Sunday, June 21, 2009

Decency -- And Authoritarianism -- Under Fire

Reports indicate an Iranian girl named Neda has become a rallying symbol for Iranian protest by dying from a bullet fired by a government gun.

The death of Neda, said to be 16 and to have been protesting in the presence of a pro-government militia, evokes a similar event that occurred 29 years and 100 miles from today's Pittsburgh, when Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on college students (some of whom had been protesting the United States' invasion of Cambodia, others of whom had been walking to class) at Kent State University. One of the four students killed by government bullets was Allison Krause, 19, of Churchill, an honors student shot in the chest by a soldier coward standing 330 feet away.

Iran's theocrats are easy to ridicule, natural to despise. But before Americans become too sanctimonious in decrying the Iranian government as a remnant of the Dark Ages, it would be worthwhile to recall the relatively recent lessons and circumstances of Kent State.

Ohio Gov. Rhodes was the type of easily frightened, authoritarian loser who sends battle-armed soldiers to deal with unarmed students he labels un-American . . . "worse than the Brownshirts and the communist element and also the Night Riders . . . the worst type of people that we harbor in America." (Demonstrating his lack of familiary with the War Of Independence, Rhodes also called the sophomores and juniors of Ohio's campuses "the strongest, well-trained, militant revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.")

As governor, Rhodes once responded to a winter storm by conducting, as governor, a 15-minute prayer service in which he "beeseech[ed] God to relieve the storm."

Our country has not entirely atoned for the shameful abuse of power that killed innocent students at Kent State: The Ohio State Office Tower is, to this day, named for Gov. Rhodes.

There is nothing to like about theocrats or brutal authoritarians, and when those two concepts converge the result is ugly: 'My fairy tale can beat up your fairy tale.' I hope the Iranian regime falls quickly, and that Iranians -- who have suffered under brutal clerics and a brutal shah for too many decades -- are able to arrange a government that is representative, modern and just.

While mourning the death of Neda -- Farsi for "voice" -- Americans should direct a thought toward Allison Beth Krause (1951-1970), buried in Wilkins Township. whose voice has become a gravestone: "Flowers are better than bullets."

Sometimes, four voices can be as powerful as one:

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