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The Kent State Shootings

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4 Dead in Ohio

The day is May 4, 1970. You are currently a student at Kent State University, located in Kent, Ohio. It is your average Middle American University. You are one of about twenty-one thousand students that attend Kent. The Vietnam War has dragged on for ? years now, that is if you could even call it a war. Thousands of American civilians and soldiers have protested against the conflict since American combat troops were first deployed in March of 19651. After the American people begin to believe that the war was finally drawing to a close, President Nixon orders for the invasion of Cambodia. He explains that he believes Vietnamese revolutionaries' headquarters is somewhere in the neutral-standing country, but you believe it is just another way Washington is trying to cover up a bigger plan. There had not yet been any big protest rallies at Kent State until shortly after the Tet Offensive in the spring of 1969. This year at school though, things started out pretty quiet for students. You personally have never voiced your opinion of the war. However, you are caught up in the excitement, in the energy of a protest against the government. So, without a minute to lose, you demonstrate against this with your fellow college classmates, rallying the campus. Even with the Ohio National Guard standing in your way, you continue to stand for what you believe is right. Everyone is cheering and waving their signs; you even hear that students have started the ROTC building of the school on fire. You are in the middle of something heated, you feel important, when suddenly shooting breaks out. Before you can even register what is going on, you are laying dead on the ground. Your rights, your opinion, your voice, have been taken from you by the cruelty of a stray bullet. This is what happened to four people that had their lives taken that day, along with nine others being injured, in what would become known as the Kent State Massacre.

The Kent State Massacre was not the first instance of Americans protesting the war. The first movements began sometime in the 1950's, although they were called "peace movements" and not anti-war until the U.S. became directly involved in Vietnam. After World War II, many Americans returned home with a different view of how to go about acts of war. With most of Europe being decimated during the second world war, many saw the U.S. as the world's superpower. Americans, however, wanted to focus on themselves for a time. With the post-war community booming and the previously failed economy turned around, people were once again out and about enjoying life. Even with the Cold War era beginning so shortly after WWII many Americans wanted to live in peace for a change. With these ideals in mind, organizations formed to try and stop anything before it happened. One organization for example, was the Student Peace Union, which found its way onto college campuses nationwide.2 Groups like these were not very popular at the time, due to the idea of McCarthyism, which in the 1950's was the accusation of people being communist without any evidence beforehand. The union was started during the Cold War Era as a national plea for peace with a heightened awareness about atmospheric testing, which they hoped would lower the amount of nuclear weapons countries had.3 Which in turn would bring the Cold War to an end.

As stated earlier, the Kent State Massacre was on May 4th, 1970. There is, however, more information leading up to the events of that day. The student and campus rallies began after President Nixon addressed the nation about his plans in Cambodia. From a speech he gave to the nation on April 30th, President Nixon gave his reason for the invasion,

Ten days ago, in my report to the Nation on Vietnam, I announced a decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the next year. I said then that I was making that decision despite our concern over increased enemy activity in Laos, Cambodia, and in South Vietnam. At that time, I warned that if I concluded that increased enemy activity in any of these areas endangered lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam, I would not hesitate to take strong and effective measures. Despite that warning, North Vietnam has increased its military aggression...4

The rest of the speech continues to give support to what the President said in the lines shown above. Americans could not believe what they were hearing. Many just wanted troops to be pulled out of Vietnam completely. Although, from a military perspective, the Tet Offensive was a win for U.S. and Southern Vietnam forces, many felt that the Tet Offensive was a terrible situation, and that many more soldiers would die if the war continued. The Tet Offensive was a military campaign put on the North Vietnamese forces on January 30th, 1968. The Northern Vietnamese suffered huge losses in the battle, 45,267 killed.5 The reason why this proved to be such a problem for the U.S. is that it showed that the Northern Vietnamese would stop at nothing to get their country back. This is what would be known as the turning point of the war. It showed that if the Americans did not get out of Vietnam, the results could be humiliating and disastrous. As the public thought, the Cambodian invasion was a complete flop. In a book titled, A Time For War: The United States and Vietnam 1941-1975, the author, Schulzinger, captures this idea. "The invasion failed completely, however, in its larger goal of reversing a military trend towards a victory in the North...the United States and ARVN also failed to find the head quarters of Northern Vietnamese operations, a supposed 'nerve center' located in Cambodia."6 After the flop, Americans took the streets to show their anger towards Nixon. Little did they know what would happen four days later.

After the nation was addressed by Nixon, students from Kent State gathered on Friday, May 1st to demonstrate against sending more troops overseas. The students then planned to schedule a rally for the following Monday. That night, residents and college students took the bars and streets. The situation started to get out of control and riots ensued. The rioting continued into Saturday and Sunday. In The President's Commission on Campus Unrest- a study on violence breaking out on campuses- a summary of the early events of Kent State is given. The study states "The pattern established on Friday night was to recur throughout the weekend: There were disorderly incidents; authorities could not or did not respond in time to apprehend those responsible or to stop the incidents in their early stages; the disorder grew; the police action, when it came, involved bystanders as well as participants."7 Saturday was the worst day for the riots. According to an online archive constructed by Dr. J Gregory Payne,

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