For those who wonder how long it will take America to fully recover from the bombing at Oklahoma City 15 days ago, perhaps some lessons can be taken from 25 years ago this day at Kent State.
In myriad ways, America has long recovered from the killing of four students on the commons of that northeast Ohio university. Black-and-white pictures from that student showdown with the gas-masked National Guard now seem as distant as daguerreotypes from the Civil War. The nation now has a president who took part in anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. The long-hairs and bra-burners who protested the war on hundreds of campuses that spring now are parents in their 40s. And, today's students have been typecast as so apolitical, their generation gets an "X."
It's a picture of a society far removed from Kent State, May 4, 1970, and from the killing of two students by police at Jackson State College in Mississippi weeks later. One might argue that we've long recovered from a tragedy that President Nixon's Commission on Campus Unrest called "unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable."
And yet there are echoes of Kent State in the ruins of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building.
Both heartland catastrophes shook the nation to its core. They are the kinds of events that make people think in terms of before their occurrence and after. Kent State made even Americans far removed from the heat of the war debate wonder about their freedoms of expression. Oklahoma City made Americans doubt their security, no matter how low-profile they think they are.
Both events, in different ways, raised questions about how much Americans can trust their government or, more specifically, its agents. While the political left after Kent State focused its anger on Vietnam war policies, the perpetrators of the Oklahoma bombing apparently reflect the paranoia of the extreme right.
No one can predict how the cataclysm at Oklahoma City will shape us, any more than they could have foreseen America a generation after Kent State. The nation will long be haunted by the pictures of a screaming young girl crouched over the corpse of one of the Kent State four and of Oklahoma City rescue workers carrying from the wreckage an infant's limp and bloody form.