Kent State Shooting Essay Example



Although the events that took place at Kent State on May 4th, 1970 were a tragedy, there are a number of lessons that can be observed. These lessons have had a significant influence on our present day and continue to influence the future. There are three main lessons and results that are important to learn from and to discuss. The first is the ratification of the 26th Amendment, which was heavily influenced by the Kent State protest against the war. The second lesson is the increased ability to communicate between both sides of a disagreement. Third, the protest encouraged the U.S. citizens to express their rights in the First Amendment.

Throughout the duration of the Vietnam war there was a tremendous amount of resistance for the draft and many of the students being forced to fight had no way of expressing their opposition in the government. At the time, the voting age was 21 and the draft age was only 18. This meant that many of the students had no way of communicating their opinion of the draft age until they were old enough to vote, three years after they were allowed to be drafted. This fact was one of the issues leading to the protest that took place on May 4th, 1970.

A poll done by Lou Harris, discussed in Thirteen Seconds, stated that about 65 percent of college students nationwide believed that they could change the government system by electing politicians that had the same beliefs as they did rather than resort to violence. Unfortunately, due to the voting age, this was not an easy option because many of the students still could not vote. After the shooting, there was a significant push by students across the U.S. to have the voting age lowered from 21 to 18. Eventually, in 1971, the 26th Amendment was ratified which allowed college students to express their opinions without resorting to protests that could lead to violence. The importance of this change is that it demonstrates how the students were able to have an impact and change what they believed to be wrong within the government.

Lack of communication

Throughout the course of the events taking place from May 1st-4th, 1970, one of the primary issues was a lack of communication, both between the troops themselves and between the troops and the protesters. During the several protests that took place, the guards did not attempt to compromise with the protesters and did not consider what the protesters were fighting for. During the events, neither side effectively communicated with the other or attempted to prevent an increase in tension. The students were protesting the Vietnam war among several other issues and it started out as a peaceful protest. Prior to the May 4th protest, there was a group of protesters that burned down the campus ROTC building . As a result of this, the guard was on high alert and they were tasked with stopping any further protests. Rather than let the students protest peacefully and stop any violence once it occurred, the guard attempted to put an end to the protest as soon as possible.

As a result, tensions continued to rise and it ultimately led to the deaths of four students. Another part of the issue was that, once the guard started firing, they had no way to stop the firing efficiently. One of the quotes included in Thirteen Seconds states that “The officers immediately hollered cease fire. Now in the excitement when someone yells ‘cease fire’ probably down the line they didn't hear the ‘cease’ but heard the word ‘fire.’ When you shout ‘cease fire’ the word fire’ is accentuated” (Eszterhas and Roberts 225). This meant that there was only more confusion down the line once the shooting began and the officers attempted to stop it. As a result of this poor communication, the injuries of several people could have been avoided and maybe even a death. The major lesson to be learned from this is that communication is a necessity in situations such as these. If there had been better communication then perhaps the students could have protested in peace or the guard would not have killed four students and wounded nine others. In the future, it is important that the protesters and the guard or police cooperate with one another to prevent another tragedy like the one that occurred on May 4th, 1970.

During the several protests that took place from May 1st-4th, during almost every protest the National Guard attempted to break the freedoms given within the First Amendment. This started out when there was a notice that all protests would be considered illegal and a curfew was placed on the campus and city. After this, a group of students attempted to start a protest where they would, peacefully, break the curfew and express their opinions. When they did this they were confronted with a number of guards who turned to violence in order to stop the protest. Several of the students state that they were hit with the butts of the guards rifles and several even state that they were cut or stabbed by a guardsman's bayonet.

Although the students were yelling obscenities that were considered to be offensive by the guards, the First Amendment allows citizens to have freedom of speech and allows them to assemble peacefully, both of which were being restricted by the National Guard. On the day of May 4th, 1970 a similar scenario played out. A number of people gathered near the Victory Bell to peacefully protest against both the Vietnam war and the restrictions being put on them by the guard. Although many of them were peaceful, they were met with tear gas, then were threatened with bayonets, and ultimately shot at, killing four and wounding nine others. Just like in the protest that occurred previously, the guard attempted to take away the student’s freedom of speech and their right to peacefully assemble. One of the main excuses used by the National Guard is that they were being attacked with rocks and that they feared for their safety and, as a result, they were forced to break up the crowd and fire.

Thirteen Seconds discusses the summary of the FBI report of the shooting and states that “They [the National Guard] could have controlled the crowd by making arrests” (Eszterhas and Roberts 234). This means that the guard, rather than firing, could have arrested the violent protesters but still allowed the peaceful students to remain. Overall, the shooting resulted in the encouragement to exercise their First Amendment rights among the students across the U.S. and to express their opinions.

As a result of the Kent State shooting on May 4th, 1970 there were several valuable lessons that came about. The first being that the students, when working together, can spark change. This is shown in the ratification of the 26th Amendment where the students were able to convince the government to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 so that they could express their opinion and promote change. Second was the importance of communication between opposing sides. During the protests, if both sides had been a little more willing to cooperate, then it is possible that much of the tragedy could have been avoided. Third, the students sparked the idea that students should exercise their First Amendment rights and protest for what they believe in. Overall, although it was a tragedy, there were many valuable lessons that ended up shaping the future in the following years.