How Kent State Could Happen Again

  • Bob Geiger's picture
    Bob Geiger
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Tin soldiers and Nixon comin',
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin',
Four dead in Ohio.

~ Ohio, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

Had he not been gunned down by National Guard troops on the Kent State University campus on May 4, 1970, Jeffrey Miller would be 56 years old this year. Instead, Miller's life ended at age 19 and the thing for which he will forever be remembered is being the body over which young Mary Ann Vecchio cried in despair in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo that quickly came to symbolize a deeply-divided nation.

It was 36 years ago today that Miller, Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder, were massacred by Army National Guardsmen at a Vietnam war protest on the Kent State campus. It was a watershed event that touched off a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close and signaled the zenith of American opposition to that war.

Miller and Krause had been involved in the demonstration while Scheuer and Schroeder were simply walking across campus between classes when the shooting started. Nine other students were wounded in the shooting, in which the soldiers fired 67 shots at the unarmed youths in a strong-arm effort to disperse the crowd before yet another day of protests could begin on the unsettled campus.

While the National Guard made a claim -- that has never been substantiated -- that a sniper had fired on the Guardsmen and some later testified that they were in fear for their lives, the closest of the four students killed (Miller) was almost 100 yards away and most of the wounded were not much closer.

The shootings chilled the nation, galvanized a generation and left millions asking how something like that could have happened in America.

Could the same thing happen in our country today? Without a shadow of a doubt. Indeed, I would argue that only one thing keeps the same kind of event from happening many times over in George W. Bush's America -- the absence of a military draft.

The shootings at Kent State were the culmination of four days of loud and large demonstrations by students, who were protesting the American invasion of Cambodia which President Richard Nixon had launched on April 25. The invasion further inflamed students as they had already seen educational deferments become more difficult to achieve and believed that the expansion of the war into another country increased their risk of being drafted.

I believe this sad occasion is a fitting day to think about the similarities between the Iraq war and Vietnam and the comparable effects it may soon have on a new generation. With Vietnam, our government misled the nation into war, gave an unrealistic estimate of how long and difficult the conflict would be and promised to liberate a struggling people from oppressors. And, with television truly coming into its own, the bloody fighting was beamed into living rooms on a nightly basis.

Sound like what's happening right now?

For even scarier similarity, read the words of former Kent State student Dean Kahler, now 57, who was shot in the lower back and left paralyzed on May 4, 1970. Kahler talked in 2000 about his thoughts immediately after Nixon's announcement of the Cambodia invasion.

"When he made the announcement, a very defiant announcement that we were invading Cambodia, he didn’t care what people thought about it -- that's the impression I got and that many of my fellow students got at the same time too. To me, it didn’t make sense. Why were we expanding the war when he was talking about ending the war and bringing our troops home and getting out of there?

"We were invading another country. I thoroughly agreed with the history and political science department at Kent who, the next day, on May 1st, buried a copy of the Constitution because they felt that he had overstepped his powers as Commander-in-Chief by sending troops into another country. The mood kind of changed on campus at that point in time."

The draft ended 33 years ago and the ambivalence today's students seem to feel toward an Iraq war so remarkably similar to Vietnam can undoubtedly be traced to a lack of personal connection to the war and any risk that it will disrupt -- or end -- their lives. But what if a draft became their reality today? With our military perhaps more stretched than it was with Vietnam and with the looming specter of our fatigued military being overwhelmed with a new war with Iran, you can bet a new spirit of activism would suddenly emerge on campuses nationwide.

Nothing would personalize a war to America's youth and their parents like the prospect of being forced to trade in the frat house for a rifle and an unarmored Humvee. I bet it would even make some of the Young Republicans on college campuses take a hard look at the rationale for war if there was even a smidgen of a chance they would actually have to fight.

And it may not be far away.

Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) has proposed restoring the draft, but more as an antiwar tactic to shock Republicans into reality -- that calling us a "nation at war" would have a huge public-relations cost if it ever went beyond simply being a White House buzz phrase and they actually had to start taking young people against their will.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska has flat-out said that mandatory military service is going to have to be considered in light of what he described as a “generational war against terrorism.” Two years ago, when things were actually going better in Iraq, Hagel commented that "deteriorating security in Iraq may force the United States to reintroduce the military draft."

And, of course, there's Congressman Jack Murtha (D-PA), who has said that “the only way to increase the size of the armed services fairly is with a draft.”

