They shoot students, don't they?

On May 4 1970, "they" did. The National guard - on the campus of Kent State University - 13 shot - 4 demonstrating students dead. Or maybe some of them demonstrating, some just there, caught at really the wrong place at the wrong time. A university name famous (infamous?) forever, "Kent State" refers to only one thing in the last 35 years: - 13 bodies on the pavement, bleeding. --for exercising their right - guaranteed by the constitution, to meet and to express their opinion.

67 shots fired in 13 seconds - 13 wounded - four dead

Neil Young, of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young echoed the despair of a generation with the haunting echo "Four dead in Ohio."

I was walking down the sidewalk after a class, when a friend approached me, all upset, angry, telling me about the shooting. I argued with her - "You must be mistaken. The students must have been doing SOMETHING. The guardsmen wouldn't have shot without a REASON." But I was wrong.

 There was a memorial service - an unknown number of students walked down the grass of the commons - PERFECTLY QUIETLY. Speakers said prayers for the families of the dead and injured students. I was there. I was not demonstrating. No one was shouting or protesting in any way.

The newspaper reported it differently. And some Sociology professors, who had given their students permission to miss class in order to attend the memorial, were punished. Walter Cronkite gave our commencement address a month later - and he castigated the University and the local journalists for their distortions of what happened. (They gave him an honorary degree anyway. They already had it printed up...)

There were demonstrations at the University of Missouri that Spring. There was unrest. There were crowds of dissidents. We were forbidden to meet in groups of more than three, and the Missouri guard patrolled OUR campus. The administration was paranoid and overreacted.

We were young and idealistic. We believed we could change the world. We did. Three years later, every Sociology Professor who had dismissed classes was gone from the University. And the rest of us were left with a galling despair. We can express our opinions - but we get shot for it.

The title _They Shoot Horses Don't They_ was from a bitter, existentialist book/film about dance marathon competitions in the 30s - where even the winners earn nothing after hours/days of pain, grit, suffering and determination. They were struggling for their only hope - and their victory was empty. My generation feels that hopelessness, that despair. Our leaders get assassinated, our young men get shipped off to war, our students, our future, get shot by our supposed protectors, who, it turns out, are just confused young men like us.

We changed the world. But not ideologically. Young people are now free to protest in the streets. But not because we believe differently. Because we can video it with our phones, put it on You-tube, and tweet about it instantly. We can protest because we can make public world-wide what happens when we do. I should have gone into Journalism - or computers.


  1. Caro, thank you for your moving account of that terrible day. Your words brought back memories of that whole period. I was past college age then with a young family but I still remember the 1968-1972 years as a dreadful time all over our country. I think your generation was the last idealistic generation. So many impossible-to-imagine things have happened since then that it's no wonder young people are so pessimistic.
    Sarah in California


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