In 1970, the military opened fire on Kent State University students.Survivors see echoes of today's campus protests

KENT, Ohio (AP) — When the bullets started flying, Dean Koehler threw himself to the ground and covered his head. The Ohio National Guard was firing on unarmed war protesters at Kent State University, and Kahler, a freshman, was among them.

M1 rifle bullets hit the ground around him. “And I got hit,” Kahler recalled more than 50 years later. “It felt like a bee sting.” But it was much worse than that. The bullet penetrated his lung, shattered three vertebrae, and damaged his spinal cord. He was paralyzed.

On May 4, 1970, after a tense exchange in which the military used tear gas to quell an anti-war demonstration and demonstrators threw rocks, the National Guard fired into the crowd, killing students at Kent State University. Four people were killed, and Kahler and eight others were injured. Guards. It was a turning point in American history, a violent end to the turbulent 1960s that galvanized campus protests across the country and forced the temporary closure of hundreds of universities.

The Kent State University shooting and its aftermath have now taken on new relevance, as students demonstrate against another war far away and seek a balance between free speech and the imperative of maintaining order. Conflicts include university administrators who are in trouble, and a divided nation that sees chaotic and disturbing images.

Dean Koehler, who was shot and paralyzed at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, spoke to students during the 1970 anti-war protests during an interview at his home on Thursday, May 2. He holds a photo of the National Guard in his hand. 2024, Plain Township, Ohio. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Kent State is planning a solemn memorial service Saturday, as it does every May 4th, where the military will honor students Alison Krauss, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Schuer and William Schroeder, 13. A rally will be held at noon on the commons near where the second rifle volley killed them. pistol firing.

Meanwhile, Professor Kahler has keenly observed that this new generation of university students is calling for an end to military action, and wonders if universities are making the same mistake.

“I wonder if university administrators and university trustees have learned any lessons from the '70s,” Kahler said in an interview from his home outside Canton, Ohio. “I think they’re a little bit overbearing and a little over the top.”

More than 2,400 people have been arrested at dozens of U.S. universities in recent weeks as police quell demonstrations against the Israel-Hamas war, according to an Associated Press tally. Police in riot gear cleared tent encampments, cleared demonstrators from occupied buildings and made arrests, most for refusing orders to disperse. Some have been charged with criminal damage to property, resisting arrest and other crimes.

Things were much calmer at Kent State University, a large public school in northeastern Ohio. Officials say the school has long tried to foster civic dialogue.

“Based largely on our company's history, we have always been consistent about a few things. One is that we respect free speech,” the university said. President Todd Diacon said. lead to violence. ”

Neil Cooper, a professor at Kent State's School of Peace and Conflict Studies, said Kent State is committed to the discussion of the Gaza war, inviting students from opposing sides to share their perspectives.

“There may be a temptation not to talk about these issues because they are too difficult and too challenging, and you know, talking about these issues makes things worse. “There are concerns that it could get worse,” Cooper said. “Our approach was very different.”

FILE – A general view of tear gas and students during a demonstration against the Vietnam War at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4, 1970. Four students were killed and five others were injured when the National Guard opened fire during the protests. (AP Photo/Larry Stoddard, File)

Although the demonstrations at Kent State University have been peaceful, there is still an undercurrent of tension, with Jewish and Palestinian students feeling unsafe, said a third-year student who covered them for the school newspaper. Adriana Gaszewski said.

Gaszewski worries about the powder keg atmosphere at schools such as Columbia University, where the current wave of protests erupted last month and where New York City police have repeatedly clashed with demonstrators. U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R) called for the National Guard to be sent to Colombia, but New York authorities said police were available to respond to the protests. President Joe Biden said Thursday he does not want to deploy the military to campuses.

“My biggest fear… is that they bring the National Guard to Columbia and it's like history repeats itself on May 4th,” Gaszewski said.

Ralph Young, a historian at Temple University, sees clear echoes of the movement against the Vietnam War.

“I think they're comparable in terms of size and impact,” Young said. His books include American Patriots: A Short History of Dissent. Just like in the 1960s and '70s, he said, the current crackdown is “just going to make more and more people angry, and I think the protests will just grow and spread to other campuses.”

The similarities don't end there.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said “outside agitators” were stirring up anti-Semitic protests. In 1970, Ohio Governor James Rhodes, who made the decision to send the National Guard to Kent State, accused outside groups of spreading terrorism and called them “the worst type of people harbored in America.” called.

The students were then furious that President Richard Nixon was bombing Cambodia instead of ending the war as promised. Days before the shooting, protesters clashed violently with police in downtown Kent and set a university ROTC building on fire.

Then, on May 4, Chic Canfora gathered with hundreds of students in the Commons to protest not only the war but also the military presence on campus.

Canfora escaped injury. Her brother, Alan Canfora, was shot and wounded. Now a journalism teacher at Kent State University, she said campus administrators at other schools have used “the extremist actions of a few” to make all protesters “violent and want to be put into these situations.” I am concerned that he is portraying him as a person who deserves a lot of heat.

“I think all college campuses should come together and think about how to make sure that our students can be the conscience of America that they have been historically,” Canfora said.

Gregory Payne, an Emerson College scholar and expert on the Kent State shooting, said Vietnam-era protesters were indeed concerned about being drafted into the military, but that the U.S. was complicit in the disproportionate death toll. He said he was taking a moral stance similar to that of today's protesters. Palestinians resulting from Israel's response to the October 7 Hamas attack.

“They're protesting a war that's brutal for everyone involved. And I think they're trying to draw attention to it. People might question some of the strategies and tactics. But I think there's a legacy and there's also a defining characteristic of this era,” Payne said. “My hope is that we don't see the kind of death and bloodshed we saw in Kent State.”

https://www.nbc4i.com/news/state-news/troops-fired-on-kent-state-students-in-1970-survivors-see-echoes-in-todays-campus-protests/ In 1970, the military opened fire on Kent State University students.Survivors see echoes of today's campus protests

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