labor had been occurring for a few years before this occurred, this event is often credited as solidifying the significance of May Day as a Worker’s Rights commemoration.
Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson was a Swedish nobleman who led a rebellion against the King of the Kalmar Union, an event which eventually led to Sweden becoming a kingdom of its own. Englebrektsson was assassinated on May 4, 1436 by a rival. Englebrektsson is considered a national hero of Sweden because his actions gave peasants a voice in government for the first time, creating a Riksdag (a deliberative assembly or parliament) structured so that peasants and laborers would have a number of representatives equal to the number of nobles. The Riksdag continued in the form Engelbrektsson instigated for nearly 400 years.
Some will argue that it is unfair for me to compare the assassination of a Swedish rebel leader from the 15th Century with a massacre of peace demonstrators in modern times. One seems lost in the mists of time, while Kent State is a current event, right?
Except Kent State isn’t a current event. It occurred 43 years ago. I personally think that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp is a much more relevant (and shameful) example of the abuse of power by the U.S. government than Kent State, yet when was the last time #GuantanamoBay was trending at all on Twitter?
And let’s be brutally honest here. Less than half of the Americans living today were even alive when Kent State happened. The median age of people living in the U.S. is 37 years old. That means more than half of the people alive today in the U.S. were born at some time after Kent State. Yes, it was a tragedy. Yes, we should remember instances where our own government has used its power to harm citizens rather than to protect them. But it is ludicrous to demand people treat its anniversary as a day so sacrosanct that no non-serious topics can be discussed.
Not only that, “May the fourth be with you” is a pun that is understandable by the vast majority of the English speaking world, whereas Kent State was an American tragedy. If you quizzed an Englishman less than middle aged living about Kent State, they’re likely to think you’re talking about something happening in the county of Kent in Southeast England, rather than a Vietnam Era event at an American University.
Two friends who saw my posting on Twitter spoke up to agree. By very odd coincidence, both of them are children of sets of parents who both were students at Kent State when the Kent State Massacre occurred. Yes, both parents of both of these unrelated friends were there. Each of them expressed surprise that anyone thought you couldn’t keep both meanings of May 4 in the same mind at the same time.
I get outraged about things all the time. Outrage over something like a troops firing on unarmed civilians is certainly justified. Outrage over people sharing a completely unrelated joke on the forty-third anniversary of merely one such event which is hardly the worst that this government has ever perpetrated?
That’s just silly!