Kent State and the End of American Innocence
Author: Howard Means
Published By: Da Capo Press
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was a kid, I remember looking through a book we used to get for free from the makers of World Book Encyclopedia. Every quarter of a year, we would get a booklet highlighting the year's events. Looking through the book for 1970, I remember the iconic photograph of a young lady kneeling in front of a downed man with her hands in the air in a supplicating gesture. It interested me, so I read more and learned the little I was to know about the shooting at Kent State until I read 67 Shots by Howard Means.
On May 4 ,1970, 67 shots were fired by National Guardsmen on Kent State University campus grounds. When the last shot was fired, four lay dead, none wounded, one paralyzed for life. 67 Shots looks at everything that led up to that moment and what took place in the shooting's aftermath. When I originally read about the shootings at Kent State, I never knew why the National Guard had been at the college and I had always thought that those responsible for the shootings had been taken to task for their crimes. I was soon to learn differently.
To explain the atmosphere surrounding the Kent State shootings, author Howard Means goes back to days before the incident and Nixon's announcement of a new battlefront in Cambodia. When we were supposed to be pulling out of Vietnam, here was our President announcing a new front in the war. This caused anguish amongst those in the community, particularly the younger crowd who faced possible drafting into a war they didn't believe in. With Ohio being one of the states with some of the highest losses of life in Vietnam, it was understandable that tensions were high. But something else was coming into play here - the ever increasing generation divide. Means also poses the possibility that outside forces - professional protesters involved in inciting dissent - may have been in play.
These issues amongst others resulted in riots in the streets of Kent and the destruction of businesses in the area. To prevent this from happening again, curfews were put into place and, eventually, the National Guard was called into play by a Governor who may have been more interested in increasing his polling numbers than keeping the streets safe for the community. Perhaps, if the National Guard had not been called, this would never have happened. But then, there was also the rampant confusion as to who was in charge on the college campus. If the National Guard was in charge and meetings of three or more were considered banned, how could classes be held? Who was in charge of ordering the Guardsmen to fire on the crowd in the Commons? Who was in charge of the protesters? No one can seem to answer that question.
Which leads to the aftermath of the shooting and the mass confusion as to who to point the finger of blame at. Means discusses the various opinions regarding who should be held accountable - the protestors or the National Guardsmen. He discusses the various charges and lawsuits filed against students, teachers and Guardsmen alike and why most of the attempts to hold someone accountable for the shootings failed.
What I loved about this book was the way it began - the allusion to all that died fighting in Vietnam on the day of the Kent State University shooting. These are sobering facts to begin a book with - talking about people who died serving their country at war just prior to talking about those who died in a horrific incident that never should have happened. Means is not exactly comparing the two, but merely reminding us that many people died on this date, some fighting in the very war that members of the campus were protesting at the time. I also liked the fact that Means doesn't chose a side in the finger-pointing game, but he does point out how blatantly confusing the whole incident was and how difficult it is to point a finger when mass confusion is ensuing.
I learned a great deal about this country's history reading 67 Shots. What happened on May 4, 1970 at Kent State University should never have happened and I agree with the survivors who have been fighting to keep the incident in our minds and hearts - learning from mistakes is all we can do and therefore, we must make certain that no one forgets the things that led up to this moment in time in which four lost their lives forever.
67 Shots was quite an interesting and informative read meant for serious history lovers out there who want to learn all sides of the argument.