Indeed, Murtha expressly addressed the need for conscription in his controversial House resolution in November, 2005, calling for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, saying "Whereas additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft."

Even people like Representative Jim Turner (D-TX), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who realizes what a political firestorm a draft would create, admits that it could easily happen. “We need to be prepared to have one,” said Turner, when asked recently about the possibility if there is another major conflict in the world.

And does anyone really doubt that we could end up fighting somewhere else with Bush and a Republican Congress in charge? In addition, we have troop casualties reaching levels unseen since Vietnam, tours of duty being extended and many battle-weary troops returning to Iraq for second and third deployments. How low does the supply of trained, willing troops need to get before the draft is brought back and aren't we staring at that nearby horizon right now?

With Team Bush, we also have an administration that lied us into a war, outs covert CIA agents, performs illegal spying on American citizens and is riddled with corruption. As we deplete the U.S. military in Iraq and posture more aggressively with Iran -- and possibly North Korea -- a renewed military draft begins to look almost inevitable. And, when it comes to the notion of pulling out all the stops to stifle dissent at home, George W. Bush will make Richard Nixon look like Gandhi.

So as we commemorate the 36th anniversary of the Kent State shootings, we should look at that terrible day when four young college students quit getting older and a bad war truly came home and ask how far we are from that happening all over again.

Perhaps the fear of being drafted to fight in one of Bush's wars would actually make today's college students awaken from their collective slumber and begin protesting the state of their world. If that happens, they will soon see the tin soldiers coming once again -- except this time, they'll have bigger guns and, undoubtedly, an even more profound mandate for making the voices of dissent speak no more.

To learn more about the Kent State Shootings, visit and Reese's May 4, 1970 page.

You can reach Bob Geiger at


What a memory....and prophesy

  • truthseeker's picture
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I remember it like it was yesterday. Yes, you're right, it WOULD happen again. The massacre of unarmed young students. How sick of a nation are we?

We haven't come that far, have we? Welp, that's what REgressisves want -- to keep us from evolving upwards. I say we continue to evolve and go forward, and if they can't keep up, then they will just get trampled underneath until they pull themselves up by their boot straps and bring themselves into the future with us.

Kent State

  • sco_angel's picture
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Its funny, but I knew one of the other kids who had been shot and wounded at Kent state, he had attended my high school years before. He had lost a lung because of this, just a photographer on the side watching at the time, but I can't recall his name. I do remember his picture being in Life magazine. (ah! John Cleary ...)

Remembering the Kent State Shootings

  • Deborah White's picture
    Deborah White
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This is a wonderful piece. FYI...I quoted from and linked to it in my post here:

May 4, 1970....36 years ago today.....was the shocking day that woke my political conscience, and rocked my generation's world. I was 18 years old, a college freshman, and until that day, a journalism major but blithely detached from national and world affairs.

It was the day that four college students .... Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder .... were shot to death and nine students wounded on campus at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio by Army National Guardsmen at a Vietnam war protest. Two of the student killed were participating the protest, and two were merely walking to class.

I distinctly remember watching the Kent State shooting news on TV in my dorm lounge and thinking, "That could be me. That could be my friends. They shot and killed teenagers who were just walking to class or voicing their viewpoints...."

Never Forget. Never Forgive.

  • doog's picture
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I'll never forget my father's venemous 'They Fucking Deserved It!!!'

I've never forgotten it and I suspect he'd have felt the exact same way if it had been me laying there dead.

Wingnuts are dangerous, homocidal lunatics. Killing is just another tool to them.

'Do it my way or DIE' seems to be their mantra.

Sometimes I honestly think the world is going the wrong way - we're not the 'kinder, gentler' nation that Bush I blathered about, we're surrounded by gun-toting sociopaths barely held in check by law.

All I can say is - if Civil War does break out, it'll make the 1st one look like a church social.

I agree with much of what

I agree with much of what you say in this post, but I need to remind everyone that does not advocate violence of any kind.

We all need to remember that civil- and revolutionary-wars are somewhat "legitimate," and are normally fought between two opposing representative (and organized) "governments." An armed insurrection by an angry mob, or a coup by the military, on the other hand, is anarchy and is the result of a lack of dedication to the establihed political process. Two very different concepts. The Constitution allows for dissent, but not insurrection.

Our political process works just fine, and we remain protected by the Constitution and American law. All we need do to make certain that it continues to work, is to trust in our fellow Americans, and to speak out loudly against all assaults on our Constitutional values and way of life.

The pen, and the vote, are indeed mightier than the sword. We, as American Democrats, must re-learn to use both to better advantage.

President for Life???

  • sco_angel's picture
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I have always wondered, what if the neo cons refused to give up their power in government? Suppose they decieded not to leave office, no matter what the Constitution says. Who could stop them from this action? If George Bush were insane enough to tell everyone, "Hey, I am President for Life.." who would stop him if all the Republicans in all Branches of Government went along with it...He once joked about being Dictator...but what if it really became true?

And what if Elvis appeared

And what if Elvis appeared on Letterman's show tomorrow? Why not worry about how you will help to elect a Democratic candidate in November, and leave fantasy "what-ifs" to Hollywood?

Draft and Enemy Combatants

  • tecumsah's picture
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Bush would be far more savage in breaking-up Viet Nam style demonstrations in the event of a draft. There would be more than one Kent State. He could also designate the leaders of the protests as enemy combatants and make them disappear. It is a certainty that anti-war groups are being spied on now and the leadership singled out.

The draft ignited the anti-war movement because it put middle class kids at risk, rather than just the poor. The middle class was at its' height during the Viet Nam war years. I wonder whether the reaction would be as great today with the hollowing out of the middle class by Raygun and Bush. I heard one researcher claim that today's youth expect a lower standard of living while the American Dream was alive and well during the Viet Nam years. Bush has also desensitized America to the destruction of American values and Constitutional rights, criminality and corruption by the Bush gang and the brutality and barbarity of the Bush gang.

During the Viet Nam years, would the American people have tolerated what Bush has done?

Kent State?Let me say this about that.

  • Tedder's picture
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To understand the incident at Kent State, it is necessary to understand the rules of engagement under which we fought the Viet Nam war. Cambodia, which claimed to be neutral had for years been allowing communist North Viet Nam and the Viet Cong to operate out of permanent bases along it’s border with Viet Nam . Our enemy would launch murderous raids on our troops then quickly flee back across the border. Once across they would stop running straighten up, relax, smoke and joke their way back to their bases, which were substantial complexes that they didn’t even bother to camouflage or protect from air attack. Huge ammo dumps were sitting in above the ground in clear sight. Why shouldn’t they, after all there was nothing to fear.
We were not even supposed to know of these bases existence let alone their vulnerability. But of course we did know. Richard Nixon, who was a committed anti-communist, felt that we should actually try to win this war and thus launched a massive surprise invasion of Cambodia. Like every other instance of actually trying to win, such as the bombing of North Viet Nam, the mining of Hyphong Harbor, and the Khe Sanh fortress, the Left in this country went ballistic. ! This was the reason that the students rioted, not the red herring that Geiger offers about the draft.

From accounts of surviving protestors we know that these vicious demonstrations were based on one over arching belief, that they were being regarded as just youthful excesses and no real threat. It was apparently widely assumed that the guns were not loaded. Somehow all the rioters picked up the notion that when one violently assaults armed representatives of the people of the United States there is never anything to fear. It never crossed their minds that in such a situation they needed to be willing to give their lives for what they professed to believe. No one was supposed to die because no one really wanted to die for communism. In spite of all their posturing this was just a “game,’ something in which to be proud, or to regret, in later life. The mood of the country was correctly captured in “Ohio,” Neil Young’s rallying protest song, “… should have been done long ago.” Indeed, the aftermath of the shootings prove Napoleon’s wisdom, that the best way to disperse a dangerous mob is “with a whiff of grapeshot.” The rioters were suddenly transformed into becalmed and sullen youths who could only sit on the ground, a tactic that wasn’t enough fun just a few minutes earlier. Gieger inadvertently confirms this when he says “The shootings at Kent State were the culmination of four days of loud and large demonstrations by students,…” This was not a scheduled culmination as even Geiger admits, “…the soldiers fired 67 shots at the unarmed youths in a strong-arm effort to disperse the crowd before yet another day of protests could begin…” The shooting hadn’t happened the violence would have continued for days.
The protestors were not loved and admired by the American electorate. They were considered anti-Americans who, in a time of war, carried the flag of our enemy before them. It is sheer folly for the Democrat Party to do as people like Geiger suggest and identify with the same kind of disloyal rhetoric and actions. Amoung a multitude of other reasons,Kent State happened before the development of non-lethal rubber bullets these is no chance of it being repeated.