I was Fourteen . . . Tin soldiers and . . .

Hello from my kitchen on a Sunday morning,

I went to bed early last night and slept pretty well. Up once around 2:00, but this time I was able to go back to sleep somewhat quickly and slept until about 6:30. As usual, I did some reading and some praying. After some morning preparations for the day, I was off to the kitchen. The Corona (quarantine) Cafe has moved to Lightstreet today. A group of three for brunch. Again, per usual, I have been thinking the menu through in my head for a couple days. I think it will be fun. I love the creativity of thinking outside the box. An incredibly talented friend and restaurateur has this ability to take a basic idea and turn it into the extraordinary. I think I learned some things from merely being around him. If you are reading this blog from accessing it from my personal FB page, you will see some of my culinary adventures as of late.If you are insufferably curious (or even less so), but accessing it from the other pages I post on, you are welcome to add me and I will give you food to consider.

When I was 14, the Spring of my freshman year in high school, the world was in substantial turmoil. Certainly the years of 1968-69, the year my brother had graduate from college, was as traumatic to our national psyche as the previous year had been (e.g. two assassinations and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago). I remember sitting in the living room of our home and watching the lottery wondering what would happen to my older brother, who was a freshman in college. I am quite sure if he had been drafted, he would be a citizen of another country. He believed the situation in Vietnam was unjust. When speaking with a nephew and niece over the weekend, his two eldest, we noted that both their parents would be classified as hippies today. I might have to dig a picture of Carolyn out; she might never speak to me again, but she is actually quite beautiful, but that has always been the case. . . .  I am on to Monday.

Last night got a bit sidetracked when my university tablet decided to pop open (the bottom separating from the keyboard panel), which is not the first time this has happened. It seems the bottom gets too hot and the plastic warps until it pops open. Not surprising when it has been running so much. So fortunately, I have both a Macbook Pro and yesterday, someone kindly retrieved by Surface Three, which I have not used in sometime. That is what I am writing on at the moment, but I needed to do some serious updating. The calendar said August 28, 2018. Wow!! There are still some updates to manage, but that is for another day. Yesterday it got to almost 80 here. It was the first day that felt like perhaps the summer will get here. 

While communicating on/through a number of platforms or by phone with people I grew up with, as of late, I am continually amazed by or at the various paths our lives have taken in the 50 years since that fateful day in our country’s history. Perhaps it is because I am a college professor that I look at the events on the Kent State campus so introspectively on this day. Perhaps it is because we are in yet another crisis of national identity, which I believe started long before a pandemic broke out or before somehow we thought it was a good idea to elect a bully and simultaneously a victim (e.g. I am brilliant and I am more mistreated than Lincoln), a braggart and pundit (e.g, the popularity of his coronavirus briefings or when he muses about Clorox as a possibly effective treatment), or as a expert and rebel (e.g. when asked about his source for an opinion at a recent briefing he pointed to his head and when he notes he experts and staff advise him to steer clear of something he is little a toddler in a mud puddle). Perhaps I am pondering the events at Kent State because of the way Vietnam divided out country and I see too many similarities to our current national persona. The divisiveness seems more profound to me this time. Perhaps it is my age; perhaps it is because it seems more total from the top to bottom of our country’s discourse today. Perhaps it is 50 years of experience and hopefully a bit more wisdom. Recently I received a book by Celeste Michelle Condit, one of the premier rhetorical scholars in the world (I do not believe I am the only person who would say this). Her book, titled Angry Public Rhetorics: Global Relations and Emotion in the Wake of 9/11. While I have barely opened the book, it is evident she has thoughtfully and thoroughly considered the complexity of how our world has changed in the wake of that fateful September morning. 

I remember distinctly the emotional shock of 1969-70 and the worry of so many about their sons (and males were the only people to be drafted) as they watched the casualties flashed daily on the evening news at suppertime in American households. I remember the emotion that fluctuated between fear and anger in my brother, who was college freshman about whether he would keep his college deferment or not. Perhaps I am wondering because the uncertainly of the world is much the same for my college freshman (or college seniors) today. The uncertainly of what the world will hold, the fear of whether or not their lives will be cut short by something unexpected (25 of my 40 Technical Writing students this semester are nursing students). That is a fair concern. Recently, a student who graduated a year ago and is a nurse posted a gut-wrenching post about being in the hospital at the present time. These are not merely names. These are students I have spoken with, traveled to Poland with, FBed with, and sat and ate with. 

