Blind To The Obvious

The Urban Outfitters/Kent State sweatshirt controversy seems unbelievable to me — but maybe I just don’t realize how little companies know about the schools whose names get put on the front of products those companies sell.

In case you missed it, Urban Outfitters was offering a faux vintage Kent State sweatshirt that was daubed in red paint smears and splots.  Of course, anyone who knows anything about Kent State and its history would immediately think that the sweatshirt was referring to the shootings that killed four Kent State students and wounded others on May 4, 1970.  Not surprisingly, people were outraged by what seemed like a sick effort to profit from a terrible American tragedy.

Urban Outfitters claims, however, that it “was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such.”  Which is worse:  trading on a tragedy, or being so obtuse and insensitive that you don’t recognize that a red-spattered Kent State shirt would inevitably be thought to allude to the May 4 shootings?   It’s a close question in my view.

Urban Outfitters is one of those stores that tries to portray the most hip image possible.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who designed the offending sweatshirt had never heard of the Kent State shootings.  If you treat everything as just another “brand” and make no effort to understand an institution or its back story, this kind of embarrassment inevitably is going to happen.  Urban Outfitters should be ashamed.

Reflection, And Remembrance

Forty-three years ago, four students at Kent State University in Ohio were killed when the Ohio National Guard opened fire into a group protesting the Vietnam War.  Another nine students were wounded.

Forty-three years later, it remains a mystery to me how anyone, Guardsman or officer or politician, could ever have thought that American soldiers should fire live ammunition into a crowd of protesting students.  It is one of the enduring questions about the shooting that, I think, will never be satisfactorily answered.  Kent State University, however, offers information that seeks to present the competing viewpoints on that issue and to answer other questions about the shootings and their aftermath.

Forty-three years is a long time.  The Vietnam War and Cambodian invasion that prompted the protests that led to the shootings ended long ago.  The lessons to be learned from the shootings, however, remain fresh and vital today.  Kent State was an example of what can happen when government goes too far and forgets its ultimate role as protector of the people and guardian of individual liberties.   American citizens therefore should be mindful, and skeptical, of the accumulation of governmental power.   Blind trust in governmental institutions is not wise.  I’m sure the students protesting on the Kent State campus 43 years ago never dreamed that the Ohio National Guard unit would fire — but it did.

That’s one reason why it’s an incident worth remembering.