Kent State Massacre — 50 Years Later

13 seconds.
67 shots.
4 dead.
9 wounded.

“They were shot as they rallied for what they believed in, exercising their rights as Americans. The shots shocked the world.”

Those stark figures that cannot convey the shock 50 years ago when National Guardsmen opened fire on student protestors in the Kent State University campus, killing 4 and wounding 9. By the evening, horrendous images of dead students appeared on TV screens across America, reminding us — as if we needed a reminder — of the deep division in our country during the Vietnam War.

To this day, the Kent State Massacre remains a raw wound for many of us. We learned in those few seconds that the Powers That Be would kill us in an instant for protesting their bloody war. We learned shortly afterwards just how deep that willingness to kill us ran when an opinion poll showed nearly 60% of Americans agreed, blaming the students for getting killed. “They should have shot more of them” and similar sentiments were repeated in poll responses. One writer later referred to them as the “most popular murders ever in in the United States.”

To this day, I remember that callous response to our impassioned protests against that despicable war. And I will always remember that we were right. We had been protesting the war and the draft now for several years in increasing numbers, frequency, and intensity. When Nixon announced the illegal invasion of Cambodia on May 1, once again, peace protestors launched into action across the nation. The killings at Kent State produced the first nation-wide student strike against the war. It would take a few more years after Kent State and many more unnecessary deaths of U.S. soldiers and the killing of thousands of Vietnamese in their own land, but even Nixon’s vaunted “great silent majority” eventually agreed the Vietnam War was a mistake and insisted we bring the troops home.

Perhaps the Kent State Massacre nudged public opinion in that direction, despite the immediate reaction blaming the students. I’d like to think so. Certainly, it galvanized the anti-war movement. Within weeks, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released “Ohio,” a powerful anthem against our oppressors that still reverberates today.

To this day, hearing that song still makes me tremble with rage.

I don’t have much more to add. Even now, as I write this, 50 years later, I feel the rage rising. My pulse races, my breath quickens, and my fingers shake a little even as I edit out some of my harshest phrasings. A half-century later, you might think I could move past this tragic event. No, I won’t.

To this day, no one has been held accountable for the shootings. An audio tape purportedly reveals someone saying “Prepare to fire” some time before the first shots, seeming to contradict some of the Guardsmen’s story at the time. Why did the Department of Justice destroy the original tape in 1979?

The sister of Allison Krause, one those killed that day, carries on a crusade to unearth the truth of that day’s events. Laurel Krause helped found the Kent State Truth Tribunal to “uncover, record and preserve the testimonies of witnesses, participants and meaningfully involved individuals…” so that time will not erase the harsh memory of this tragedy.

May we never forget.


Jeffrey Miller
Allison Krause
William Schroeder
Sandra Lee Scheuer

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About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
This entry was posted in pacifism, War and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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