The Kent State shooting or May 4th Massacre was a very significant and controversial event in the 1970. This involved armed guardsmen firing 67 rounds in 13 seconds into a crowd of protesting students. This resulted in nine wounded students and four shot dead. This was a significant event as it began the nation-wide anti-war movement, opposing the war in Vietnam. This dispute started when President Nixon released the statement in 1969 that the American forces are to bomb Cambodia in order to destroy Viet Cong sanctuaries, causing a nation-wide student strike.
This was the largest contributing factor the lead to the event that was the Kent State Massacre. Soon after Nixon’s announcement, a portion of Kent State University students organised a campus anti-war protest planned to take place on May 4th 1970. However, two days prior to the protest; on May 2nd, the mayor of Kent State – Leroy Satrom requested that Governor James A. Rodes send Ohio National guardsmen to Kent State University to contain the situation. As the guardsmen arrive at the campus, they find the Reserve Office Training Corps building on fire.
To this day, it is still uncertain who started the fire, whether it was the protestors of someone seeking to blame the protesters, nevertheless, the protestors consisting of both students and non-students taunted and abused the firefighters, cutting their hoses and throwing rocks at them as they tried to control the flames. The protestors were then dispersed by the guardsmen using tear gas. By May 3rd, Kent State University had around one thousand National guardsmen attempting to control the protestors, threatening students with guns and bayonets.
All these factors then lead to the conflict between the protestors and the National guardsmen and the killing of four Kent State University students. It was Monday the fourth of May, 1970, when the anti war rally was scheduled to happen. Despite the guardsmen attempting to ban the protestors from gathering, the students and other protestors carried out their stand, exercising their right to freedom of speech. The conflict started with the National Guardsmen firing tear gas into the crowd of activists. However, due to wind, some students were able to throw the canisters back at the guards, making the deterrent ineffective.
Along with the canisters, protestors chanted “Pigs off campus,” in attempts to convince the men to leave. And it worked, or so the demonstrators thought. As the National Guardsmen were retreating up the hill, just before the top, in unison, the guardsmen turned and shot into the crowd firing for thirteen seconds and unloading sixty-seven shots. After which, nine students lay wounded while four were shot dead in the Prentice Hall parking lot. One of the significant facts about the killing was that two of the students weren’t even protestors; simply students walking from one class to another getting caught in the cross fire.
This was one of the most significant events that convinced the U. S public to join the anti-war movement. The Kent State shooting was and still is a very controversial event. Although so many lives were being lost in the Vietnam War, this event was upsetting to the public as “May 4th represented the war coming home to America. ” (Four Dead In Ohio, 2010). There were two main perspectives during the conflict – the protestors and the authority. The protestors consisted of both students and non-students banding together to rally against the war in Vietnam.
While the authority was not only the guardsmen, but the Governor James A Rodes and the Mayor of Kent at the time Leroy Satrom. This event was controversial as, even today, there are many unanswered questions including whether or not there was an order to turn and shoot the protestors, and if so, who gave the order. As well as why the guardsmen were necessary when protests were so common during the late 60s and early 70s. On Monday, May 4th 1970, the two perspectives conflicted in a conflict that resulted in four dead students and the beginning of a very influential time in history.
The perspective of the students are the more favoured point of view over the authority. On May 4th, the campus of Kent State was filled with protestor, both student and non-student, as well as bystanders To the protestors, the guardsmen were “A living symbol of the military system they opposed. ” (President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, 1970). So when the protestors were denied their exercise to freedom of speech, they retaliated against the authority chanting “Pigs off campus,’ throwing rocks and returning the tear gas canisters shot at them.
According to the leader of Troop G Lt Alexander D. Stevenson – commanding officer of the guardsmen who fired upon the students, “The crowd must have thought that the National Guard was harmless. ” A famous photo of a student, Alan Canfora, showed him standing alone and waving a “black flag of despair and anger,” (Canfora, 2014) at the wall of guardsmen kneeling down and pointing their rifles at the protestors. Even though the students could see the guardsmen carrying M-1 rifles, it didn’t seem to occur to them the possibility that they were loaded.
However, many believe that the guards shouldn’t have been armed with deadly weapons that day as the protestors had nowhere near the same calibre weapons. Therefore, when the soldiers started shooting, the protestors were not only surprised but shocked as their peers hit the ground, wounded and even dead. After the heat of the event subsided the students spoke up, stating that they felt the shooting was unjustified as they were only exercising their first amendment. Canfora, who was wounded in the shooting even stated that “What happened [there] was unforgivable. However, this event started a nationwide anti-war movement which was the intended outcome of the rally on May 4th 1970. The reason the National Guardsmen were at Kent State University was due to the mayor of Kent – Leroy Satrom, declaring a state of emergency on Saturday 2nd May 1970. The mayor was informed of threats made to downtown businesses that radical protestors were going to cause devastation to the city and the university. So in order to keep the peace, Satrom requested Governor James A Rhodes to send in the Ohio National Guard.
According to Ron Snyder, a National Guardsman who was at Kent State during the lead up to the rally, there was a “Definite lack of control over the students (Snyder, 2010). However, “Those men weren’t put [there] to kill people. They weren’t brought here to wound and maim, to take life away. They joined the Guard to get out of Viet Nam. ” (Anonymous, 2000). Never the less, the guardsmen were still trained like soldiers knowing “Never click the safety off your weapon until you were ready to use it,” stated by Art Krummel, a National Guardsman recounting his experience at Kent State in 1979. Krummel, 2008). If this is what the guardsmen were taught, then why did they fire into the crowd of protestors on May 4th? This then lead to the conspiracy that there was an order to fire at the ralliers. The authorities claim that there was no order to shoot at the students, however, on May 4th, as the guardsmen were retreating up Blanket hill, a bank near the commons, they all stopped, turned in unison, and fired at the protestors. It’s this action that lead people to believe that there was indeed a command to fire.
So when the Strubbe Tape was found, a recording of what is believed to be an order to fire, the matter became a more controversial event. When asked about the tape in an interview, ex-guardsman Art Krummel said he “Can’t even fathom any of the ranking officers giving that kind of an order,” and that it was a spontaneous and unorganised action. However, the tape was only recovered in 2007 and analysed by 2010, this also contributing to the conspiracy that the government was trying to cover up the fact that there was an order to fire.
Then came the rumour that a student came around a corner with a pistol, shot it then dropped it for another student to pick up and run away with. Again, this was believed to be more gossip to take the spotlight off the rumour of the order to fire. However, the bottom line that most people conclude to is that the higher ranked authority was and still is denying the claims, leaving the blame on the lower authorities like the guardsmen. The Kent State shooting is still a controversial event in history.
Between the two perspectives, the students are the more favoured by the media. However, this does not mean they were in the right. The protestors believed that they were only exercising their first amendment to freedom of speech and that the authority’s presence was unnecessary and the shooting was unjustified. While the authority believed that the protestors were potentially dangerous to the community as they were accused of starting the fire of the campus building.
Nevertheless, on May 4th the guardsmen on Blanket Hill turned in unison and fired into the crowd, killing and injuring not only protestors, but innocent bystanders. To this day, whether or not there was an order to turn and shoot is yet to be confirmed, even with audio evidence. But why the guardsmen were necessary that day is also yet to be justified. Ultimately, the evidence around the Kent State shooting is inconclusive and uncertain as the many viewpoints surrounding it show no clear answer to why the event transpired the way it did, with disputes supporting both the protestors and the authority.