"May the Fourth be with you"

It’s a joke meme going around, but I remember this date for something more serious. May 4, 1970. 44 years ago.

Don’t forget it. If you don’t know about it, read the story.


  1. mikeyb says

    It’s odd when you reflect on the kinds of evils Nixon was involved in, like this and the Cambodian bombings and other atrocities associated with Kissinger, not Watergate as much, that on economic and some social issues like the environment should at least be something we try to pay lip service to, he would be virtually unrecognizable to future republicans at least in the belief that we actually need a government, and we do need to collect taxes from rich people. It’s also sad that the populist progressive student movement at the time should have produced a progressive revolution, instead we got Reagonomics and the gradual and utter destruction of the middle class through essentially every president after Reagan. We have progressed tremendously, though not enough yet on a lot of social issues since then, but in other areas like economic equality we’ve deeply regressed.

  2. khms says

    Whatever else can be said (which is a lot), this was also a sad demonstration what can happen when a number of people thoroughly bungle a job. Starting with a president doing a 180 on his voters, using a national guard for policing that clearly wasn’t trained for it, confusion all around about what the legal situation actually was, and so on and so forth.

    As so often with disasters (of any kind), they happen not because a single thing went wrong, but because a whole chain of things went wrong. In this case, it seems quite a number of people didn’t do due diligence on their job – eventually leading to death and serious bodily harm that, it looks like, were entirely avoidable. And that is even before looking at the politics that provoked the protests. (Of course, if we knew more about the protester’s side of things, I’m sure we’d see mistakes there, too. People aren’t immune against making mistakes no matter what side they are on. However, from reading that article, it seems that those presumed errors contributed fairly little to the human tragedy (as opposed to the property damage)).

    This looks like a textbook case of how not to deal with protesters … at least, if you are living in a democracy, not in some kind of authoritarian state.

  3. says

    *raises pipe in salute*

    To those who died — may they always be remembered as heroes.

    (And may those who shot forever feel shame and guilt for firing on peaceful protesters.)

  4. Al Dente says

    The article PZ linked to has one minor error. The Guardsmen were not armed with M-1 rifles but M-14 rifles.

  5. says

    When seeing retrospectives of the antiwar movement such as this I often wonder how it is that conservatives persist as a potent force in US politics. While it may be that Nixon was right, and those of that generation who were out on the streets did not represent the “silent majority” of those who were not, I can’t help but think that a substantial number of folks pictured in that CSNY video of protests at Kent State and elsewhere have abandoned the fight for rational governance and are quite happy these days to snuggle-up at night with their 401ks and pension plans. Where did the passion and idealism go?

  6. plainenglish says

    @khms: when the people who had the sense to see what you apparently miss, that the war was not the will of the people, came to Canada, they were welcomed by those of us here who believed that they were bang on. All of your equivocating and bullshit does not impress me. Mishandled indeed…..Four dead in Ohio was not mishandling! It was fucking murder. You can shove your textbook up your ass.

  7. ChasCPeterson says

    The Guardsmen were not armed with M-1 rifles but M-14 rifles.

    Given the context, I do not know why you thought that was an important point to make.
    But in any case, you appear to be wrong.

  8. pacal says

    If you want to read more about what happened read James Michener’s Kent State: What Happened and Why, which remains the best book about the whole thing even though it came out less than a year after the shootings. The book may be dated in many respects but it gives a very vivid almost time capsule presentation of a particular time in America.

  9. ekwhite says


    Bullshit. It was fucking murder, ordered by that madman Nixon. That bastard should have been impeached for Kent State.

  10. plainenglish says

    They fucking shot them in the back while they were running for their lives! LONG LIVE our well-trained guardsmen! Fuck history: Let’s talk about better training…. What kind of trained or untrained fuck shoots unarmed family in the back. That is what needs talking about.

  11. says

    Saw this and I flashed on the Berkley kids who were pepper-sprayed a while back. Not as deadly (thank goodness). But surprising the lack of outrage for that action among supposedly liberal Silicon Valley folks.

  12. throwaway says

    Fuck establishment!
    We are the establishment!
    OK, then fuck ourselves!

  13. Terska says

    The murder of these kids was pretty popular among Americans at the time. It probably still is.

    The FBI had an agent provocateur that probably started the shooting. The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently had a few updates about this too.

