67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence by Howard Means

Although I know several people who attended Kent State University in the 1980s and 1990s, I never truly understood the events that occurred there on May 4, 1970. In college, I learned more about the tragic events surrounding the shootings. Howard Means in his book 67 Shots and the End of American Innocence brings to the forefront again the debate about what happened at the University that fateful day.

The book’s publisher provides a brief overview of the book:

At midday on May 4, 1970, after three days of protests, several thousand students and the Ohio National Guard faced off at opposite ends of the grassy campus Commons at Kent State University. At noon, the Guard moved out. Twenty-four minutes later, Guardsmen launched a 13-second, 67-shot barrage that left four students dead and nine wounded, one paralyzed for life. The story doesn’t end there, though. A horror of far greater proportions was narrowly averted minutes later when the Guard and students reassembled on the Commons.

The Kent State shootings were both unavoidable and preventable: unavoidable in that all the discordant forces of a turbulent decade flowed together on May 4, 1970, on one Ohio campus; preventable in that every party to the tragedy made the wrong choices at the wrong time in the wrong place.

I am still amazed to this day about several facts regarding the events surrounding the shootings: (1) that the National Guard, with no training in riot control, was deployed to the campus; (2) the Guard was issued and told to load bullets in their rifles; (3) University, town, and state leadership were either physically or mentally absent in the escalating situation; and (4) the University was not shut down after the events of Friday and Saturday nights prior to the Monday shootings.

Means does a fairly balanced job of criticizing all sides of the shootings – he poignantly points out that University President Robert White was not on campus (not even in the state) until Sunday – he should have come back to the University at the first signs of trouble on Friday night. Means also fairly criticizes Governor James Rhodes for his strong response to the rioters – way too heavy-handed. But, I think he lets the protesters off with too much leniency. When he puts some of the blame on the protesters for not being properly organized and led – he offhandedly blames the University administration for this because they kicked off the campus many of the leaders.

Means rightly praises the actions of certain individuals in de-escalating the situation after the shootings. The protesters (and many students just observing) were angered by the shootings and minutes later reformed. This reformed group were beginning to agitate for more violence by wanting to attack the Guardsmen, but faculty marshal Glenn Frank made impassioned pleas to stop and separate. His actions may have saved hundreds of lives.

The book is 228 pages with 16 pages of black and white photographs.

Overall, a great summary of the events leading up to and including the shootings and a good analysis of those events.

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