Kent State University Incident: The End of the Innocence


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 
 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 
 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.

Works Cited
1. ³Guard Fired in Self Defense² U.S. News & World Report 69:33-35 N 
2 ^Ì70
2. ³Four Deaths at Noon² Life 68:30-35 My 15 ^Ì70
3. ³Kent State Continued: Justice Department Summary of FBI 
Investigation² Time 
96:16 N 9 ³70
4. Olson, James. A Dictionary of the Vietnam War. West Port, 
Conn:Greenwood Press,1988


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