Friday, April 8, 2016

67 Shots

 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence by Howard Means
Da Capo Press: 4/12/16

eBook review copy; 288 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780306823794

67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence by Howard Means is a very highly recommended balanced account of the shootings at Kent State on May 4, 1970 when four students died.

May 2020 will mark a half a century since the shootings at Kent State. The tragedy of that day and the events over the three preceding days should be noted by us today. It is rather startling to me to accept that some people are oblivious about what transpired in 1970.As Winston Churchill said, "Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it."

As Means summarizes it: "The times, the war, the ’60s, a growing generational divide, the Age of Aquarius, and the Age of Hate all collided at Kent State University at 12:24 p.m. on May 4, 1970, and four flesh-and-blood human beings - sons and daughters, brothers and sisters - did not survive the wreckage."

There were three days of protests by students before the shootings. On Friday, May 1st, the day after President Nixon's address to the nation where he said that the Vietnam War would not be winding down, but instead would be expanded into Cambodia, a small group of antiwar protestors staged a demonstration on the campus of Kent State. Later that night, fueled by the 3.2 beer available to 18 year-olds at that time, students instigated a riot in downtown Kent where businesses were damaged. The citizens of the town were understandably upset and concerned for their safety.

A small group of students were equally upset and continued their protests. The ROTC building on campus was burned down the next day. The small force of police available was unable to protect the firemen who came to put out the fire. Students were throwing rocks at them and attacking the hoses, so the firemen retreated. This led to the governor calling in the Ohio National Guard. Once the National Guard was in full force throughout the town, but especially on campus, a face-off seemed inevitable.

Kent State was put under military control and a curfew was put into effect. Helicopters were flying, spotlighting any student out, not following the curfew. During the day, students were protesting, throwing rocks, feces, bags of urine, etc. at the guardsmen, many of which were their age. As the tensions mounted and everyone, guardsmen and students were suffering from a lack of sleep, a confrontation was inevitable.

What was known to everyone is that a group of students were planning a protest rally at noon on the commons on Monday, May 4th. Rather than an anti-war rally, the protest became a protest against the National  Guard presence on campus. The result was, as described by Means in the synopsis, "both unavoidable and preventable: unavoidable in that all the discordant forces of a turbulent decade flowed together on May 4, 1970, on one Ohio campus; preventable in that every party to the tragedy made the wrong choices at the wrong time in the wrong place."

"At midday on May 4, 1970, after three days of protests, several thousand students and the Ohio National Guard faced off at opposite ends of the grassy campus Commons at Kent State University. At noon, the Guard moved out. Twenty-four minutes later, Guardsmen launched a 13-second, 67-shot barrage that left four students dead and nine wounded, one paralyzed for life."

Means does an excellent job presenting and taking all the facts, information, memories, viewpoints, and events of those few days in May into account and places everything in the context of the times with objectivity in an equitable manner. It is an even-handed overview of all the details and events that led up to the shootings, and the aftermath. There are extensive notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Da Capo Press for review purposes.

No comments: