The Kent State shooting on May 4, 1970 seemed to be the epic national tragedy as I was growing up. Maybe because I’m from that part of the country. Post 9/11, Kansas City bombing, and other acts of violence, this catastrophe seems to be fading in memory and importance. In 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence, author Howard Means examines then events immediately before, during and after the altercation to try to understand where things escalated to the point where National Guardsmen opened fire on the college campus, killing four people and injuring others. Means fabricates a meticulous timeline while describing the failures of local police and campus administration to prevent the escalation of protest to riots to deathly intervention by National Guard.
“A generation of rising prosperity, a growing middle class, TV the recently launched Sesame Street, Dr. Spock and Dr. Seuss, greatly enhanced access to higher education had netted this: free love; protest marches; contempt for flag, county, and president; sons and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends who knew more collectively than any generation ever had and who were, in practical ways of the world, dumb as dirt.”
67 Shots reads more like a research paper rather than tabloid sensationalism, which is a possibility given the volatility of the subject. Means relays the events dispassionately which can be a little dry at times. The author also includes plenty of first-hand accounts, apparently from oral history archives of Kent State University. These accounts create a fraction of a feeling of tension the people on campus and in nearby neighborhoods must have endured. While Howard does a lot of finger-pointing, he does make clear the fact those in command of the National Guard refused to hold themselves accountable for the situation. This is still an interesting book that brings this travesty back into center of attention, at least for a moment.