Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Remembering Kent State

Posted By on Tue, May 4, 2010 at 10:33 AM

Forty years ago on this day, National Guardsmen fired 67 bullets into a crowd of Vietnam War protesters on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio. Four students were killed. Two of them, Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, were participating in the protest. The other two, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder, were on their way to class. Schroeder was an ROTC student.

When I visited the campus years later, a former protester led me and a friend up the hill from which the guardsman had fired down on the crowd. From that vantage point, it was difficult to imagine that the 77 guardsmen — 29 of whom reportedly fired their semi-automatic rifles — felt threatened by the students they killed hundreds of feet below.

Monday, NPR aired an excerpt from a press conference that took place a day before the shooting, in which Jim Rhodes, the Republican governor who decided to send the troops, described the protesters as “worse than the Brownshirts and the Communist element and also the Night Riders and the vigilantes. They're the worst type of people that we harbor in America.”

Rhodes’ projection notwithstanding, the tragedy immediately catalyzed the anti-war movement that helped to end what's come to be regarded as America’s least-popular and least-justified war — at least up until Iraq.

Today, it’s worth taking a moment to remember the Kent State tragedy, if only to remind ourselves how quickly and easily an ostensibly civil society can slip into the tactics of a police state.

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