, Research Paper
Reactions of the May 4,1970!
For my research paper I have decided to examine the reactions of the people towards the Kent State University shootings, the university shut down, and mostly the reactions to the Federal Grand Jury. I choose my topic because there were a lot of unanswered questions for me regarding the reactions of Americans after the shootings. This project has help to silence some of my questions. I have learned a lot about how people felt about the shootings, the university shut down, but I learned a lot more about the public reaction towards the Federal Grand Jury and its outcome. This is important because it allows us to better understand why it happened. It also allows us to see what society’s feelings were about these issues. It also provides with the information to understand why the shootings became a landmark for the 1970’s and why the shootings are still remembered. I will present my information several ways. The first thing I will do is talk about and provide information on the shootings, the university shut down and the trial. Then I have selected several questions and comments from a questionnaire from the book, Judicial Impact: A Case Study of the Impact of the “Kent State” Federal Grand Jury on Students Attitudes Towards the May 4th Shootings, by James Kotschwar. I have selected these questions and opinions because I believe that they help to depicted all of the reactions. These statements provide both points of view. They are not just partial to the students or partial to the National Guard. After I present the questions and opinions I will explain what they mean. After that I will give information on how people felt about the question presented. By giving information on what people said at the time. Then I will explain whether or not I agree with the question and why or why not I feel the way I do.
The basic reaction of the shootings at Kent State University depended mostly on whether or not you were a student, a parent, local, or an older person. Many students across the country at other universities became outraged, scared, worried, and saddened. They felt this way because they did not know if this could happen to them. They also felt that way because they realized that the National Guard had no right to be there, it was not there place to take control over the university and put it under martial law. Students protest were not just here at Kent State University they were happening on college campuses across the country. Soon these protest really hit home for many college kids when they realized that the students shot were shot because they were protesting the same thing everyone else was protesting. The shootings really affected many people from all walks of life young and old a like. While doing my research I came across several letters written to President White and Kent State University in the book, The Kent Affair, by Ottavio Casale. But two letters stuck out the most. The first letter was written to President White from a mother in Evergreen, Illinois. She wrote, “My heart is heavy with sorrow for you, your faculty and the student body, but most of all for the parents of the murdered students If it happened at Kent State it could happen anywhere.”(Casale 92) The next letter was the most socking to me, it was written by a boy from Pacific Palisades, California. He wrote, “I want all of Kent to hear this I think we would be better off without the National Guard. All they do is KILL I am very sorry about the people that died, I am only nine but I understand.”(Casale 93) These two quotes us how the public perceived the shootings at Kent State, not only did affect college age kids and parents, it affected a little nine year old boy who lived over two thousand miles away. This diversity in age helps us to better understand how much the shootings impacted our nation. The older people and most locals believe that the students got what they deserved on May 4,1970. The older people of this society were not used to the new hair styles, dress style, and the foul language. The students at the time were going against the norms of society, challenging away of life that was sacred to many older Americans. Another thing that brought reaction was the shut down of the university. People from around Kent had mixed reactions, some felt that they had finally gotten what they wanted which was to see the university disappear. But others open their homes up to students who were unable to get home right away. Offering the students a place to eat, sleep, and shower until their parents could get them. Some of the residents felt that closing down the university was wrong because those who needed to finish to graduate and get on with lives were being stopped. One student wrote a letter to President White pleading not shut the doors of higher learning, not to impede the educational growth of those students who wanted to learn. Many professors provided places for the students to come and finish their work. Many classes were held in church basements to try and get students the requirements to graduate. Some professors held classes right in their living rooms; others traveled across the country providing classes to out of state students. This made people wonder if closing down the school was really the right thing to do. This was like punishing 20,000 students for the actions of about 1,500 students if that many. The decision would put many lives on hold. Not only the lives of the students put on hold, but the lives of their parents and professors were too. Once again there were many different reactions to the outcome of the trial. Some believed the outcome was fair, while others believed that the trial was unfair. Some people thought that the trial brought a fair and just end to the tragic shootings at Kent State. They believed the judicial system worked. But some believed that it was too slow because it took three and half years to indict the National Guardsmen. Some believed that the National Guardsmen did not get punished hard enough. They also wondered how only a few of the National Guardsmen were convicted out of such a large number. Some say that the Guardsmen should not have been punished, they felt that the Guardsmen were doing their job. They believed that the students got what they deserved. Some parents and older people felt that the university was changing their kids by promoting freethinking. Parents believed that the only why of thinking was the way they were raised to believe. The school had done this so if they could not control these students than the students got what they deserved. Others believed the Guardsmen never had a fair trial because they waited so long to hold trial and lots of evidence was lost making it impossible to get a fair trial. Others believed that their Civil Rights were being violated not the student’s rights. Some believe that the jury makes clear that Governor Rhodes was not responsible for anything that happened at Kent State University. This meant that the Grand Jury did not believe the orders came from the top people in political power in Ohio and in America. Over all basically the reactions were mixed depending on who you were, how old you were, where you were from, and whether or not you understood what was going on.
