Kent State - 30 years ago today

So I’ve been reading abou the shootings at Kent State University 30 years ago today.

Here is a (perhaps biased) site with a short chronolgy of events.
May Fourth Task Force

So what is the opinion of the Teeming Millions? Shootings justified or not? Should the shooters (or the person responsible) have been prosecuted? Should the national guardsmen have obeyed the order to shoot?

From what I’ve read, it seems that the students that were shot were far away from the troops (more than 200 feet) and presented no immediate danger. I’ve read that the ROTC building on campus was set on fire the previous day, but then I’ve also read that it was an old wooden building scheduled for destruction, so that doesn’t seem like such a criminal act of vandalism. On the day of the shooting, there was a confrontation, with tear gas and rocks being lobbed back and forth between troops and students. But at the time of the shooting, it seems that most students had thought the confrontation was over and were walking away.

In an article I read, there were some hints that the surviving national guardsmen knew who had given the order to shoot but remained silent.

The legal aftermath (from an article in the local newspaper)

I tried to start this thread a few hours ago, but I was too subtle to elicit a comment from the board and must have offended somebody’s sesibilities, so I’ll go with yours. In 1970 armed forces of the United States government, and more specifically of the State of Ohio, fired upon citizens of the United States murdering four students who were not even directly involved in the action. All of the subsequent cover-up and phony justification can not change that fact.

May 4, 1970 should be remembered as one of the darkest days in US history. After 30 years, the blame for it is irrelevant in my opinion. What’s more important is that the government takes steps to make sure that something like that (and the subsequent killings of students at Jackson State University) don’t happen again.

We probably won’t be able to avoid going to war again, but perhaps we will be able to better appreciate other people’s rights to protest such wars.

I graduated from Kent State in 1984. While I was there 99.9% of the students seemed to be either hard at work studying or partying, or both, and the other .1% agitating the university administration to never forget May 4th.

While at school there I learned some things that generally get overlooked. The National Guardsmen, most of whom were about the same age as the KSU students, and many of whom had joined the guard for the same reason Dan Quayle did (ie to get out of the war), had just come from policing a picket line at a strike. The Guardsmen had no sleep, little training on hostile crowd control, and were using live ammo instead of tear gas or some other nonlethal measures typically used for crowd control. Imagine you’re a 19 year old kid, with no sleep and a rifle, and a bunch of college kids are throwing rocks at you and accusing you of murdering Vietnamese children. It’s easy to see how they might lose their tempers and open fire.

I’m not excusing the guardsmen but I blame Ohio Gov. James Rhodes (who was running for the US Senate on a law and order platform) for putting them in a no win situation.

My father blames student agitators, and says, “You’ll notice that there were a lot fewer protests after those kids got killed.”

PatrickM said:

Or, more likely, fall prey to somebody else giving the order to fire.

I have a relative who was in the National Guard around that time, though in Chicago. He told me of how he once was at a protest that was getting out of hand. They were getting pushed around a bit and having stuff thrown at them. Somebody started giving orders to lock and load. They did. Luckily, somebody interceded before the order to fire was given. But, he said, Kent State could have just as easily been in Chicago. They never figured out who was giving the orders that would have led up to firing. So I don’t doubt that it’s possible for the same to be true at Kent State.

I’m not trying to defend anybody here, mind you – just pointing out that the situations were so chaotic that it was probably only a matter of time before something like that happened. :frowning:

The first line of troops, if are guards are called, should never be arm with weapons other than nightstick. If rifle men are present. Then have them in far rear ranks and only to fire warning shots up in the air never into the crowds.

Who ever order the command to fire did it as a personal motive.
What was this persons personality?
Why were there no warning shots order first instead?

Where is the honor in firing into a crowd, that is not armed with guns? Also which is in a distance, not advancing, or charging.

Besides I don’t buy the lack of sleep. That can’t be compared to that of actual combat. Where you can argue that after being expose to long periods of extreme violence you no longer care about who you killed.

Seems more like the weekend warriors went on a turkey shoot. If not then other wise it was very incompetent leadership.

Too bad that you can’t have the option to disabey the direct order to lock, and load, and aim onto fellow citizens.

Still maybe we need to instruct it ourselves. That we do not fire onto our own. Because we can’t depend on the military leadership to do it. When they are so worried about the break down of command.

Anyway glad to be aware that regular troops instinctively know how to take care of their bad leaders.


Then have them in far rear ranks and only to fire warning shots up in the air never into the crowds.


Bad idea. Bullets shot into the air fall to the ground (and have killed people). Two (or possibly three) of the students killed at Kent were on a hill or parking lot above and behind the crowd and were apparently hit by troopers shooting over the heads of the crowd. None of the four dead were in the crowd facing the guard, two were students ignoring the rally and changing classes and one was a pro-ROTC student who had gone to watch crowd control in action. The nine non-fatal wounded were all among the protesters.

