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The National Guard fatally shot 4 Kent State students 50 years ago. It changed America forever.

When students left their classrooms to protest the Vietnam War, the government responded by curbing their freedom of speech and killing them.

The National Guard fatally shot 4 Kent State students 50 years ago. It changed America forever.
Image Source: Anti-War March Held At Kent State. KENT, OH - MAY 4.(Photo by John Bashian/Getty Images)

It is quite telling that the United States is not marked by occasions of joy and liberty, but by all of its tragedies. On May 4 in 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired bullets at Kent State University students holding a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War. Nine students were injured, while four others were killed. The incident happened 50 years ago to this day and is a sad reminder of how the United States government has used its military machinery to suppress voices of dissent and curb freedom of speech. It forever changed the face of America, CNN reports.



The tragedy has since been referred to as the Kent State massacre. Following the National Guard's actions, students across the country held a nationwide strike. This prompted colleges and universities to close down. The press ran cover stories about the students' protest: Both Life magazine and Newsweek covered the story in detail. The New York Times published the now-iconic image of a young woman screaming as she knelt over the body of a Kent State student the National Guard had shot at. The shootings are what sparked a meaningful overturn in public opinion about the Vietnam War. Rapidly, more United States citizens began condemning the war.



Today, the incident is representative of the stark political and social divides the Vietnam War instigated. According to several political analysts, the eventual fall of former President Richard Nixon and his administration can be traced back to the Kent State massacre. In order to commemorate the landmark event, Kent State University organized a virtual program. Events included an online candlelight vigil, a radio play, as well as interactive apps that permitted users to discover the events that took place before and after the shooting. Users were also able to watch video interviews with Kent State students. The program began at noon ET on Monday.



The Kent State protest was a result of Nixon's announcement revealing that the United States had invaded Cambodia. In 1968, he was elected President as he had promised to end the war in Vietnam. It came as no surprise then that anti-war activists had erupted in protests following the announcement. All over America, students left their classrooms to challenge the federal government's decision. At Kent State University in Ohio, students "spoke out against the war and even buried a copy of the Constitution to symbolize that Congress had not officially declared war," an article printed by the university shared.



What originally started as a peaceful protest in downtown Kent quickly turned violent and bloody when local police officials confronted the protestors. The city's Mayor declared a state of emergency and a massive police force was deployed. They even used tear gas in an effort to forcefully disperse student demonstrators from the protest site. Fearing further demonstrations, the Mayor arranged for the state's National Guard to secure Kent by submitting a formal request to the Ohio Governor. Protestors, nonetheless, did not back down; Confrontations between them and the National Guard continued through May 2 and May 3. The university's ROTC building was even burned to the ground (it is unclear who was responsible for the fire).



The next day, approximately 3,000 students gathered on campus by 11 am to rally against the National Guard's presence on campus - despite the university's clear instructions that such protests were henceforth banned. Guardsmen fired tear gas yet again and began following students directly. The demonstrators refused to back down. After several standoffs, the National Guard headed back to the top of a steep hill, turned toward the student protestors, and fired at them for 13 seconds. Four students were killed, nine were injured. Kent State University was immediately closed. Across the country, millions of students on campuses gathered to protest the incident. Today, we remember their tenacious fight for peace.



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