The first opinion I will talk about is, “The students had the right to be out there protesting and demonstrating and did not deserve to be shot.”(Kotschwar 79) This meant that even though most of the students were not able to vote yet, they still had the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, it was granted to them in the Constitution of America. This also meant that hey were allowed to be out protesting the war in Vietnam and the American troops in Cambodia. But this is not saying that they had the right to be violent, cause riots all weekend long, or burn the R.O.T.C. building, but they did any way. Many young people believed that the students had the right to assemble and say what they wanted to. Many students believed that nothing would really come out of the protest. Some say that the students were out of line because they threw rocks and the tear gas canisters back at the National Guard. But they also say that if they were there they too probably would have done the same thing and thrown stuff such as rocks and the tear gas canisters back at the National Guard. Some people felt as if the students were not really there to protest but rather were there to start a riot. I do believe that the students had the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. I feel that they did not deserve to die rather they were just expressing their feelings. I believe that the only reason the feelings were violent feelings was because the National Guard threatened them. I feel that the students were right and the National Guard was wrong because everyone has the right to assemble. Another reason I side with the students is because if I were there I would be right there joining in helping out protesting against something I disliked.
The next opinion expressed was, “In the final analysis, the few triggerman must bear the blame for the deaths, at the same time, the blame must be equally shared by their superior officers, Governor Rhodes, and President Richard Nixon.”(Kotschwar 80) This means that who ever pulled the trigger must pay for it. Killing some one is not a light crime it is a serious matter with serious consequences. But it also implies that some one above them ordered to the men who pulled the trigger. The superior officers probably told them, and Governor Rhodes told the superior officers to do it because President Nixon said to do it. So that means that Governor Rhodes and President Nixon should be punished too. People believed that it was an order that came from the top, because it is hard to think that twenty-eight men would just turn around and fire their guns. People found it hard to believe that Governor Rhodes And President Richard Nixon had anything to do with because they did not want to look at their government and think that they were trying to kill their own people. Some people to this day believe that Rhodes and Nixon were involved in the planning of the shootings at Kent State University. Many people at that time sided with the National Guardsmen, so they were not going to blame the Governor Ohio or the President of the United States of America, they believed that the reasons the shootings happened was because the students deserved to be shot. I agree with the opinion that everyone involved should be punished, regardless of who it is President or not. I think that Governor Rhodes and President Nixon played a big role in the shootings. As much as I would like to think that our government would not harm its own people, the order came from some where my feeling is that it came from the top of the political spectrum. I think that Nixon used it to try and silence the students about the involvement of United States troops in Vietnam and in Cambodia. I think that they picked Kent State because it was a quite little town in “Heartland America”.
Another opinion I selected was, “I feel the Justice Department has been selective in its prosecution and I can’t figure out how they can indict 8 out 28 men who fired that day.”(Kotschwar 81) This means that out of 28 men only 8 were convicted, and they did not convict the 20 National Guardsmen. It saying that how can you find enough evidence to convict 8 but not 28 National Guardsmen. It also saying that Justice Department did not do an appropriate job handling the investigation. People believed that the justice Department was not really fair they just picked a few National Guardsmen to try and please the families of the dead and wounded. The families were not satisfied with the decision of the courts at all. Public reaction was mixed some felt that the trial was fair and that Justice Department did a good job handling what was at hand. While many students, faculty, and other friends of the victims were very upset with the outcome. I feel that the National Guardsmen got off easy because it was a cover up and they where hiding things so President Nixon and other high ranking political officials would suffer or be shown to be behind the shootings. I also believe that many people did not press the issue because they were afraid of what might happen to them.
The last opinion I selected was, “Justice is being served and that is what is important, even though it won’t bring back the dead kids.”(Kotschwar 80) This means that justice is finally being served but that will never bring back the lives of the kids dead form the shootings. It saying that we may have four kids but we are now getting the proper justice brought to the National Guardsmen. Many people believed that justice was finally coming but none of them would rather the kids have been killed. But we must realized if the students were not killed how could anyone feel the way they do about the outcome of the trial. People tried to take the few convictions of the National Guardsmen as payment for the lives lost on May 4,1970. I do not agree with quote because it is like saying that these few convictions are payment for lose of four lives. How could anyone consider that payment when anyone of those four students could have become a very important person in the future? That is a slap in the face to the youth of the time.
We now live in a society in which government scandals occur almost daily, but none that attack the hearts of as many Americans as the shootings at Kent State University on Monday, May 4,1970. I ask myself after researching all of the information that I did if such a tragic event could or would happen again? I believe yes but not likely why? Yes because you never know who will do something to make some else mad, you never know who will be running the country in years to come, it might be someone out to destroy the lives of college students. That seems far-fetched but it could happen do you always know whom you meet tomorrow or what you will be doing tomorrow. You could be injured while at work, school, home or even while your sleeping. So when you think about it the possibility of the Kent State shootings happening again it may happen when we least expect it too. So we should always be prepared with as much knowledge as we can to encounter such a situation as May 4,1970.