Hanover College Triangle on

 

Mike Palmisano, "The Price to Pay at Kent, Ohio," Triangle, 8 May 1970, 1.

 

 In 1798, the English Romantic poet, Samuel Coleridge, grappled emotionally with the issue of his country’s imperialism when he lamented, in his poem Fears in Solitude.

 

                                    We, this whole people, have been clamorous

                                    For war and bloodshed, animating sports,

                                    The which we pay for as a thing we talk of,

                                    Spectators and not combatants!

 

The verse, exposing the poet’s deep, intellectual alienation from England’s military exploits around the world, suggests a disillusionment strikingly comparable to that voiced by a significant cross section of American youth today.  Like many of his fellow Romantic artists and not unlike today’s American college generation.  Coleridge abhorred his native land’s methodical subjugation of weak peoples, and deplored the way most English comfortably viewed the harsh assemblage of the British Empire from the vantage point of “spectators and not combatants.”   He then fantasized remorsefully:

 

                                    And what if all-avenging Providence

                                    Strong and retributive, should make us know

                                    The meaning of our words, force us to feel

                                    The desolation and the agony

                                    Of our fierce doings?

 

The sensitivity of the poet captures what the “armchair imperialists” did not perceive.  Slain Indians and ravaged villages might easily be slain English citizens and ravaged English towns.  Today, a generation of Americans defiantly refutes the mythology of the Communist threat and the searing but not uncommon chauvinism exemplified by a Kent, Ohio merchant who, upon hearing of the shooting of four students by National Guardsmen at nearby Kent State University remarked, “I can see our soldiers killing Vietnamese much more than our own kids.”

 

If war is, as some tell us, something to which human beings are hopelessly addicted then we shall have to also accustom ourselves to the fact that, as in the shooting of the four college youths in Ohio, there will be a price to pay—the inevitably militarism of our youth.  It is naive for those who support and sustain the American war effort in Vietnam - - most notably the President and his administration—not to recognize that the continuous spectacle of the American military machine slugging its way through Southeast Asia, pursuing a dubious villain, will not take its toll among the young people who sit silently before their television sets.  The only surprise is that the reaction has come so late.

 

The “Vietnam generation” is coming of age at a moment when the government’s policy of military adventurism has prompted a profound crisis of confidence in our ability to rise above a morally questionable foreign policy of repression and intervention.  The generation’s heritage is already one of violence.  And, the cycle is vicious and ironic.

 

The violence in Vietnam prompted a widespread dissent on the domestic front, and inevitably led to violence.  To counter the dissent, the administration in Washington indulged in a frivolous and inflammatory polemic which only fanned the displeasure of those already angered young people, and the violence spread.  In his desire to extricate himself from the violence in South Vietnam, the President has spread the violence to Laos and Cambodia.  Now, in the last two weeks, the country has suffered the first five casualties of opposition to the war effort at home—one student slain in California, reportedly by a policeman’s bullet while trying to put out flames, in a fire-bombed bank, and four students shot to death by National Guardsmen at Kent State University while protesting or observing protests against the Southeast Asian war.  Then, the President’s official statement, chidingly political in tone and based on a flimsy and inconclusive assemblage of facts, infers that wrong was on the side of the students, and further alienates, frustrates, and fuels the arguments of young advocates of violence who gleefully interpret every example of administrative insensitivity as repression.

 

And so it goes on, and will continue to go on:  the Nixon administration stoking the flames of the revolutionary movements they so bitterly despise by their own actions and grave rhetoric.  The advocates of violence feeding, with alarming success, on the brutality and thoughtlessness of the government whose destruction they seek.

 

To a still sizable number of Americans, the stakes in Vietnam are high.  To a growing minority, the stakes have been grossly over-exaggerated and long ago lost any semblance of legitimacy.  But, there will be little dispute that the battlefield has been expanded to our college campuses and into our living rooms.  And, as in any battle, there are causalities inflicted—as at Kent State—on innocent bystanders.  The enduring verdict from Kent State, however, is that there will be more, not less, violence as long as Americans kill Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians.  The crime is that it has gone this far, the nightmare is that, as warned by Coleridge 172 years ago in a similar situation in Ode On The Departing Year, it could go farther.

 

                        Abandoned of heaven; mad avarice thy guide

                        At cowardly distance, yet kindling with pride - -

                        Mid thy herds and thy corn-fields secure thou has stood

                        The nations curse thee!  They with eager wondering

                               Shall hear thy Destruction!

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