    From Wikipedia.
    “In 2010, forty years after the events of May 4, forensic expert Stuart Allen, using advanced technology, studied an audiotape of the shootings and concluded that the guardsman were indeed given orders to prepare to fire. Allen continued to study the tape and came up with another surprising finding: that someone had indeed fired four shots some 70 seconds prior to the National Guardsmen opening fire. The evidence appears to implicate Norman as the shooter.[2] The state of Ohio and the U.S. Justice Department refused to review the new evidence, leaving the story of the Kent State shootings unfinished.

    Neil Young has more on Terry Norman.

  14. raven says

    Kent State. Christ, I’ll never forget it. I was twelve, and it was one hell of an awakening.

    Yeah, me too.

    I also knew Americans not too much older killed in Vietnam. That was the first shock. We were young, immortal, and Americans. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

    So did millions of others. 58,000 US military were killed, many times that wounded and scarred.

    I’ve never forgotten it either.

  15. says

    “Insofar as this has happened, lessons have been learned, and the deaths of four young Kent State students have not been in vain.”

    If you look at the aggressive tactics used against Occupy Wall Street and similar protests. The use of tear gas, massive amounts of capsicum spray and shooting at close range with rubber encased steel bullets and the severe injuries resulting, the lesson has not been learned.

    If you compare that with the response to the Bundy Ranch terrorists it is clear that massive and potentially lethal force will only be used against unarmed civilians. Good old boys with guns who threaten civil war are apparently too tough to tackle.

  16. Bicarbonate is back says

    Inaji @ 16

    I was twelve too. An “awakening” you say, yes, felt like waking out of childhood.

    My mother had Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on the record player 24/7. And Neil Young was a neighbor of sorts. I remember riding up into the Hay Fields with my best friend, bareback on her horse. We were looking for him.

  17. tuibguy says

    I remember this, and yes it was a shock. There were peace marches going on with regularity all over, and even in my little hometown in Northwestern Minnesota. I was nine and had no real clue as to what was at stake then.

  18. playonwords says

    @ 6 Al Dente – definitely not the M14 in all the pictures. The long rod gas piston is present rather than the gas cut off and there is no flash suppressor.

  19. carlie says

    I couldn’t possibly give any less of a shit what kind of gun was used to murder teenagers engaging in a political protest.

  20. dhall says

    A lot of the passion and idealism was slowly crushed under the reorganized rightwing juggernaut that eventually took control of the media and public education and managed to focus too many people on materialism and selfish evangelicalism, and above all, passive acceptance of authority. The media have been complicit in refusing to cover the ongoing wars while turning pride in the military into idolatry and jingoism, and in convincing who knows how many people into believing that the latest damned smart phone, tablet and car is the measure of self-worth. People get more worked up that their team lost a game than they do with war criminals walking around free in this country or a massive corporate environmental disaster, but then again, there are as many all-day sports channels as there are news channels, and the news channels are in a race to the bottom. I’ve watched a whole lot of people get burned out over the last couple of decades trying to change these trends and finally give up, and I hate to say it, but I’m one of them. We don’t learn from the past, we don’t even learn from what’s right in front of us, and I no longer have much optimism when the rightwing has managed to convince millions that facts are just opinions to be twisted any way you like. And convinced millions to routinely vote against their own best interests. That’s what happened to the passion and idealism, at least from the perspective of someone who thought–in the 70s–that we might actually accomplish something.

  21. Larry Kearney says

    Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
    We’re finally on our own.
    This summer I hear the drumming,
    Four dead in Ohio.

    A Neil Young anthem to close what was a pretty shitty decade. It still resonates today.

  22. twas brillig (stevem) says

    KENT STATE. The reputation… Always a “dirty word” in my mind. From that news day of the 4 students killed for standing in front of some soldiers. “The shot heard round the world” was (more so) in Kent State, not so much the one in Lexington/Concord. ;-(

  23. twas brillig (stevem) says

    Nixon was severely “bipolar”. He would justify his bad by doing good. He was the one who ended the war (“military action”) in Vietnam, and opened relations with China, and he even RESIGNED, without forcing the House to impeach him, he just packed his bags and left! He also did alot of other “liberal” stuff that would get him purged from today’s Republothugian Party for being “too soft”. BUT he also did lots of really bad stuff, like; extending the Viet conflict into Cambodia, and extending its timeline, authorizing Agent Orange, and the Watergate Coverup, etc. etc. ad infinitum. But Nixon is best left unsaid, better a stifled half memory in that storehouse, I call: “My Brain”.

