An Epitaph for the Flowers of May

May 4, 1970. Kent State. Four students shot dead by Ohio National Guard soldiers during a campus demonstration protesting the Vietnam War. That, not even two years removed from the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. No one was killed during those four days, but there were many protesters in the streets who, on one of those hot, humid, August evenings, came under attack by the Chicago Police. It was ultimately deemed by a commission to have been “a police riot”.

The Kent State incident became known as a “massacre”. There’s an iconic photo of a 14 year-old, female kneeling over a shot-dead male student, with anguish etched on her face, her arms raised, at once seeming to have submitted to confusion, shock, grief, disbelief and helplessness in the midst of the chaos. That photo won the Pulitzer Prize.

The 1968 convention resonates to this day via video of the police bashing heads with their batons, be the recipient of the beatings a young hippie of either gender or even a Brooks Brothers suited office worker who made the mistake of unwittingly being at the worst possible place at the worst possible time. Mind you, this was caught on live television, along with the chant of the whole world is watching filling the sticky night air.

Today marks the 47th anniversary of Kent State. The Democratic convention will note its 49th anniversary this August. The end of the Vietnam War just marked its 42nd anniversary on April 30th. Both that violence-plagued convention and the senseless killing of the four Kent State students, in some incremental manner related to the duration of our Vietnam experience, helped bring the carnage of that War to a conclusion.

The turbulent 60s and early to mid 70s. I was around for all of its turmoil, from the JFK assassination and past the above noted historically infamous chapters in our country’s history, and I’m still around, on this May 4, 2017.

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. That’s a quote from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Yeah. And on this day and month, in the year 2017, as every moment instantly becomes history and the future, as ever and as always,  nothing more than an abstract construct. What will the future bring? Make all the plans you want, but no one can control the future so that the best laid plans…

…you know. The future–for humankind– is always the unknown.

Nature, however, has plans for those flowers of May, as in letting them bloom and bring beauty and harmony with the inevitable turning of the seasons that alternately gives and takes away the features of her landscape. That’s not an abstract construct. It’s the NATURAL WORLD, with its natural ebbs and flows, an ecosystem designed to sustain the entire planet on which we live. That’s an aspect of the notion of a future. The planning of natural world and its forces is open for study, but we humanoids had nothing to do with it. We came out of it as a primordial part of its evolutionary process. We’re along for the ride. But we sure can fuck with its ongoing efforts to do what comes natural. No kidding! Humankind can mess with Mother Nature, like building Dams, plowing under grasslands, hacking away at the rain forests. Dumping toxins into her natural water systems. Spewing noxious fumes into her air. Spraying chemicals in her fields.

And occasionally detonating an atomic/nuclear bomb or two or a few or even more, most in their test stages but twice in anger, in August of 1945, when the United States military command dropped The Big One on Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, Japan. Nothing quite messes with the natural order of all things ecological  like these “ultimate weapons”.  And now, with a world awash with such devastating weapons of mass destruction, with a so-called “nuclear club” consisting of the U.S., Russia, France, United Kingdom, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and–most recently and disturbingly–North Korea. The collective number of nukes in this club is approximately 15,000.

We made it through the Cold War,  including the “proxy” wars between East and West such as the Korean and Vietnam wars, following WWII, with no other nukes being dropped in anger. However, for the figurative and literal flowers of May, there’s a bit of anger in the air between more than few of the countries armed with the ultimate weapon. There’s at least one-too-many mentally unstable persons who can give the launch order. Then the so-called mutual assured destruction chain of events will occur, almost assuredly. It’s appropriately reduced to the acronym of M.A.D.

In the natural world, those flowers of May should come out this year and for years, decades, centuries, millennia and beyond to come. But I’m beginning to fear for my human-oriented abstract construct of a future and for the rest of humankind. I mean, c’mon. M.A.D., right? And I was around and remember that Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Who would brink first, Kennedy or Khrushchev? Russia backed down, and what seemed, as irrational an act as it would have been, nuclear Word War III, was barely averted.

You know, there’s a “nuclear clock” that we never want to hit 12 midnight. That’s Doomsday, folks, in our nuclear age. Right now it’s at 2 and-a-half minutes to midnight. Used to be, not that long ago, several minutes to midnight on this ominous semi-static ticktock of a clock.

So, on this May 4, 2017, recall those four dead students, killed while protesting what turned out to be a totally senseless war that our military finally realized it could never win. Remember that war, and the Korean War that preceded it (considered a “draw”). Remember Iraq and Afghanistan, both seemingly endless conflicts involving our military personal.

Remember that, in addition to being a nightmare for some, history is also that lesson from which humankind never seems to learn.

Remember to water your flowers, if Mother Nature doesn’t do it for you. The ones coming in May and beyond, and hope that our abstract constructs called the future, our best laid plans, involving our families, friends, our loved ones, our instinctual pursuits of “happiness” are, remember, constantly subject to the terrors of mad science. That genie-in-a-lantern called atomic weaponry is never going back into that lantern.

Let me leave you with another quote: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”.  Albert Einstein.

Hope he’s wrong, to say the least. But just in case, now more than ever, stop and smell the roses…and all the rest of those flowers..




About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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