On May 4, 1970, National Guardsmen opened fire on a group of anti-war demonstrators on the campus of Kent State University. The guardsmen killed four students and injured nine others.
Forty years later, Kent State is best known in the minds of many for that tragic event. The Kent State Massacre, as it became known, was memorialized in song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and has become practically synonymous with hippie-era campus unrest over the Vietnam War.
Today the university recognizes the 40-year anniversary of those shootings with a new May 4 Walking Tour (dedicated yesterday) and a two-hour Remembrance Day Observation starting at noon Eastern. These and other events occur in the midst of Kent State’s yearlong commemoration of the tragedy. Also today, the national media are shining their spotlight on the university, representing it as an institution that remembers and learns from the lessons of the past.
In some ways, the events of May 4, 1970, seem to have happened eons ago. The United States was a much different country then. There was the draft, which put the war effort at the forefront of many college students, whose academic standing was the only thing that kept some of them from mandatory service. And we had a president — Richard M. Nixon — who was elected two years earlier in part because of his tough law-and-order stance, a stance that was itself a response to anti-war and civil rights protests.
In other ways, though, the world really hasn’t changed much. The United States is again at war (although the draft is no longer a threat to college students) and our nation is just as divided politically as it was during the Kent State era — the days of student protesters and the “Silent Majority.” Perhaps we are even more divided now, even though the protests are not occurring on college campuses as much as they are at Tea Party gatherings.
Many of today’s college students may be only vaguely aware of what happened at Kent State, and a large majority of them — even at Kent State — may “feel a disconnect” with the event and that generation of college students, as this CantonRep.com article about the 40th anniversary points out.
Still, in today’s world and in the midst of our divisive national political arena, there is at least one lesson we can draw from the events of May 4, 1970.
As Carole Barbato, a Kent State student in 1970 who is now a communication studies professor at that university, told CantonRep.com: “We want students today to know the facts that we know, we want them to remember.
“But there are greater lessons here, and that is that the rhetoric that incites violence is never the answer.”