(Copyright 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)


[The following article is updated from a slide show by Mike Alewitz at the 30th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State.  Alewitz was a student leader at KSU, an eyewitness to the shootings, and a leader of the national student strike that followed.]

The New York Times has reported on Bush administration plans for an invasion of Iraq next year.  The blueprint calls for an occupation of that country with up to 250,000 US troops.  The government in Washington, at the behest of the oil and other corporations that they represent, are threatening to plunge us unto another Vietnam to protect their profits.

The costs of that war were enormous: 2,500,000 men and women of my generation were forced to serve in Vietnam.  Of those, 58,135 were killed; 2500 were missing and likely dead; 303,616 were wounded and 33,000 were paralyzed.  In addition, there were 110,000 war related vet deaths and 35,000 civilian dead.

Those figures pale in comparison to the losses suffered by the Vietnamese. There were 1,921,000 Vietnamese  deaths.  200,000 Kampucheans were killed. 100,000 Laotians.  A total of 3,200,000 Asians were wounded. 14,305,000 people were made into refugees.

The United States intervention left fully 1 in 30 total dead and 1 in 12 wounded.  Washington created 300,000 orphans.

15,500,000 tons of bombs were dropped.  Millions of gallons of poisons were dumped.  The US succeeded in defoliating fully 10% of the land of Vietnam.

100s of billions dollars were pumped into the death machine...dollars that did not go to schools and medicines and social services.

Despite the horrific punishment inflicted on the people of Southeast Asia, the United States was eventually forced to withdraw---defeated by the combined power of the Vietnamese liberation struggle and the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Heroic Actions

From the very beginning of US intervention, opposition began not only on the campus, but in working-class communities, and of critical importance, within the army itself.

One of the great unsung, heroic actions of the North American working class was the fight against the war in Vietnam, led by active-duty GIs many of them black and Latino.  Combined with the militant student anti-war movement, it spelled the doom of American involvement in SE Asia.

Throughout the late "60s and early "70s were a series of increasingly large anti-war mobilizations that began to reach out to the great mass of the American people.  Combined with the ferment taking place in African-American and Latino communities, the radicalization began to challenge all our fundamental political, social and cultural beliefs.

Nixon Invades Cambodia

When President Richard Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia, and the widening of the war, on April 30, 1970, it was met with universal  revulsion. Student protests began to erupt all across the country.

At Kent State, a series of protests took place from May 1-3, including graduate students symbolically burying the Constitution, black students rallying against the war, unrest in downtown Kent, and students burning down the ROTC building, a dilapidated old wooden structure.  Kent was no stranger to protests.  Although largely written out of the history of the Kent events, the May events were preceded by years of mass mobilizations against the war which involved thousands of students in street demonstrations.

On May 3 the Ohio National Guard was called out against the students by Governor James Rhodes.  Rhodes echoed the words of Nixon, who called the student protesters "bums."

On May 3, at a press conference, Rhodes said of the students: "They're worse than the brownshirts and the communist element and also the nightriders and the vigilantes.  They're the worst type of people we harbor in America.  I think we are up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group in America."

The basis was laid for the murders---all that remained was to pull the triggers.

May 4, 1970

On May 4, students formed on the Commons, a traditional free speech area, in a peaceful protest against the war and the military occupation of the campus.

After students refused to relinquish their right to protest, we were barraged with tear gas.  At this point the protest was essentially over.

The guardsmen continued to march over Blanket Hill, to a practice field on the other side.  They crouched and aimed at us.  They got up and began to walk back over the hill.   But as they neared the pagoda, without provocation, they turned and fired at the unarmed students.

The students shot were from 71 to 495 feet away.  Most were shot in the back or sides as they attempted to flee.  Four students lay dying: my friend Sandy Scheur, SMC activist Allison Krause, Jeffry Miller and Bill Schroeder.

On May 14, ten days later, 75 Mississippi state cops, armed with carbines, shotguns and submachine guns, fired 460 rounds into a dormitory at protesting students at Jackson State.  They killed James Earl Green and Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, and left 12 wounded.

National Student Strike

Fueled by hatred of the war, the shootings at Kent and Jackson triggered what became the largest political demonstration in US history, a national student strike which shut down most major universities.  On campus after campus, students began to meet and discuss how to turn their universities into real institutions of learning, and how to build a movement to end the war.  We patterned our strike on the actions of students in other countries, most notably in France. There, in May-June of 1968, students engaged in massive political struggles that involved the working class in a massive general strike.

The student anti-war movement helped to fuel and support the anti-war soldiers.  The army began to collapse in Vietnam.  Eventually, in April of 1975, the US was forced to completely withdraw.  The military defeat opened the door for the next stage of US involvement ion Vietnam: an economic war that has continued to this day.

The governments in Washington and Ohio attempted to destroy the memory of what happened at Kent by building over the site and covering up the truth of what happened there.  There has never been a full accounting the murders, the role of the armed FBI agent who was photographed in the crowd or the role of Nixon and Rhodes.

And, to this day, not in any official or radical commemoration, has the role of the mass anti-war movement at Kent been acknowledged.  The demonstrations and moratoriums that mobilized thousands of KSU students remain only in the consciousness of those who participated.

The Place of Kent in World History

What then is the place of Kent and Jackson in world history?

There can, and will, be more massacres.  It would be naive to think otherwise.

Today the Israeli assault on the Palestinian people continues unabated, bought and paid for by billions in US military support.  The "War on Terror," which is really a war of terror directed against any who challenge US policy, is being used to prepare new wars abroad and attacks on civil liberties here at home.

The US government, both directly and through it's surrogate structures like the UN and NATO, remains willing to use its military power throughout the world.  Washington continues to operate the School of the Americas and other institutions that train the torturers of the world.  The US continues to conduct massive terror against Cuba---from attempted assassination to kidnapping children.

But throughout all this, Wall Street is prevented from accomplishing its more vicious aims.  They can use massive bombings against the people of Afghanistan or Iraq, but they are incapable of conducting the kind of military occupation that will bend those peoples to their will.  The anti-war sentiments of the American people, a living legacy of the students at Kent and Jackson, as well as the millions who marched and demonstrated...that is what ties their hands.

The sacrifice of our martyrs is not without meaning.  They have left us a living legacy.  That legacy was apparent on April 20, when tens of thousands of us marched in Washington and San Francisco against the US-Israeli war. The martyrs of Kent and Jackson came alive in those demonstrations.  The students who died, and those who struck and marched, are part of a collective consciousness to build a lasting world peace based on human solidarity.  


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