Four Kent State University students—including Bill Schroeder, an ROTC cadet whose funeral I wrote up for the Lorain Journal—died 40 years ago on May 4, 1970. Nine suffered bullet wounds. The Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds at a crowd no closer than 150 feet. Shot in the back while lying on the grass, young Schroeder himself was 382 feet from the nearest Guardsman, according to an official report. He was not among the anti-Vietnam protestors, but rather was simply outside, between classes.
I fictionalized the massacre’s aftermath somewhat in Chapter 29 of The Solomon Scandals, but this much is fact, unfortunately: Throughout Ohio, a small minority rejoiced that young Schroeder and the other three students were dead. An arsonist or group of them had burned down the ROTC armory; and property rights and ideology before human life, no? President Richard Nixon and Ohio Gov. James Rhodes may or may not have wanted the kids dead, but through rhetoric and mishandling of the Ohio National Guard, public officials paved the way with bad intentions. "They’re worse than the Brownshirts, and the Communist element, and also the Night Riders, and the vigilantes," Rhodes said of the protestors the day before the killings. "They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America." Was Rhodes at least indirectly to blame for the deaths, beyond the fact that he ordered the Guard to Kent State?
Did “shoot” orders, impromptu or not, exist? Via the Akron Beacon Journal and elsewhere, you can read of a sound recording that a Kent State student named Terry Strubbe made of the incident four decades ago. Yale University in 2007 enhanced a digital version, as noted by Al Canfora, who, as a student, was injured in the right wrist during the massacre. He says voices in the recording said: “Right here!” and “Get set!” and “Point!” and “Fire!” While not everyone is positive about those words and at least one Guardsman directly challenges Canfora, the New York Times has taken note of the recording’s existence. Especially with digital technology steadily improving, it is time for the Obama administration to do the same and reopen the Kent State investigations with help from reputable technologists and forensics experts.
In The Solomon Scandals, a high-rise collapses and no one suffers any meaningful punishment. The same happened in the real-life Skyline Plaza disaster in the Washington area where 14 workers died and 34 were injured. Maybe it’s too late for anybody to draw a murder conviction for Kent State; but if nothing else, along with the rest of us, Barack Obama could learn from history.
The Internet angle: If the recording is not on the Internet, it needs to be—so techies from all over the world can analyze the sounds. Official experts could then replicate their work if anything significant turned up.
And a Jewish angle: Quite by coincidence, nothing more, three of the four students killed at Kent State were Jewish.
Update, May 8: Mike Mori, the film-maker, has written in to remind us of the existence of a new DVD of his Emmy-winning documentary, Kent State, The Day the War Came Home. Any TSS readers seen it? Your thoughts?
Update, May 11: See New analysis of 40-year-old recording of Kent State shootings reveals that Ohio Guard was given an order to prepare to fire, from the May 9 Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The PD used impartial, independent experts.