WASHINGTON — Four dead at Kent State. The last time the U.S. military — trained and armed — were called in to control unarmed civilians.
While ancient history to some, the 1970 shootings at Kent State University in Ohio causes Pentagon officials and workers to cringe and shake their heads when framed in conjunction with President Donald Trump’s placing on equal par rock throwing and live rounds in response.
“When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military and police, I say, consider it a rifle,” Trump said Thursday at a news conference about immigration.
None of those interviewed at the Pentagon would comment in any form or any degree of background or off-the-record when asked if they would consider it a lawful order to shoot an unarmed civilian who throws a rock.
The first active-duty military forces have arrived in Texas, Pentagon officials said Friday. An estimated 2,500 are expected to be ready for staging through the weekend, the officials said.
The Pentagon has said at least 5,000 to 7,000 active-duty troops will be deployed; Trump has said 15,000 could go to the border.
The deployment is in support of efforts by Customs and Border Protection to deal with a caravan of asylum seekers traveling through Mexico seeking refugee status in the United States. News reports put the caravan size at about 3,500. Another 1,700 who had been in the caravan applied for asylum in Mexico or returned to their Central American homes, according to news reports.
While Pentagon officials and rank-and-file are mum on the possible guns-versus-rocks potential, retired officers and officials were not.
“Our men and women in uniform are better trained, better equipped, and better led so they meet any threat with confidence,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tweeted. “A wasteful deployment of over-stretched Soldiers and Marines would be made much worse if they use force disproportional to the threat they face. They won’t.”
Former Defense Secretary and GOP Senator Chuck Hagel said Trump is guilty of “a wanton incitement of unnecessary violence.”
“It is a rank political purpose to use our military like this, and to say those kinds of things is really astounding,” Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, said on CNN. “Not in my lifetime have I ever heard those kinds of words from a president of the United States.”
Kent State was in 1970. Two centuries earlier, in 1770, the template was created. Then it was sticks, stones, snowballs, stones, and a squad of British soldiers; it ended with five dead, six wounded and a name: the Boston Massacre.