Spin Cycles(Or reflections on the Big Lie)

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on

-Winston Churchill

A lie told often enough becomes the truth.

-Vladimir Lenin

We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves

-Eric Hoffer

When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

-Jean Harlow

Tuesday May 4th will mark the 51st anniversary of the  Kent State massacre. Four were killed, and nine others injured when National Guard soldiers fired upon students protesting the United States involvement in the Vietnamese conflict. Just a few days before, Richard Nixon announced that the United States, whose policy was unfulfilled by the results in Vietnam, would therefore commit to an invasion of its neighbor, Cambodia.

So, on May 4th 1970, a 14-year-old runaway from Opa-locka, Florida was on the Kent State campus chatting with Jeffrey Miller, a 20-year-old  psychology major and NY Mets fan. As the protest rallied around them, a nearby student taunted the National Guard soldiers, waving a black flag at them. Within seconds the soldiers backed up a bit and for reasons that have never been completely explained, began firing into the crowd of students. Jeffrey Miller was instantly killed along with three other students including his friends Allison Krause and Sandy Scheuer. The 14-year-old runaway, Mary Ann Vecchio survived the shooting, but the assassination of her character was soon to follow.

For his part, when he turned to take the picture, John Filo didn’t realize that it was the only shot he had left on that roll. He also understood that this photo might have monumental significance in this moment in history and that the powers that be in this same moment were less than pleased with stewards of the first amendment. So he rushed to his car, hid the film in its hubcaps and proceeded on the two-hour drive to his hometown of Tarentum, PA, and the offices of  The Valley Daily News to develop the film. Then he wired it to the Associated Press. The next day the entire world saw it.

Mary Anne Vecchio’s image was captured for posterity in John Filo’s photo which soon graced the pages of almost every daily newspaper in the country as well as being featured on  national TV news broadcasts. Mary Ann Vecchio , teen runaway, who was seeking refuge from an abusive home and not notoriety, was soon the subject of vast national interest. The image of her, arms in the air, crying over the body of Jeffrey Miller, who she had just met 20 minutes earlier came to be known by some as the Kent State “Pieta” in reference to the famous Michelangelo sculpture.  Mary Ann left the campus that day still an unknown teen, herded on a bus with throngs of Kent State students to Columbus, Ohio where she knew no one and no one knew her. Within hours people everywhere had seen the photo that would  someday win the Pulitzer Prize for Mr. Filo. But who was the girl?

Meanwhile, Mary Ann hitched her way out of Columbus hoping to make it to California. Unknown to her at this point the FBI was looking for “the girl from the photo”. At a crash pad in Indianapolis another kid tips a reporter at The Indianapolis Star. Mary Ann talked to the reporter in hopes of obtaining car fare for her ride to California. Instead, the reporter notified the local police. She was put in juvenile detention and sent back to Florida. That should have been the end of the story. But the horror continued for  Mary Ann Vecchio.

Not only was she returned to an abusive home but soon enough the lies began, and her young life was turned upside down. Instead of being treated like an abused 14-year-old in need of help and compassion, no less than the leading political figure in the state, Republican Governor Claude Kirk ( the first Republican Governor of Florida since reconstruction) labelled her a “dissident communist”  as well as saying that she was “part of a nationally organized conspiracy of professional agitators” which was “responsible for the students’ death”. Because she was 6 ft. tall many refused to believe she was just a 14-year-old kid. The press hounded  her, she was heckled wherever she went and faced a continuous barrage of death threats. She played no meaningful part in the protest much less being an organizer and had just met the victim whose body she hovered over in the famous image. News reports referred to her as a Kent State student (she wasn’t). Almost everything that was reported about her  were mistakes or outright lies.  She was just a 14-year-old kid fleeing an abusive home who in the moments that John Filo photographed her had just witnessed the murder of a young boy she had been chatting with and who herself in that moment was in the line of whatever fire had killed Jefferey Miller.  Such are the powers of the BIG LIES that impact on the everyday lives of Americans everywhere when they are spouted from the pinnacles of power and the loudest megaphones in the media.