We have some of the same fears today, but it seems that fear, which most often leads to anger, and the anger that leads to a lack of thinking is not merely among the everyday people, it has broken through every barrier and every level. While I think there can be little doubt that we have both these emotions and all fall into this pattern, I think what is important is to begin to understand the consequence of such a process. There is much to say (or write) as Condit’s book is 338 pages long, and it is just one study. What I see happening, and as noted, I am guilty of this too, what I have gotten out of the first pages in my read, is both sides of this political divide want to believe in the moral appropriateness of their position. Both sides want to believe they stand where they are out of a sense of duty and honor to country. Both sides will assert they are being patriotic. The difficulty is they (and this is all) seem to forget that they emotions get in the way of their cognitive distance, which is necessary if you are going to make thoughtful, rationale, long-term decisions. Both sides want to display as sort of righteous indignation as if God is on their side. If you believe in a creator, I would like to believe the Creator cares for all of us, and probably weeps as we weep as well as weeps because of us. 

While I do have a doctoral degree and fourteen years of college – hmmmm, the same number of years as is in my title, I do not see myself either part of the educational elite, whatever that is, nor do I see myself as much other than a person who works hard, came from a blue-collar background, and tried to think about things and see the logic in them. That was a pattern I demonstrated long before I went to college. While many tell me they remember me as smart, I only had a 2.8 GPA out of high school. I flunked out of college the first time I went, and I had to learn most things the hard way. I guess the important part of that is I did learn. It was when I got to Dana College that I learned both how to learn and why to learn. Wisdom comes from reflecting on our experiences. We need more reflection and we need more wisdom, perhaps more now than ever. I have taken the time to read a significant amount about the four students who died as the National Guard opened fire on students at Kent State that day. It took 13 seconds to fire 67 shots, wounding 13 students, leaving one permanently paralyzed and four dead. The first was an ROTC student who was observing from a distance. The second was an active protester; the third had protested by putting a flower in the barrel of a guardsman’s rifle. The fourth was an honors student who was merely walking from class to class. Kent State was not a radical campus the likes of Berkeley or Madison. It was relatively conformist, though there had been unrest in the days before, including the burning of a building (the ROTC building, and that is one of the students killed, an irony beyond words). Interestingly, at the time, the Governor of Ohio, James, Rhodes, called the students communists. Not that surprising for Ohio, even today, though their present Governor Dewine has demonstrated pretty thoughtful responses to this current struggle. Yet, even then, fear and anger played an important part of this tragedy. Most guardsmen were probably not much older than the students they fired upon. As I read stories from the professors who were teaching at the time, I have not been able to find stories from the National Guard personnel. As the faculty advisor to the student veterans on campus, many of those students are in the Army National Guard or the Air Guard. They would be the students called out to active duty if this were happening. In fact, I believe some of them might have been called up in our present situation. 

Fifty years ago, I was in ninth grade. I had little understanding other than what I heard at home about Vietnam or our national struggle. While there are similarities in terms of emotion today, the situation is fundamentally different. While both times were (and are) a crisis of our moral fiber; this is a health crisis. Regardless of where or how it started, and that is an entirely different story or yet another conspiracy, it is. It continues to spread and destroy people’s lives. The crisis is how we will respond, both in terms of our medical abilities (which our health professionals deserve more gratitude and support that is even measurable) as well as how we can use or brains more than our emotions? Can we depend on those who have been trained in the sciences and put into their positions because of their expertise? Should we not trust them rather than fire them if we disagree with them? Can we as a public, first believe that every life matters (it seems that has been a conservative mantra for a while)? Does it not matter now? As Governor Cuomo said so well, “If the consequence of the virus is death, what is worse than death?” I am not debating the economic fallout; I am not debating the right to have the emotions (the entire range) that people have. What I will debate is protesters who intimidate. What I will debate is those who believe there is only one size fits all to this, and I realize this can be attributed to those on the far left of things. Fifty years ago, four students lost their lives because we could not manage our frustration and anger. This virus as killed more than all the people who died in that war, but somehow again, we cannot seem to manage our emotions. Angry rhetoric is just that; it is angry. I know there is more to it than that. I want to believe there is more to us as a country than merely anger and selfishness. This pandemic is more than tin soldiers or even a more dastardly version of Nixon. 

Thank you for reading as always.

Dr. Martin


Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

One thought on “I was Fourteen . . . Tin soldiers and . . .

  1. Great read Mike, I will also add, and trying not to step on everyone’s toes, that our frustration of this virus is being compounded by our Governments leaders…. from both sides, whom are not trying to calm our fears, but seem to keep being controversial with themselves. Let the Doctors talk about the medical side, and the government talk about the governmental side.

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