The new release of audiotapes from the Kent State massacre yesterday — more than three decades after the event, as reported at cnn.com — may or may not shed light on what actually happened that day, as it still remains unclear who ordered National Guardsmen to shoot on student protestors. But the episode does recall the indelible photograph that catalyzed the U.S. anti-war movement.
John Filo’s picture of protestor Ann Vecchio kneeling over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller owes a lot of its power to the raw emotion reflected in Vecchio’s face, her sense of anguish and helplessness in the face of a senseless tragedy. The facts that Vecchio was a 14-year-old runaway, and that Miller was a 20-year-old student who had been standing closest to the guardsmen who opened fire, made the photo all the more emblematic of what the nation was going through over Vietnam. Filo later won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo, which is now one of the era’s most iconic. The picture spurred nationwide protests and student strikes on other campuses and a huge march on Washington. Newsweek ran the image on a cover with the headline, “Nixon’s Home Front” on May 18, 1970. That was almost exactly 37 years ago — when the nation was divided over a different war — but somehow it seems like it could happen today. — Jack Crager