  24. says

    Carlie @ 23:

    I couldn’t possibly give any less of a shit what kind of gun was used to murder teenagers engaging in a political protest.

    Thank you. Same here. I find it appalling and beyond tasteless that anyone would prefer to natter on about guns, given the subject matter.

  25. Terska says

    Eleven days after the Kent State murders, two black students were murdered and twelve were injured at Jackson State university in Mississippi when they were fired upon inside their dorms. I’m not sure why this incident doesn’t receive as much attention other than the students were black. It irritates me when Americans get all sanctimonious about Tiananmen Square.

  26. randay says

    There are two other events, and frankly I don’t know where to begin. Oh well, well Kent State is often spoken of, hardly anyone mentions Jackson State where two African-American students were murdered by the police, not the National Guard, on May 15th.

    May 4, 1886 was also the date of the Haymarket Affair where police fired on a crowd of working people demanding the eight-hour day.

    Apparently working people and A-A’s don’t get the same notice as middle-class white students.

  27. Paul K says

    I was not quite ten years old when it happened. The Vietnam war had been going on for all my life, as far as my memory knew. I figured I had a good chance of going there myself once out of school; the war didn’t seem like ending anytime soon (I really did think this). I lived a few blocks from a college that had had its administrative building taken over by student protestors. I walked by on my way to school each day, and it didn’t seem in any way odd or special because protests happened frequently. I lived in a home where Nixon was known as ‘that bastard!, and ‘that dirty crook’, long before Watergate. The War was not supported in our home, and it was on TV every day.

    When the song came out, it hit me hard. It still does. If it happens to come on the radio, the first notes make my throat tighten up and tears come to my eyes.

    My 10th-grade biology teacher was in her dorm in Jackson watching the troops when windows were shot out just a room or two away. She told me about it after class in May, 1976, because I had mentioned the anniversary in class . I had not known where she went to college before that.

    I had two professors in college who were at Kent State when the events happened. On the tenth anniversary, one gave a lecture on what happened, and what was still missing. He told us that there was going to be a made-for-TV movie about the events, and encouraged us to watch.

    In the movie, I remember that ‘Ohio’ starts playing in the background as the armored vehicles roll onto campus. I broke down crying when I saw this in the lounge in my dorm. Others were watching, and many had never heard of Kent State, and didn’t seem very interested. Which might have been part of the reason I was crying.

  28. Paul K says

    Memory is weird. Searching online shows that the movie aired in February, 1981. So, either the lecture didn’t happen on the tenth anniversary, or the professor told us a movie was being made, and I watched it long afterwards.

    I also learned that the filmmakers were not allowed to use the actual campus of Kent State.

    Randay, at 30: I actually think the Haymarket Affair is remembered pretty well after more than a century, but I agree with you about Jackson State. I think my teacher talked to me about it because she was probably surprised a white kid a thousand miles away had heard about it, remembered, and cared enough to mention it. And this was only six years after it happened.

  29. says

    Terska @ 28 and Randay @ 29, I think you’re both willfully ignoring the meaning and impact of what happened at Kent State. This was indeed, the shot heard around the world, one that signified government sanction of the murder of it’s own citizens for protesting war.

  30. chigau (違う) says

    Paul K #33
    Memory is weird.
    I was fifteen at the time and now I remember hearing that some of the Guardsmen were also students at Kent State.
    But I can’t find anything to support that.

  31. greg hilliard says

    Cops killing unarmed black kids is hardly news even now. Kent State was different in that it was the National Guard and the shooting was largely unprovoked. The other thing I remember is that the Silent Majority thought that not enough students were killed.

  32. zenlike says

    18 garydargan

    If you look at the aggressive tactics used against Occupy Wall Street and similar protests. The use of tear gas, massive amounts of capsicum spray and shooting at close range with rubber encased steel bullets and the severe injuries resulting, the lesson has not been learned.

    Sadly, the lesson has been learned, the lesson being: “you can use violence against peaceful protesters, and the populace at large will remain silent and compliant, but don’t go as far as actually killing some of them, because then maybe a large minority will start asking questions.”

  33. Terska says

    #34 I know that is exactly what happened. The kids were killed to make an example of what happens to those that oppose the war. So were the kids at Jackson State.