All the troopers at KSU (both the 28 shooters and their 48 non-shooting companions) have stated repeatedly that there was no order to fire. The non-coms in the group began trying to stop the shooting as soon as the shock that they were shooting had worn off. (The story that is often repeated by student witnesses is that the smaller group of shooters appeared to turn and fire on a pre-arranged signal that it seemed that they had agreed upon without the knowledge of their officers. The story that the guard tells, both shooters and non-shooters, is that a sound was heard that many took to be a gun firing and most interpreted as a sniper shot.) Unless one of the shooters steps forward to tell what “really” happened, we will never know.

I usually look on Kent as the modern Boston Massacre. Badly trained troops reacting in panic or anger to unruly violence and perceived threats.

The two guys I always thought we should hang were the governor and the guard commandant. The governor, then running for the U.S. Senate, continually compared the demonstrating students (unfavorably) to the worst criminal element, stating that the government would meet any force with force. The commandant kept raising the issue of snipers at the rally for three days prior to the shootings, despite the fact that there was no evidence of anything resembling “sniper” (or even military) activity at Kent or at any of the other large, riotous rallies that had been held in the preceding years. (Snipers had been reported in a couple of the really large city riots and after that a few appeared at some inner city fires, but none had ever appeared at an anti-war rally.) The commandant wired his troops to expect snipers and publicly stated that sniper fire would be returned.

Ok but still that’s what I mean by not putting rifle men in a front ranks, but in the rear to fall back take cover and seek out who ever is shooting. In case someone does fire into the guards. Not lined up firing squad style to shoot at the crowd. The threat of sniper fire is not permision to fire into large groups of unarm people. Everyone knows that snipers, for clearer shots, will position themselves in areas apart from the crowds . Not in the crowds.

You know that police, and the guard if called will have members that are armed.

I’m aware that bullets do fall back down, but if the situation does come that warning shots have to be fire. Well then let them be blanks. At least for the shock value from multiple gunfire. Which will show that deadly force is going to be used.
And not because you want to disperse a bunch of angry people, who are yelling, and shouting.
But as an extreme last resort. Where people are truly in danger. Like a mob getting ready to lynch someone.

The two guys I always thought we should hang were the governor and the guard commandant. The governor, then running for the U.S. Senate, continually compared the demonstrating students (unfavorably) to the worst criminal element, stating that the government would meet any force with force.

The leaders back then were part of white sociaty that rationize that they were always doing the right thing.

Edlyn and I just returned from our honeymoon. One of the places we visited was Kent State. I had always wanted to see the memorial, and had planned for years to go for the thirtieth anniversay in May, 2000. The memorial was indeed quite stunning: long columns and slabs of polished granite with appropriate inscriptions and symbolic touches here and there. The hillside surrounding the memorial is smothered with 58,175 daffodils, representing those who lost their lives in Vietnam. One set of inscriptions on the 70 foot granite walkway reads, “Inquire, Learn, Reflect”. The students showed an almost eerie respect as they strolled by: no skateboards, no rollerblades, no bicycles.

This was on Wednesday, May 3. An old-timer was there, talking to several rapt students about that day on May 4, 1970. We eavesdropped as they asked him questions. At one point, he said, “This (the memorial) is nice, but what really matters is what’s over there.” He indicated a spot behind him that was a patch of daffodils, and we wondered at the time why they were so important to him. As we strolled a little more, we came upon what was just behind the plot of flowers.

He had been pointing to the parking lot between Prentiss Hall and Taylor Hall. There, four spaces, about the size of graves, are permanently blockaded by columns of four-foot-tall towers that illuminate the places where the four murdered students lay dead.

Jeffrey Miller was the closest to Blanket Hill, where the guard had stopped to turn and fire. Looking up the hill from Jeffrey’s spot, it was easy to see how he could never have avoided being hit by the spray of bullets: 67 shots in 13 seconds. Jeffrey was between two people who were injured. The distance was about 20 yards.

Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder were all a bit further back in the parking lot. From each spot, looking up the hill, you could imagine how dangerous and deadly was the bullet spray. William, ironically, was an ROTC student who, the day before (Sunday), had chatted with the guardsmen, telling them how he couldn’t wait to get his commission. Allison and Sandra were among the thousand or so unfortunates who were walking to their classes.

From the top of Blanket Hill, looking down at the parking lot, and out across the practice field, fenced in on three sides, and imagining the throngs of students, faculty, and campus visitors moving around between classes, trying to avoid the ruckus, I could see that the vantage point was a sniper’s dream. Jeffrey’s spot was just beyond the bottom of the hill. Allison, William, and Sandra fell in roughly the same line of sight. I could see the spot, about 250 yards away, where Donald MacKenzie was wounded, way in the distance, across Midway Drive. The entire spray of bullets seemed concentrated toward the parking lot.

According to official Kent State University accounts, eight Ohio National Guardsmen were indicted, but charges were dropped. The Scranton Commission concluded that “the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable”. In December, 1978, an out of court settlement of $675,000 was reached in a civil suit. The 28 defendants signed a statment that said in part:

As we stood there on Blanket Hill, surveying the parking lot and field, imagining the panic and carnage of that day, aware of the pissing contest that is constantly ongoing between Kent State administrators and the May 4 Task Force, we decided that we would not be able to bear seeing any sort of contention or mutual picketing at the next day’s services. So we took our pictures, paid our respects, and left.

