Fifty years ago, America changed at Kent State – and we should remember it today.  The Kent State shootings still matter because it was the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War.


In a moment on a hill, public support for the war in Vietnam was forever undercut.  But the lessons of May 4th also eternally shaped how Americans thought about dissent, protests, government authority and freedom, lessons that today's leaders continue to grapple with.


This May 4th, we need to remember the fallen for the 49th time because it is critical that we don’t forget.  We should mourn an instance when unarmed protesters and innocent students, some just on their way to class, were killed.  Fifty years ago, Kent State students gathered to protest their government’s escalation of a war. Four paid for it with their lives, and this nation began to question its principles and its priorities.


One of the critical dynamics of America at that time was that war protesters were absolutely despised.  Think about it.  America -- the nation -- had a past of military heroics.  Just 25 years earlier, we stopped Hitler and saved the world. Our US military had only fought "noble" battles.  And now they were questioning our nation.  Who are these damn kids?  After May 4th, student protestors became sympathetic figures who were acting patriotic instead of class-cutting babies who needed a haircut and a shower.


What young America had realized was that this battle, based on political ideologies on a peninsula in Southeast Asia, was not worth their lives.   Remember, the military draft had been reestablished just five months earlier.  And just five days earlier (4/30/1970), President Richard Nixon had gone on national television to announce that the US military had begun operations in Cambodia.  The war was spreading.  The war that Nixon said he would end, was growing.  A war that now had a draft and a war that Kent State students knew might demand their service.


So they gathered, their voices grew, they questioned their government as their Constitution allowed them to do.  Then, rifles fired and the bullets flew.  And Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandy Scheuer and William Schroeder – the oldest of which was only 20 years of age -- were shot and killed by members of the Ohio National Guard.  Nine other students were also shot but survived.


Public support for the Vietnam War began to collapse as news of Kent State shootings spread.  Five days later, over 100,000 gathered in Washington DC to protest the Kent State shootings. And 50 years later, we remember that wars should be questioned, dissent is patriotic and 20 is too young to die.

 
 
 
  
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