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KENT STATE SHOOTINGS: Self-Defense by the National Guard or Massacre of Innocent Students?
While breaking up an anti–Vietnam War demonstration at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4, 1970, soldiers in the National Guard shot and killed four students and injured nine others. Supporters of the soldiers’ actions argued that they fired in self-defense, which was permissible under Ohio law. Many of the students had been throwing rocks, they contended, and a group of protesters charged the soldiers just before they opened fire. In addition, they claimed, the demonstration itself was illegal, as the university had banned all such gatherings. Opponents of the soldiers’ actions, however, argued that the shootings were unwarranted because the soldiers were never in serious danger. The students throwing rocks were too far away to do much harm, they contended, and many of the soldiers later admitted that they never felt that their lives were in danger. The only thing the students were guilty of, opponents claimed, was exercising their First Amendment right to protest peacefully.
Let your students get the facts and decide for themselves: Did the National Guard soldiers fire in the belief that their lives were at risk? Or were the shootings unjustified? Be sure to check out Issues & Controversies in American History’s clear and unbiased examination of the Kent State shootings this month.
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