February 20, 2013
Looking Back at Kent State University, 1970
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, student protests against the Vietnam War were fairly common, and often violent. The May 4, 1970 protest at Kent State— just one of hundreds of campus protests scheduled for that day in reaction to President Nixon’s announced military push into Cambodia—was considered relatively peaceful by historical standards. Many questions arose after the National Guard opened fire on a crowd of protesting students— the most haunting of them being: “Why did they shoot at unarmed student protesters?” And while the National Guard steadfastly claims the shooting was justified, victims are equally adamant that there was no justification present—and the known facts can support both claims. At the time of the Kent State shootings, the war in Vietnam had been in progress for just over five years, casualties resulting in death that topped out at over 54,000 (National Archives, 2008), and tension was certainly high, especially among draft-aged males. On April 30, 1970, Nixon announced the military push into Cambodia. Most saw this as an escalation of the Vietnam War—a direct contradiction of promises Nixon made during his campaign for president. That night, the ROTC building at Kent State University was attacked and burned in an act of vandalism (The Gazette, 1990). On May 1, 1970, there were several clashes between civilians and the Kent City police force in the downtown Kent, OH area. Exacerbating the matter were intense rumors that “radical revolutionaries were in Kent to destroy the city and the university” (Lewis, 9-21). This history of violent altercations and rumor of outside “radical” influence resulted in the National Guard being called in to assist in dispersing any future student protesters. Students took the Guard being called in as an abridgement of their right to assemble. Subsequently, the Guard’s presence at the university turned what began as a protest against...
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