The four dead were:

Allison Krause
Jeffrey Miller
Sandra Scheuer
William Schroeder

The nine wounded were:

Alan Canfora
John Cleary
Thomas Grace
Dean Kahler (permanently paralyzed)
Joseph Lewis
Donald MacKenzie (the farthest away)
James Russel
Robert Stamps
Douglas Wrentmore


Lib, you were 45 minutes away from me in Kent and you didn’t e-mail me to let me know you’d be there so I could meet you and Edlyn in person? Sheesh!


One of the worst things about the National Guard is that the governers are allowed to activate and use them for crowd control, riot control, and peacekeeping missions. Rank and file National Guard troops are NOT trained to perform any of these duties. What training they do get are in the form of combat training exercises, and restraint and non-lethal tactics are not taught.

Personally, I cannot say what caused the first shot to be fired, but I can find sympathy for those troops who started firing out of sheer panic and confusion. The idea that they were a bunch of murderous villains just itching for an excuse to kill is an unfair characterization that some activists have perpetrated to further their anti-government agenda.

tomndebb, thank you for your (as usual, excellent) information. It seems believable, from what you’re saying, that the National Guard actually did not receive an order to shoot, but might have thought that someone had shot at them. (By the way, where did you find out this information?)

From your account, then, they might have been shooting over the heads of the main crowd? Could the intention have been to fire warning shots?

I’m not that familiar with the event, hence my questions.

Libertarian, thank you for the first-hand account.

PatrickM, your father is probably correct in saying that heavy-handed repression is one way of avoiding anti-governmental protests (see China today), but did he really think that it was justified, or a good thing?

It seems the general consensus is that the guards did not have the intent to kill any students, perhaps only to scare them off, and some people have indicated that the shooting was an instinctive reflex, not the result of an order given by one of the guardsmen. But if an order to shoot had been given, in such a situation, would a guardsman be justified in refusing to obey the order? I would think so.


Dammit! If only we had known… [sigh]


You can read a good objective account, with an exhaustive bibliography that presents both sides, by two Professors (one of whom, I believe, was an eyewitness): THE MAY 4 SHOOTINGS AT KENT STATE UNIVERSITY: THE SEARCH

According to the May 4 Task Force, in their chronology, the 1975 civil trials showed there was an order to fire.


As always, when we’re talking about so-called “public property”, or property “owned” by government, then such issues are hopelessly obfuscated. It so happens that only one of the murdered students was, by any reasonable stretch, a protestor. Another was a ROTCy, and the other two were young women, dazed and confused by the whole spectacle that afternoon, who might have already been in class had they had free access to their normal route.

To everyone, I say visit the site. Go to the top of Blanket Hill. Look out at the parking lot and practice field. Imagine yourself with a loaded carbine and riot gear, surrounded by other soldiers. Decide for yourself whether you would consider a skinny kid yelling “Pig!” twenty yards below you a threat. Decide whether people more than a hundred yards away, headed to their classes, put your life in mortal danger. Decide whether the two girls, with flowers tucked in their hair, needed to be shot down. Decide whether you might not have lived had you not killed the ROTC student you had met the previous day.

Do that, and I’ll trust your judgement on the matter.

In short, maybe. Probably in fact. the military oath charges you with obeying lawful orders. If you refuse to obey an order based on its being unlawful, then you are okay so long as the courts agree with you. Even a military court would probably have declared such an order unlawful.

Kent State’s radio station, WKSU, (available on Real-Player, but I was listening to it in the car), ran a retrospective at least twice, yesterday, with recordings made then and commentary from recent interviews. I haven’t checked, but WKSU stores a lot of their programs. It might be available at

The “order to fire” is a sore subject with everyone. The “May Fourth Task Force” insists that the order was “proven” in 1975, yet no citation is provided and no one interviewd yesterday agreed with that description. The “MFTF” is driven by one of the two students paralyzed in the incident who has made it his vocation to keep the memory alive. (The other (partially?) paralyzed student pursued other careers–including, ironically, work for the military at some point.) The amount of hostility between the “MFTF” and the troopers who shot is palpable and will probably prevent any reconciliation or attempt to find a neutral assessment of the incident.

(I was not taking notes while driving I-480 and I-77, so I could have missed some details. I note that the study cited above mentions that only one of the two young women killed was going to class and that the other was a protestor. If that was in the broadcast, I missed it.)

One of yesterday’s contributors was a Guard officer who provided an interesting perspective on the “huddle” where many students feel the plan to shoot was plotted. His view is that the “huddle” was, indeed, a planning group, but that it was probably the one that the officers and non-coms held to determine their best method of leaving the football field without creating a further incident. Since none of those officers were connected to the shooting, it would tend to dampen the theory of a deliberate act. (It does not diminish the utter stupidity of marching around a college campus with live ammo while classes were in session, of course.)

Ptahlis said:

A very good point. In fact, I remember the relative I mentioned above telling me how he had been trained on how to use his bayonet: Aim for the chest/go for the kill. He said he only used it once, though, to poke a woman in the butt during a protest. Their training just didn’t cover this type of situation…