Kent State and the End of American Innocence
DaCapo Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2016, 288 pages
Book Review published on: March 17, 2017
On Monday, 4 May 1970, Kent State University was thrust into the national spotlight when Ohio National Guardsmen, sent to the university to keep order after a weekend of civil disobedience, the burning of the ROTC building, and some rioting in the town, fired into a student protest, killing four students and wounding nine. In his latest work, 67 Shots, author Howard Means convincingly argues that the thirteen seconds it took to fire the sixty-seven rounds, although short in duration, had far-reaching consequences not only for the individuals at the small Ohio University but also for the nation.
Means argues the shootings were both unavoidable and preventable. He proves this point through his clear writing style and diligent research, but most of all, through his analysis of the eyewitness accounts. The author uses the testimony and recollections of many witnesses and participants who were present before, during, and after this tragedy to provide a compelling narrative of what happened. He provides a clear understanding of events as he weaves the story between the competing perspectives of respect for law and order, and freedom of speech. He describes the confusion that affected all the people involved that resulted in assumptions and decisions that ultimately led to the tragedy. Means not only provides clarity to the confusing events at the time but also confronts the myths that have managed to persist for decades.
Means use of first-person accounts provides a vivid picture of the events. Through his analysis, he lays blame where he believes it is warranted. For example, when describing the university’s administration, he writes, “For its part, the university not only had surrendered all meaningful authority but also lacked the institutional capacity to respond to the events that swirled around it.” Some of the most interesting and tragic stories are found in the author’s analysis of the aftermath. Here readers may find the most compelling stories about the reactions and responses of the staff, faculty, surrounding community, and students, as well as people at the national level to include the White House.
Although in the end and despite all his diligent research, the author is unable to answer the question of why the National Guard opened fire, 67 Shots provides several lessons that will cause readers to pause and reflect, including what is the role of the military in civil disobedience. In addition, the book offers lessons for stability operations as well as insights into crisis decision making and crowd behavior. 67 Shots is a cautionary tale of what can happen when the consequences of decisions spiral out of control. I recommend this book for those readers interested in the Vietnam War, American history, and decision making.
Book Review written by: Robert J. Rielly, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas