The Miracle Man
Thomas Jefferson still survives, John Adams last words most definitely stand true, even today. Thomas Jefferson was a well-educated man with a wealthy and proper British-American upbringing. An excellent education was the beginning step to all the wonderful things Jefferson would do for our country. After college, he became a lawyer, and soon a member of the House of Burgesses. An intelligent writer and thinker, Jefferson, along with four others, was chosen to write the Declaration of Independence. Filled with Thomas Jeffersons great ideas, the Declaration of Independence greatly influenced the Constitution.
After the Declaration of Independence was written, a fire sparked in the hearts of the Americans who had suffered from the King of Englands oppressive governing. A course of action had finally been taken against the King. New ideas spread regarding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The young nations hope of freedom was now becoming more of a reality than a dream.
In the years following, a Constitutional Convention was held in order to form a more perfect union. Models for the constitution consisted of forms of government such as the Magna Carta, which limited power of the king or government figure, and the Declaration of Independence. Ideas taken from the Declaration and Thomas Jefferson included points such as We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life. By mentioning the truths that are self evident, Jefferson lets the colonists know that they do indeed have rights. The Declaration was used as a model for the Constitution, through its focus on equal rights, to remind us that all men are created equal, and should be treated with the basic respect human beings deserves, along with the right to choose our destiny.
Today, we know America as a nation of peace and refuge from the other tyrannous governments of the world. Once, our nation, as American colonies, experienced these same tyrannous behaviors from the distant King of England. Thomas Jefferson doesnt hold back when mentioning the Kings unjust actions. As stated in the Declaration of Independence,
to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws , giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation for quartering large bodies of armed troops among us, for protecting them by a mock trial for punishmentfor cutting off our trade with all parts of the world; for imposing taxes on us without our consent; for depriving us of the benefits of trial by jury, for transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses; for abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries
The list goes on and on. Thomas Jefferson knew these actions were wrong and unjust and let the people know and realize that they were being treated unfairly.
America used to be susceptible to the cruel denial of her distant government, but under minds like Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, was able to fight back. Because of Jeffersons outstanding views, as seen throughout the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution was formed. Today, America has one of the strongest governments in the world that is ruled by its people under our inalienable rights. Without Thomas Jeffersons intelligence to influence the Declaration of Independence, we would be missing the keystone in our bridge of democracy.
In 1970 the nation was in its highest state of controversy. The generation gap that had begun to form in the sixties was now more of a ravine. The youth of America was finally standing up and raising their voices in protest against all the problems that plagued the country they would have control of in years to come. There were many events that helped in feeding the flame in the hearts of Americans. One such event was the Kent State University incident. It is an event that touched the nation and made such a profound mark, and yet it only lasted for thirteen seconds. In the thirteen seconds the Ohio National Guard, along with the rest of government by association, established themselves as the new enemy. All eyes were on them, scrutinizing their every move, pointing out every mistake they made. Interestingly enough, most dont even really know exactly what went on in those thirteen seconds, but they knew that it left four students dead and nine injured at the hand of the National Guard, so that was enough to strike the hearts on millions. Still today, twenty-nine years later, we still dont really know what went on. Who fired the first shot, and were they provoked? Was it necessary for the National Guard to be present on this typically calm college campus in the first place? And why did it have to end in such tragedy? There are so many questions, and so many misconceptions about this incident, and like any controversial issue, there are always two sides to the story.
Before choosing sides one must always look at the facts. The most important fact to know about the situation at Kent State University is that in the days before the shootings, the campus was anything but calm. It all began on Thursday, April 30, 1970, at eight in the morning. President Richard Nixon had just announced to the nation that the United States combat forces had just launched an incursion into Cambodia.
By noon on the following Friday nearly five hundred students, in protest of Nixons decision to send troops into Cambodia, gathered to watch as a student at Kent State buries a copy of the United States Constitution, triggering a whole series of protest by other students. At three p.m. on Friday, Black United Students brought four hundred students together to discuss the Black community and racial incidents that plagued Ohio State University. At this time the protests remain calm. With a watchful eye the President of Kent State, Robert White, observes the groups and determines that the situation at Kent State is under control, and left on a planned trip to Iowa.
As the afternoon wore off into the evening, students and other people began to congregate in the Kent bar area. It was an unusually warm night, and by eleven o clock the people were flooding the streets, closing them to traffic. Most of the students remained inside the bars, watching the NBA Basketball playoffs, many of the crowd outside are not Kent State students. A local motorcycle gang shows up and begins performing tricks on their bikes and then ignites a bon fire in the middle of the road. By now things have pretty much gotten out of control. The people in the streets begin to deface the stores and private property in the area. The Kent Police Department makes no effort to break up the crowd, so the disorderliness continues through the night into the early morning.
By twelve-thirty, Saturday morning, the group continues to grow more unruly. The Mayor of Kent, Leroy Satrom, learns of the events and declares a state of emergency, and orders the bars to be closed and streets to be cleared by the police. The Mayor is under the impression that radicals and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were involved in the initiation of the disturbance, and calls Governor James A. Rhodes to inform his Administrative Assistant of what was going on. The Governor sends an Ohio National Guard officer to check it out. Now one in the morning, the bars have been completely cleared and the group has been driven out of the downtown area and is being directed towards the Kent State University campus by the Kent Municipal Police. The Campus Police do little to aid the Police in their efforts. After a freak incident involving an individual hanging from a street light, the crowd dissipates. The estimated damage of the property that night added up to about $15,000, and fifteen people are arrested.
The Presidents Commission on Campus Unrest offered the following review of the incident the night before, and the feelings of those involved:
The pattern established on Friday night was to recur throughout the weekend: There were disorderly incidents; authorities could not or did not respond in time to apprehend those responsible or to stop the incidents in their early stages; the disorder grew; the police action, when it comes, involved bystanders as well as participants; and, finally, the students drew together the conviction that they were being arbitrarily harassed.
By daybreak rumors begin to spread across the Kent State campus of threats from numerous radical groups. At ten o clock, Saturday morning, Police Chief Ed Thompson informed Mayor Satrom that his intelligence officers had noticed new faces in Kent, and gave reports of a looming arrival of carloads of SDS students. Merchants were threatened that if they did not put anti-war messages in their windows their property would be damaged. And the rumors kept spreading throughout the day. The police even began to guard the water supply after learning of a rumor that it would be spiked with LSD. At this point Mayor Satrom established a citywide curfew of eight p.m. to six a.m., and an on campus curfew of eleven p.m. to six a.m., a decision that resulted in much confusion in the preceding days.
To prepare for the evening that threatens to be as bad as the night before, Mayor Satrom calls in the Ohio National Guard, but neglects to inform Kent State University officials of this. As expected, people gathered together again that night. By seven-thirty nearly six hundred people, including non-students, formed a group on the Commons at Kent State and attempt to burn the ROTC building, but are unsuccessful in their efforts at first. Nearly an hour later they achieve their goal and the building is ablaze. The Kent Municipal Fire Department finally shows up to fight the fire, which became ineffective as the angry mob slashed the fire hoses and throws stones at the firemen. Unfortunately, the Kent State Campus Police stand by and offer no protection to the firemen or attempt to disperse the crowd. The National Guard dose what it can to block the crowd at Kent States path into the city. Now they have made their presence known to University officials and students, which surprises them and the angry mob even more enraged. The Guard tries to maintain control over the situation as the group begins to direct their rock throwing in their direction. They use gas to stifle the students efforts and things begin to die down as they realize that the Guard is not going to back down and General Canterbury reports that the campus is quiet at a quarter to twelve that night. The Presidents Commission on Campus Unrest described the scene and the general mood on campus:
As the ROTC building burned, the pattern of the previous night was repeated-authorities arrived at the scene an incident too late to apprehend the participants, then swept up the bystanders and the participants together in their response. Students who had nothing to do with burning the buildingwho were not even in the area at the time of the fire-resented being gassed and ordered about by armed men. Many Students returning to campus on Sunday after a weekend at home were first surprised at the Guards presence, then irritated when its orders interfered with their activities. Student resentment of the Guard continued to grow during the next two days.
