Forty years ago today students at gathered on the campus of a university to protest the Vietnam War. This likely happened on campuses all across the country on that day, but we only know of one protest from the 4th of May 1970. And it is not a protest at an elite, Ivy League institution like Columbia, or of a hotbed of activism such as the University of California at Berkeley. This protest took place at Ohio's Kent State University, a mid-tier school that not one American in a thousand knew existed prior to that terrible morning.
You know the story even if only from the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song "Four Dead in Ohio." James Allen Rhodes, Governor of Ohio, asked President Nixon to call in the National Guard. That set in motion a horrifying series of events leading to the death of four young people, not all of whom were at all involved in the protests. Kent State captures the tumult of the era, the feeling of a society on edge and on the verge of collapsing onto itself. One need not have opposed the Vietnam War, or to see it as America's greatest foreign policy misadventure, to understand just how wrong things had to have gone on that day for soldiers wearing the American uniform to open fire on unarmed protesters.