Editors Note: This post originally mentioned Ambercrombie and Fitch, the offending party is actually Urban Outfitters. My mistake.
This post is for Urban Outfitters and all of those people who don’t know about or understand the significance of what happened at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. It was a seminal moment for this country and the aftershock brought about the end of the Vietnam war.
The basics. Due to the My Lai Massacre and other events, the Vietnam war was already becoming unpopular with Americans. In 1969 it appeared the war was winding down, but the Cambodian invasion and the reinstatement of the draft angered many who had thought the war was ending. Nixon had promised to end the war and now it appeared that he was continuing it.
Thousands of students who were upset by recent events held protests and strikes. Time Magazine called it “a nation-wide student strike.” In Kent Ohio, home of Kent State University, there had been a protest on May 1, 1970 and another planned for May 4th. The mayor of Kent had asked Ohio Governor James Rhodes for assistance. He sent the Ohio National Guard. On May 4th after several days of anger aimed at the police and the Guard this led to a confrontation with the students. Rocks and bottles were thrown. The Guard unit made a tactical error and had to retrace their steps. This brought further confrontation. For some unknown reason, the Guard turned and fired on students. Nine were wounded and four were killed. Of the four killed two had been at the protest and two were on their way to class. In all 29 of the 77 Guardsmen fired a total of 67 bullets in 13 seconds. The closest student killed was 225 ft. away from the Guardsmen.
In the aftermath a poll showed that most people blamed the students. A carefully concocted plan by the Nixon administration fueled this idea. However, all over America protests continued and eventually the sentiment of the country started to shift.
“You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire, once the wind begin to catch, the wind will blow it higher.”
That’s what happened. The wind blew the flame until the fire could no longer be contained.
After these many years questions still remain as to why the Guard fired. Personally, I believe a trained National Guardsmen became scared and gave an order to open fire. Reports at the scene said the Guard kneeled down in unison. I also believe the Guard looked on the students as adversaries who were criticizing the military intervention in Vietnam and not as fellow American’s who were exercising their right to free speech. Yes, some students did act inappropriately. But an unarmed student should not have to worry bout being gunned down by their government for speaking their mind or throwing some rocks. If that were true, I can think of numerous incidents where there would have been a massacre after an Ohio State football game.
I was 13 when Kent State happened and it helped shape my world view. I had grown up with the Vietnam war and was terrified I would not have a safe country to live in. Kent State stoked those fears. Vietnam was not like wars today which seem to be ignored by many people. Today’s wars are fought using drones by soldiers who enlist. In Vietnam the body count was high. Almost everyone knew someone or some family who had been affected by it. Parents and children argued. Even at 13 I was counting the years until I would be eligible for the draft. College students no longer felt safe on campus. Parents no longer felt safe sending their children to college.
It’s hard to imagine today the impact Kent State had on America’s emotions.
That is why making a T-shirt with the Kent State University Logo soaked in blood is in incredibly poor taste. Obviously, the designer of that shirt had no idea the importance of the events at Kent State. It was a time when the young lost their innocence, when parents worried about the future, and when all American’s questioned what it means to be an American.
Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash, and YoungOhio