And the student resentment did grow. On Sunday morning, at ten o clock, Governor Rhodes arrives in Kent and announces at a new conference, Were going to use every weapon possible to eradicate the problem. He blamed the problem on outside protestors, describing them as the worst type of people we harbor in America. His quote on every weapon possible, was widely misinterpreted and some leaders believed it to be a declaration of martial law, when actually no such thing had even been implied. As the afternoon wears on, university official and guard officials meet and incorrectly conclude the Rhodes statement was forbidding any rallies or gatherings. They attempt to distribute ten thousand leaflets announcing this, but most Kent State students never get the notice until late Monday.
Around eight that night students begin to gather again in the Commons. As the crowd starts to swell, the Guard announces that they are installing a new curfew and make attempt to disperse the students in the Commons with tear gas. The Guard launches a sweep of the campus to the surprise of many students who had not heard of the new curfew in place. In protest to the curfew, the students begin a peaceful march into the town, but are met at the gates by the Guard. The students make requests that Mayor Satrom and President White come speak with them about the situation and stage a sit-it.
At first the students are told that both the Mayor and the president would be soon arriving, only to be informed later that they werent coming after all. It is now eleven p.m. The Guard, determined to enforce their curfew, breaks up the crowd with helicopters, tear gas and bayoneting, which proves to be very successful. An hour later the campus is quiet. Fifty-one students are arrested for participating in the action earlier that night and the Presidents Commission releases a description of that day:
Despite the days promising start, the situation at Kent State had appreciably worsened by Sunday night. Students were resentful of the Guard as a result of what they considered to be broken promises at the Prentice Gate. The University was anxious to restore normal conditions, and law enforcement officers and guardsmen seemed to be growing more impatient with students curses, stones, and refusals to obey.
Monday morning, May 4, 1970, Governor Rhodes declares martial law to be in full effect in Kent. As soon as the announcement is made, students begin to gather once again to protest the decision, this time near the campus victory bell. Even more students begin to collect in the Commons as the class break occurs. General Canterbury of the National Guard assumes that they are here for a scheduled rally and orders the group to disperse immediately. Many students do not hear the announcement as it blares through the loudspeaker system, and those that do here are enraged by it.
Although the day started out peacefully, the student were hurling rocks and obscenities at the Guard. Some students begin to ring the victory bell as the Guard is ordered by the General to break up the crowd. Tear gas canisters explode among the students, but the wind leaves them ineffective. Armed with loaded M-1 rifles and abundant tear gas supplies, the Guard marches across the commons. Many of the students try to seek refuge on Blanket Hill, and many continue to shout and throw rocks at the Guardsmen.
As the Commons are cleared, the group of students split up into smaller clusters. Some are backed up against the chain-link fence on a practice football field, some are located in the Prentice Hall parking lot, but most are gathered in front of Taylor Hall. Gas canisters are launched back and forth between the students and the Guard, and the Guard seems to be confused as to what their next move should be. Noticing the confusion, Mayor Jones walk to the students on the field through the crowd in front of Taylor Hall who are now just observing the Guard. Just then, numerous Guards kneel and aim their weapons at the approximately fifteen students in the parking lot in front of Prentice Hall and a warning shot is fired in the air. The Guards incorrectly assume they are out of tear gas.
It is now 12:25 in the afternoon, and the final seconds of the tragedy are about to unfold. Most of the students believe the all-over action of the day to be over and begin leaving the area. Guardsmen continue to hike up to the crest of Blanket Hill when suddenly twenty-eight Guards turn around 180 degrees, walk back a few steps, and start to fire straight into the crowd located in the parking lot below. In thirteen seconds sixty-one shots were fired, killing four and injuring nine. Although the shooting stopped, the realization of it rang loud throughout the school and then throughout the nation.
