The Historian's Movie Review

History through the lens of film. Updated Fridays . . . usually.
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May 4, 2015


Warning: The Following Article Contains Graphic Images

Please permit me a bit of historic reflection. I'd like to think that, if nothing else, that's what The Historian's Movie Review is about.

Today is May 4th which, increasingly has come to be a semi-well-known nerd holiday about Star Wars (May the Fourth Be With You, eh?)

But for me, as a historian, I see it differently. It was on this day in 1970 that four students were shot and killed on the campus of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.


Now, I wasn't alive during the Kent State shooting, and some of you out there might be saying "why are you even writing about this?" I write about it because I grew up about an hour east of Kent, and because the event looms large for me as a historian. I am writing about this, too, because it is important. Because it needs to be remembered. All too often we can forget or marginalize or boil down important events in the past into a soundbite or a fun trivia fact or, in this case, a popular song which gets tons of airplay on a single day.

For me, though, Kent State is much more than that. The events are still alive and well in the classes I teach, and those students affected are real people. 


When nearly 2,000 students gathered in front of Taylor Hall on the morning of May 4th Kent State University had experienced several days of protests both on campus and in the vicinity of downtown Kent. Students were protesting not only American involvement in Vietnam and the recent announcement that American troops would be invading Cambodia, but in a larger sense they were protesting the occupation of their campus by National Guard soldiers.


Ohio National Guard Soldiers Arriving at Kent State


Ohio National Guard Soldiers Surrounding burned ROTC Building at Kent State.


Ohio National Guard Advancing against protestors, Kent State University

Those Guardsmen were doing what they felt was their duty -- to quell violence on a college campus. Similarly, students involved in the protest were doing what they felt was their duty -- protesting American involvement in Vietnam. But, what I think can get lost in remembering of the event is that there is no good guy or bad guy. It is the true definition of a tragedy.


Jeffery Miller and Mary Anne Vecchio

The most shocking thing about Kent State was that it happened in a sleepy suburban community called Kent, Ohio. You'd expect this kind of thing to happen in Vietnam, or the Soviet Union, or any of a number of corrupt third-world nations. But, this was a college campus in the United States of America. 


Jeffery Miller Shot at Kent State, Courtesey of John Filo

Forty-five years on we need to remember this. My fear is that my children won't, and at best it will be lumped in with so many other remembrance days like Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Pearl Harbor Day. At worst, it will be remembered as a minor footnote to history that is only significant to a scattering of historians or a college student cramming for a final exam. So, in the midst of your day at work, or school, or binge-watching Star Wars films take a moment at 12:24pm to remember Jeffery Glenn Miller, Allison B. Krause, William Knox Schroeder, and Sandra Lee Scheuer.




May 4th Visitor's Center, Kent State University

Kent State Shooting, Ohio History Center

13 Seconds: A Look Back at Kent State



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