This week I started looking through 13 Seconds by Philip Caputo, one of the books Dr. Renoff suggested. Caputo is a journalist who worked at the Chicago Tribune in 1970 and was sent to Kent State to cover the protests after violence broke out over the weekend. Caputo spends a lot of time discussing the reactions of America to the shootings, and suggesting lessons that we should take away from the incident (Alec and Cindy, you might find this useful). Since I’m covering the background, two parts of the book interested me: first, the chapter describing the days leading up to the shootings and the actions of the four students who died, and second, Caputo’s stories of other antiwar groups.
I already knew a lot of the background leading up to the shootings on May 4, but I found Caputo’s narratives about the four victims to be interesting. None of the four took part in the violent protests over the weekend. William Schroeder was an ROTC student, and Sandy Schuer was simply walking to class when she got caught in the crossfire. Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause we’re both antiwar activists and were part of the rally on Monday. However, both of them were of the peaceful variety. Miller even called his mother to ask if she thought it was okay for him to attend the protest on Monday.
In fact, compared to a lot of the other antiwar groups that Caputo talked about, the students at Kent State were positively tame. They threw rocks and insults, and smashed windows. The enrollment in the campus’s SDS (Students for Democratic Society) chapter was less than 1% of the student body. The students at Kent State were simply protesting what they viewed unjust actions. The original aim of the rallies was to protest the invasion of Cambodia. The students buried a copy of the constitution to symbolize its death. None of the four victims, nor the rest of the student body, were radicals. Instead, in this instance, violence incited more violence in a string of unintended consequences. The Ohio National Guardsmen also let one thing lead to another. The Governor of Ohio had made a statement that they should use every means possible to “eradicate the problem” (Caputo 48). The Guardsmen had also just come from breaking up a violent trucker’s riot, which would have put them on edge at Kent State (47). Ultimately, the conflict escalated on both sides, from peaceful protest to fatal shootings.
Caputo, Philip. 13 seconds: a look back at the Kent State shootings. New York: Chamberlain Bros., 2005.