Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kent State Remembered: May 4, 1970

South Vietnamese national police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan kills
Vietcong suspect Nguyen Van Lem; Saigon, February 1, 1968.

(Photo by Eddie Adams.) All photos: click to enlarge.

Napalm victims, village of Trang Bang, June 8, 1972. Children,
l. to r.:
siblings Phan Thanh Tam (12), Phan Thanh Phuoc (5),
and Kim Phuc (9); their cousins Ho Van Bo and Ho Thi Ting.
(Photo by Nick Ut)

Historical background

In the spring of 1970, President Nixon announced a major escalation of the War in Vietnam--he had ordered the bombing of neutral Cambodia. In response, college students across the country chucked academics and engaged in massive protests.

Like many others, the protests at Kent State University were predominantly peaceful and nonviolent. Predominantly but not entirely. An ROTC building did manage to burn down--how, no one knows, to this day. Units of the Ohio National Guard were dispatched to Kent.

Around noon on May 4, about 1,500 protesters--mostly students--and scores of Guardsmen were standing on a large lawn known as the Commons. A Guard commander ordered the protesters to leave the Commons and disperse. They complied. Most walked up a hill and continued down the other side, heading towards parking lots and a practice field at the bottom. In formation, the troops followed the retreating students, occasionally lobbing tear gas.

The Guard went up the hill and halfway down the other side. Satisfied that the protesters had dispersed as ordered, the Guard commander ordered the troops to turn around and return to the Commons. Up the hill again they marched, moving in the opposite direction from the students.

As they reached the top of the hill, members of one Guard unit--Troop G--in unison stopped, whirled around, aimed, and unleashed a volley of fire at one of the parking lots. They shot rapidly for 13 seconds, firing a total of 67 rounds of .30-06 ammunition, then ceased.

The volley killed four students, one of whom was a no less than 300 yards away. Nine people were injured, some seriously, including one who was permanently paralyzed. No Guardsman was punished for what appears to be a clear case of premeditated murder.

Ohio National Guardsmen with military M-1 rifles, fixed bayonnets

The Commons (foreground) and the hill. Most students and troops
crested the hill to the right of building, Taylor Hall. Here the
students are herded by the troops, marching some distance behind.

A personal note

In the 1970s, as a graduate student, I taught writing courses at the University of Pittsburgh--not far from Kent State University.

I've since forgiven my students for many things; as, I hope, they have forgiven me.

I do remember one of my students saying, or perhaps writing, in I think 1974, "I knew Allison Krause a little. We went to the same school. She always was a troublemaker. She got what she deserved."

Fortunately, uncharacteristically, at that moment I was at a loss for words.

Him--whoever he was--I can forgive. I'll even bet that now he too, if he remembers those words of his, regrets them. But Nixon and Kissinger . . . . If I were a better Christian, perhaps I could forgive them too. . . .

But I'm not.

The Kent State massacre on May 4, 1970, was a defining moment of my life. It made me somewhat wiser, long before I had any wish to be wise; and it made the road I was travelling somewhat harder, as it remains.

First responders.
"Tin soldiers and Nixon comin' / We're finally on our own."

Mary Ann Vecchio, age 14, kneels by the body of Jeffrey Miller

R.I.P. (l. to r.:) Allison Krause, William Schroeder, Jeffrey Miller,
Sandra Scheuer. Nine others were wounded.

New World Notes # 62 features commentary by me, a talk by Jello Biafra--given at Kent State University, May 2005--and 2 songs by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I begin by talking about the first photograph of the National Guardsmen, above.

Catch New World Notes (all times Eastern) . . .

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