After a long period of fighting a defensive war in Vietnam, on April 29, 1970, President Richard Nixon launched a full scale attack in Cambodia, which greatly accelerated America¹s involvment in this conflict. The reaction from the American college student population was one that led into great controversy and heated debates. When Nixon announced his decision on the following day, many people were upset, and thousands of people protested. The end result of one particular protest was bloody, and a perfect example of what terrible shape our country was in during that period of time (Guard Fired in Self Defense). Thoughtless mistakes such as the ones made on that day will often have a snowball affect that lead into problems for all persons envolved.
On May 3, 1970 students of Kent State University rallied to protest Nixon¹s announcement. There was violent protesting all through the night. Windows were broken, cars were destroyed, and the ROTC building was burned to the ground. When the firemen arrived, their hoses were taken by students and used aganist them. At that point Governor James Rhodes called for the National Guard to come in and protect the campus(Four Deaths at Noon).
The following day Kent State University was under the ³protection² of the Ohio National Guard. Around noon on that day, students fromed in protest. They were told to disperse, but refused. The first action of the National Guard was to release tear-gas grenades upon the masses of students (Guard Fired in Self Defense). These grenades were marginally suscessful, and only caused a temporary retreat. The students then responded by throwing concrerte, rocks, and everything else they could find. This was the first of a group of poor decisions that led to the bloody disaster of May 4, 1972 and all of the other problems associated with the disaster (Kent State Continued).
From a distance of about sixty feet from the crowd of students, a member of the National Guard believed that he heard sniper fire. In response to these alleged shots, he opened fire on the students with his M1 .30-06 caliber rifle. He was immediately backed up by several of the men in his squad, all of whome were shooting the same rifle except for one man who shot a military issue Colt .45. When the smoke had cleared, ther had been about thirty-five shots fired, and four of the students were dead. It is unknown exactly how many others weere injured, but sources report from eleven to fourteen students and onlookers. These lives were shed due to judgment. It is nothing more than that. However, had this incident been handled in a better manner, there would have been much less of a shock wave of emotions sweeping through the country. (Olson)
The following day Governor Rhodes was accused by the campus senate of bringing the troops in for political reasons, and the entire nation was outraged about what had happened. There were countless protests held against the war and this incident. Also, memorial ceremonies were held all over the country. Nixon released a couple of statements that showed no sorrow for the victims, but rather implied that that they got what was coming to them. His basic argument was that violence would only end in tragedy, and that people should demonstrate their feelings peacefully if they felt it necessary to demonstrate them at all.
After a lengthy investigation, there there were several inditements handed out, but they were not given to the shooters. The people charged with crimes were the protesters. Eventually there was a hearing for the shooters, but they were found not guilty. They argued that they had been afraid for their lives and were left with no option. Again the nation was outraged. At this point a massive student strike was launched. At schools all over the country students made violent protests against the government, but there was nothing that could be done (Olson) .
Nixon had been warned in a letter signed by thirty-seven university and college presidents of the potential danger of students when he launched his attacks, but he was seeing the results now on full scale. He used the actions of these students to boost his campaign among Republicans in America. He called the protesters ³bums², and blamed them for many of the problems in the country. At this point one poorly delt with mistake had turned into a major national issue and caused a great deal of low patriotic morale (Four Deaths at Noon).
The entire nation was in shambles, and the actions of the citizens reflected these feelings. It is clear that the Kent State incident was a horrible mistake on the part of both the victims and on the shooters, but with the way things had been going, it was predictable. It was a very bad situation for the government, because there was no solution to the problem. The most significant result of this entire incident was a new fear of danger in the protesters. As with all major incidents, it just kind faded away with time. Now it is just another history lesson, but for someone who looks closely, it could be much more.
- ³Guard Fired in Self Defense² U.S. News & World Report 69:33-35 N
- ³Four Deaths at Noon² Life 68:30-35 My 15 ^Ì70
- ³Kent State Continued: Justice Department Summary of FBI Investigation² Time 96:16 N 9 ³70
- Olson, James. A Dictionary of the Vietnam War. West Port, Conn:Greenwood Press,1988