It is hard for later generations to know what this means to those who lived through this time. As you watch the above video there is mention that the killed and the paralyzed were "full time students". Why mention that? Because those who hated the anti-war protests stated over and over that these were "outside agitators" who purposely came to this (and all the other protests) to provoke police (and national guardsmen) into violence. In other words, the same techniques today that are used to sell right wing nonsense were used back then: the big lie technique.
The media at the time were the handmaidens of the state authorities, the governor who called in the national guard and painted targets on them by calling them "un-American" (oh yes, just like those un-America original tea partiers, and those un-American colonists who took up arms against an oppressive and indifferent government). The media and the authorities goosed up the level of hatred, just like Nixon and Agnew did in their speeches, and it led to violence.
And of the ones killed as "protestors". Some weren't even protesting. They were simply walking across campus and got hit by stray bullets:
Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder, had been walking from one class to the next at the time of their deaths.At the time all those in authority placed the blame on the students. But here's the truth 40 years later (from Wikipedia):
The Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard told reporters that a sniper had fired on the guardsmen, which itself remains a debated allegation. Many guardsmen later testified that they were in fear for their lives, which was questioned partly because of the distance between them and the students killed or wounded. Time magazine later concluded that "triggers were not pulled accidentally at Kent State". The President's Commission on Campus Unrest avoided probing the question regarding why the shootings happened. Instead, it harshly criticized both the protesters and the Guardsmen, but it concluded that "the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable."There was nobody shooting at the National Guard. The National Guard was not "in fear for their lives". They were ordered to turn and shoot. Some obeyed, most didn't. The deaths and injuries were the result of some fanatic who was in the line of command that day. But "the code" meant that nobody squealed, so nobody officially admitted to giving the order. It was murder. Sure the students were yelling, throwing back tear gas cannisters, and pelting the troops, but the students were unarmed and the soldiers were in no eminent danger. They executed a maneuver, turned, and fired. It was a clear failure in command in that some commander ordered them to fire. It was a tragedy. It was a crime, a crime never punished.
This was not an isolated event. There were dozens of incidents like these throughout the 1960s. It was an era where those in power disliked the fact that youngsters were rebelling. And this wasn't isolated to the 1960s. This kind of killing runs through American history. The one I always point to is the Ludlow Massacre.
When I watch or hear the rantings of right wing nuts in the US, I always wonder whether these people realize the mayhem they can cause. They may feel "good" about venting, but it poisons the atmosphere and it gives license to the less stable and the petty crazies out there to act on the emotionally charged words. The 1960s was filled with this rhetoric. You watched poor black and white demonstrators beaten, run over by police of horses, attacked by police dogs, knocked off their feet by high pressure fire hoses, beaten by police batons, and you watched as the white racists joined in on "the game" and beat freedom riders with tire irons and baseball bats. You watch people like Medgar Evers shot by KKK hiding in the woods. You watched a little black kids were killed as racists blew up churches. These violence easily flowed over as police and military roughed up anti-war demonstrators. It was a horrible time where at the very highest levels of government you had people like Nixon and Agnew effectively calling on their minions and the broader public to join in roughing up anybody who refused to "accept" government policy when that policy was a mindless war killing millions, a policy that was utterly future as demonstrated by the fall of Saigon. But policy makers like Lyndon Johnson preferred to feed young men into the meat-grinder of war rather than to be "the first president to lose a war". In short, his petty "reputation" was worth more than blood and treasure. You had vicious political operatives like Nixon who, as a hatchet man, made a career of red-baiting to rise to the top, and as president -- elected on the lie of having a "secret plan" to end the war -- used the same ugly tactics on all of his "enemies", not just student protestors, but the Democratic party, and those like Daniel Elsberg who became disaffected and released the whole sordid story of Vietnam as the Pentagon Papers. It was a truly ugly time. And sadly, there are similar right wing nuts out today who would love to go right back to those times.
Back to the point of this post... Here is a video from Alan Canfora, one of the students shot that day:
Update 2010may7: Here is a relevant bit from a blog by Jeff Kisseloff:
Forty years ago today, four students at Kent State University — Allison Krause, Jeff Miller, Sandy Scheuer and William Schroeder — were murdered by agents of the US government. It was maybe the signature event of my generation in terms of demonstrating how far the government would go to stifle dissent. None of the students were armed, and none presented even the remotest threat to the National Guardsmen on campus. Yet, no soldier was ever prosecuted for the crime.And here is a chapter he wrote on Allison Krause, one of the victims.
A few days after the killings, protesters at my high school in East Meadow, New York, were set upon by right-wing students shouting anti-Semitic slogans. It was no Kent State, but it was an indication that the roots of Kent State were deeply embedded in our soil. When African-American Congressmen are spat upon by tea party members in Washington DC, we are reminded yet again that the poison continues to spread.