In the days, weeks, months, and years after the thirteen-second tragedy, the recourse divided the nation. Students, and the youth of America in general, were already angry with the government for its participation in Vietnam, and the Kent State incident caused an even bigger gap between the generations. Many were appalled by the actions of the National Guard and considered them actions of excessive force or premeditated murder.
As many different people that investigated the situation for their own purposes, came up different answers and accounts for themselves. There were and still are conspiracy theories that certain guardsmen huddled together before the shooting and planned to shoot the students. Some singled out the actions of the National Guard as murder, while others held the Kent State University administration and radicals present on campus responsible. General Sylvester Del Corso of the National Guard, who was not present at the shooting, was reported to have said that a sniper had opened fire upon the National Guard at Kent State, which was what triggered the firing from the Guard.
It was stories like this that the media held on to and repeatedly reported, even after lack of sufficient evidence disproved such theories. Portage County Prosecutor Ronald Kane worked hard at trying to prove the sniper theory, as well as the theory that there had been a revolutionary plan afoot on campus. While the school was closed, he conducted a raid on all the student rooms. He found weapons, ranging from a bb gun to a twenty-gauge shotgun, and drugs, ranging from marijuana to cold capsules, and considered these as evidence that the students were obviously not coming to school to get an education. Many believed that this evidence proved that the SDS and other radical groups contrived the shootings at Kent, but the raid was heavily criticized when it was learned that the search may not have been completely legal and that one of the official conducting the search might have stolen money from one of the rooms.
In an effort to bring the truth out, the Akron Beacon Journal, along with members of the Knight newspaper team, conducted their own intense investigation and wrote a thirty thousand-word report on the Kent State shootings. The report later won a Pulitzer Prize, and offered many conclusions and answers to frequently misconceived notion of that day, like that of the four that were killed in the incident, none were participating in any of the rock throwing that supposedly triggered the outburst from the Guard. The report also sheds light on the actually shooting, saying that most of the guards fired their weapons in the air, and only a few of them fired shots into the crowd in a state of panic and a follow the leader style.
The voice of national leaders closely echoed that of the citizen of Kent, Ohio. President Nixon issued a statement that seemingly placed the blame on the students, asserting, when dissent runs to violence, it invites tragedy. In the Kent Record Courier, the citizens of Kent purchased an ad reading, THANK YOU GENERAL DEL CORSO AND THE NATIONAL GUARD. Even the Mayor of Kent praised the National Guard for their actions. In response to the shootings, the Ohio National Guards received record amounts of main, the number of letters they got in favor of the way they handled the situation beat the number of opposing letters fifteen to one. It was felt that the resentment seen from the townspeople towards the student came from the destruction of their private property during the days prior the shootings.
There were mixed feelings among the Ohio National Guard, too. Several days after the shootings General Canterbury was over heard telling someone that the Guard chaplain, John Simons, who felt the shootings unjustified, had to be shut up.
Now, nearly thirty years later, nobody has yet been held accountable. There have been plenty of speculations and rumors, all of which were twisted and distorted outrageously by the media. The families of the victims of the shooting have exhausted their resources in trying to bring some closure to their pain. After more than eight years of litigation they received nothing more than a meager monetary settlement to replace all they had lost. Nobody was held responsible for the injuries of nine and deaths of four young students, and nobody has been to this.
In all of the books, magazine articles, and web pages dedicated to this subject, it is impossible to find an unbiased one. I have to admit that I did go into my research in favor of the students, but the more I read of the situation on campus in the days prior to the shooting, the more I found myself asking How I would I have handled a situation like that if I had been a member of the Guard? I can only conclude that there is no right answer to that. There are so many questions, and so many misconceptions about this incident, and like any controversial issue, there are always two sides to the story. Now that I have thoroughly studied both sides to the story, I still have no idea who I think was in the wrong. There are simply too many unanswerable wholes in the stories from both sides that now I cant say Im for or against either one.