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Last week, military recruiters set up a climbing wall and information table at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. The local student antiwar organization, the Kent State Antiwar Committee (KSAWC), which is part of the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN), called for a protest against the presence of the recruiters. To understand what happened next, I will quote from the KSAWC press release that was published in Counterpunch and elsewhere after the protest.
IRAQ WAR veteran and Kent State student, Dave Airhart, is under attack for opposing the war he considers "unjust" and attempting to stop any more students from being used as "cannon fodder." On October 19, the Kent State Anti-War Committee (KSAWC) stood around the Army recruiters, who had brought a rock-climbing wall to entice students over to talk with them. A member of KSAWC and former Afghanistan and Iraq War veteran, David Airhart decided to show his opposition against the war by exercising his rights of free speech. After filling out liability forms Airhart climbed the rock wall.
Once he reached the top he took out a banner, which he held under his jacket, and draped it over the wall. The banner read: Kent, Ohio for Peace.
Airhart was forced to climb down the back of the wall because a recruiter was coming up the front, yelling at him. As he was climbing down another recruiter came up the back and proceeded to assault Airhart both verbally and physically by pulling his shirt, forcing him off the wall. Airhart was fined $105. by city police for disorderly conduct and told that he will have to go to judicial affairs at the university where he will face probation or expulsion
I contacted David a day or two after he was cited and asked him for an interview. He agreed immediately.
Ron: To begin with, were you surprised at the apparent vehemence of the university’s response to your action?
David: Yes. I figured that they would be more understanding in the fact that I was using my freedom of speech to illustrate KSWAC’s opposition to the war.
Ron: What is your current status with the university and the Kent authorities?
David: I have paid my fine with the Kent City Police. There is a Judicial Affairs hearing for my case on Nov. 8, at 1:30pm.
Ron: Have they backed off from their threats to expel you?
David: It is still a possibility that I will be banned from campus indefinitely, or expelled.
Ron: Oh yeah, what are you studying?
David: I am studying cultural anthropology.
Ron: Let’s go back to your military service. Why did you join the service in the first place?
David: I watched too many war movies, and I had an overly romanticized view of
what combat might be like.
Ron: What branch were you in and did you have any special training?
David: I was in the Marine Corps Infantry. I learned absolutely nothing of value in the rest of the world. I learned how to shoot guns and how to get yelled at a lot.
Ron: Jump school? Medic?
Ron: I see that you served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. How long were you in both places?
David: I was in Afghanistan for 7 months , starting Christmas day of 2003, and in Iraq for 6 months, starting at the beginning of the war in March 2003.
Ron: Did you do more than one tour either place?
Ron: What was a typical week like in country?
David: In Iraq: Mostly doing vehicle check points where we would search vehicles for weapons. We also patrolled cities such as An-Nasiriyah. We searched homes. We would knock on the door. If nobody answered, we would break through the door. We would throw all of their stuff around looking for munitions and stuff to make bombs with.
In Afghanistan: We didn’t do much, we just guarded various prisons and manned watchtowers. I spent most of my time with a psychiatrist at this time, mostly to get out of doing stuff.
Ron: What was your impression of the Afghani and Iraqi people?
David: Most of the people that I met were really friendly. They seemed scared, anticipating the worst. The ones I met were cooperative.
Ron: Did it change as you spent more time in their countries?
David: No, not really.
Ron: Now, the big question. What made you decide to oppose the US wars in these countries?
David: Mostly personal reasons. Like the fact that most of the dead bodies that I saw were women and children, innocent civilians. Also, most of my friends that were killed were killed by friendly fire from close air support. It is obvious that there is some hidden agenda behind Bush’s motivation for going to war in Iraq, because they had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks, and there were no weapons of mass destruction. We should know the real reasons that we are fighting and dying over there. At the very least, we should know that, be it a good or bad reason, it is important that we know why. If it is that crucial that it stays a secret, it is probably too crooked to be worth fighting for anyway.
Ron: Was there any one incident that you were involved in or heard about that
made you decide to speak out?
David: Mostly all the murders of innocent civilians. I guess, the different fliers and anti-war groups at Kent that appealed to me.
Ron: I’m fifty years old and the name Kent State has a huge emotional attachment to it, because of the murders that happened there on May 4, 1970. When those students were killed by the National Guard that day I was living in Frankfurt, Germany. My dad had been stationed there since March of that year, right after he came back from Vietnam. A bunch of us students at the high school and junior high on base protested the whole thing. We were joined by GIs and Germans, who protested the invasion of Cambodia and the murders at Kent (and later that month at Jackson State in Mississippi) in their own way. Does the history of protest at Kent State influence your group’s organizing?
David: Absolutely. We feel that since we are at Kent State and have such a history of anti-war activity, we get a lot of media attention whenever we have a protest or anti-war action. We try to use that to our advantage. Unfortunately, the amount of active anti-war protesters at Kent is very small. So we also try to use the fact that Kent State has had a reputation for having a major anti-war population, we try to remind students that if they are against the war, to not be silent about it. Not only do we have a war to stop, but it would be nice to know that people are perpetuating this tradition.
Ron: Do you find that people you talk to in your antiwar work listen to you more than your fellow antiwarriors who have never been in the service? Why or why not do you think this is?
David: Yes, I think so. I think that anti-war statements have more of an impact if they come from someone who has been there and actually seen with their own eyes the horrible things that are going on.
Ron: How do most people that you talk to during your antiwar work respond? I don’t mean the Campus Republicans or other hardcore war supporters, but just the regular students and townspeople?
David: Unfortunately it seems like most of them are indifferent, more concerned with personal things. This is frustrating, being that this is Kent State, and there is a lot of activist that count on Kent State to be a strong force in the antiwar movement.
Ron: What’s next?
David: I’m going to try to keep doing things that help build the antiwar movement and to get its presence felt to as large of a population as possible. However, this time we will try to do it in a way that doesn’t put any of our members at risk of being expelled. We will try to use this incident to show the administration at Kent State how terrible it is that they allow our campus to be a supplier of fresh bodies for Bush’s war machine. Hopefully they will realize that it is the administration who is putting us students in danger through allowing recruiters on campus, not KSAWC. KSAWC is trying to protect ourselves and the entire campus from being sent to die in an unjust war. We will continue to do actions that aid in removing military recruiters from campus.
Ron: And what do you have to say to other folks who might be thinking about joining the military?
David: If they want, I can kill a couple of their friends and then give them some money for college, if that is what they really want. At least that way they wouldn’t have to spend four miserable years in an oppressive organization where they deprive you of most of your rights and use you for whatever they feel like. I would also point out that the GI Bill is only $1004 per month. And it is only good for 36 months. That is the extent of what the military pays for your college. So if they are joining for college money, there are better and safer routes to take to afford college. If they are just romantic thrill seeking warrior types, I’d recommend joining the Iraqi resistance for they are fighting for a more noble cause.
Thanks, David. Good Luck.
Tell Carol Cartwright, Kent State’s President, to back off Dave Airhart:
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org