Of course creative mendacity is too often at the root at what passes for power. The Vietnam War itself, the subject of the protest that fateful day began with a lie. And 50,000 American lives later not to mention (although they must be) the lives of roughly 2,000,000 southeast Asian civilians were sacrificed in service of that lie. That lie of course was the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which gave Lyndon Johnson the power to commit forces to a full-scale invasion of US troops to Vietnam. The lie, which former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara confessed to in his later years had to do with two alleged attacks by North Vietnam on United States forces in August of 1964. The first attack was minor, and no Americans were killed. The USS Maddox was on patrol in an area of the Gulf of Tonkin where the South Vietnamese  navy was conducting  a mission against targets along the North Vietnamese coast. North Vietnamese  torpedo boats in search of the South Vietnamese threat encountered the Maddox which fired a warning shot. The North Vietnamese fired back. The Maddox radioed for help and soon after the USS Ticonderoga supplied air support damaging one of the North Vietnamese torpedo boats.  There was no harm done to any Americans.

Two days later on a stormy night where visibility was not optimal, US vessels mistook North Vietnamese communications to believe that an attack on American destroyers was imminent. The Maddox and the Turner Joy reported tracking unidentified vessels approaching their ships  from different directions. Both ships began firing at what they thought were torpedo ships. They also radioed for air support. But US aircraft flying at low altitude failed to perceive a threat. Still later the commander of The Maddox  sent a message:

“Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful. Freak weather effects on radar and over  eager sonarmen may have accounted for many reports…Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken.

Johnson had already approved retaliatory strikes before the message doubting the attacks from the commander. In the after math of this commitment there was no move to acknowledge any mistakes and the resolution and all that it would come to entail was carried forward. It should be noted here that in 1954 when the French were starting the process of leaving Vietnam themselves during the Geneva Accords, the United States, fearing that the mandated election in two years would reap a result favorable to Ho Chi Minh and the communist movement, refused to join the French in signing the agreement and instead chose to prop up a puppet government in the south.

Today, after a US election which officials from the last administration called the “most secure in American history” and  in which over 60 court challenges, many turned back by judges appointed  by the 45th President and where state election officials, including republicans in swing states have certified the victory of the 46th President, the BIG LIE coming from the big liars continues to find oxygen despite all evidence to the contrary. In Maricopa County, Arizona still another audit run by a private company with absolutely no experience in official election recounting and which is not certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to test voting systems, is using UV light to look for watermarks on ballots. Arizona ballots do not have watermarks and  there is some possibility the UV light may damage the very ballots they are supposed to be preserving . The media has been either barred from observing or restricted so tightly as to make observation almost impossible. The one exception has been the fringe right wing “news” outlet One America News which has been given exclusive rights to stream the process. They have supposedly hired volunteer “ observers” who for the most part are republicans. The head honchos at this operation Cyber Ninjas prior to all this has continuously promoted baseless claims of election fraud echoing the squealing of the former chief executive and the funding is coming from other well-placed figures on the fringes of the last administration.

Too often Americans have been exploited by the BIG LIE and too often the consequences have been  deadly. Don’t believe me? Take another look at the casualty count from the pandemic we were told would go away as early as last April. How many sampled a Hydroxychloroquine cocktail?  Remember Jan. 6? Think Mexico is paying for walls on our southern border?  Do you still believe the planet is not in any trouble? Take a good look at what we gained from our time in Vietnam. And if you still have doubts about the power of the BIG LIE ask 65-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio what she thinks.

2 thoughts on “Spin Cycles(Or reflections on the Big Lie)

  1. I was a freshman at Kent state and had geography, which I hated, at noon that Monday, so I went to the demonstration instead.
    I met Mary Ann, though I didn’t know her name, after the shooting. She sat near me as we waited to see what was next, and there was a call for volunteers to get sandwiches for us from the nearby dorm. We both volunteered, but when they were ready, she had slipped away.
    When those of us who stayed got back to where we had been sitting, the guard had moved us again. I saw my stuff on the grass, but didn’t dare go back to get it. Still miss that jacket.
    Thank you for this. All too true. Take care, Margaret


    1. OMG!!! I knew you went to Kent State but it slipped my mind. If I had known this part of your story I might have checked in with you prior to writing this. I’m sure your perspective would have added a little more color to it. Sorry about the jacket. The world is so lucky you survived that day. Wow! I have no more words so I’ll quit now. Stay well.


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