By Erian Bradley
Just four days after President Richard Nixon announced that he would be sending troops into Cambodia, student protestors at Kent State University clashed with Ohio National Guardsmen, ending in bloodshed.
Four were killed, nine were injured.
Many people thought that Nixon was to blame for the shootings, and that he is what caused the protests, and to an extent that is true.
On May 8, 1970 Nixon did an interview with United Press International, Eugene R. Risher, to talk about the events that resulted in his announcement on Cambodia and the protests.
Q. Mr. President, have you been surprised by the intensity of the protest against your decision to send troops into Cambodia, and will these protests affect your policy in any way”?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I have not been surprised by the intensity of the protests. I realize that those who are protesting believe that this decision will expand the war, increase American casualties, and increase American involvement. Those who protest want peace. They want to reduce American casualties and they want our boys brought home.
I made the decision, however, for the very reasons that they are protesting. As far as affecting my decision is concerned-their protests I am concerned about. I am concerned because I know how deeply they feel. But I know that what I have done will accomplish the goals that they want. It will shorten this war. It will reduce American casualties. It will allow us to go forward with our withdrawal program. The 150,000 Americans that I announced for withdrawal in the next year will come home on schedule. It will, in my opinion, serve the cause of a just peace in Vietnam.
Martin. F Nolan, a long-time reporter for the Boston Globe, wrote an article explaining the confusion that the world had been feeling at the time.
He said that when Nixon was elected in 1968 he told the public he had a plan to end the war. Nolan said Nixon had “no clue.” He further goes on to explain that Henry Kissinger, the National Security Advisor, said that the president widened the war because during Nixon’s speech on April 30, 1970, “America would otherwise become ‘a pitiful, helpless giant.'”
Most of the blame was aimed at Nixon, even though the orders had not been from the president, but the National Guardsmen.
The New York Times’ reporter John Kifner, wrote an article on the shooting itself focusing on the four students that were killed by troops.
In the article, Kifner said that the shooting occurred 20 minutes after the guardsmen attempted to break up a rally at noon on a grassy area called the Commons. The guardsmen at that point had emptied tear gas on 1,000 students.
When asked why the guardsmen had opened fire on so many students, Sylvester Del Corso, Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard, claimed they had been forced to retaliate after a sniper opened fire on them from a nearby rooftop. Their orders were to take cover and return any fire.
But Kifner, a reporter who was there, saw no evidence of a sniper nearby, and the only threat was rocks being thrown by students at the Guardsmen.
Kifner added that students had been protesting for three nights, one ending in the burning down of the Army Reserve Officer’s Training Corps. People were outraged, so outraged that the protests had become violent and were turning into riots. Martial law had been called because of the intensity of the protests.
Guardsmen had already made 69 arrests and were trying to stop the uproar when students rang their football victory bell on the commons.
All hell broke loose. The guardsmen drove up in a Jeep to tell the crowd to disperse.
Kifner also described the platoon as guardsmen armed with M-1 rifles and gas equipment, chasing protestors. They had been getting cursed at and called pigs all throughout the campus. But the trauma came after they reached a hill and students started jeering and throwing rocks at them. They immediately formed up and opened fire at the crowd.
From Kifner’s article, one could assume that being hit by rocks and the intensity of the protest set one of the guardsmen off, and they started to shoot. A tragedy.
Questions that haven’t been answered but have been asked by reporters like Nolan are: how did the guardsmen not know that some students were just trying to get to the library or go study?
Martin Nolan, wrote in his article that the FBI report said that the students killed were no threat to the guard. One of the students killed, Jeff Miller, was almost 90 yards away from the guardsmen; Allison Krause was nearly 100 yards away; and William Schroeder and Sandy Scheuer were 150 yards away. Nolan said that the FBI said there is no evidence that they were the ones throwing rocks.
Innocent college students were killed that day by the National Guardsmen in Ohio. Nixon ignited the protests, yes, but he wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger.