Let's have a history lesson. In 1968 Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States, at least partially on the strength of a campaign promise to get the country out of the war in Vietnam. However, in 1970, the U.S. was still mired in the conflict in Southeast Asia, and, on April 30, Nixon announced an expansion of the war that has become known as the Cambodian Campaign, or Cambodian Incursion. The war in Vietnam was already deeply unpopular in the U.S., and this new foray didn't make it any less so.
At least partially in response to the announcement of the Cambodian Campaign, on May 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of 1970 students and others protested on the campus of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. These protests were not peaceful, often degenerating into police attempting to alternatively disperse or round up protestors, who in turn pelted the police officers with empty beer bottles and rocks. By May 3rd, Governor Rhodes of Ohio declared the protestors "un-American", and then he launched into some truly colorful rhetoric, stating that the protestors were "worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes". He further elaborated that the protestors were "the worst type of people that we harbor in America," and "I think that we're up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America." To deal with the supposed threat, Rhodes called up the National Guard to handle the protestors.
On May 3rd, the National Guard tried to use tear gas to break up groups of protestors and imposed a curfew. Some reports say that while trying to enforce the curfew, the Guard bayoneted some students. An additional protest was planned for May 4th, but the University tried to ban it, distributing flyers that stated that the protest was canceled. About 2,000 students showed up to protest anyway, and the National Guard showed up to stop them. After a few rounds of advances and retreats by the Guardsmen (including one sequence in which they boxed themselves into an athletic field surrounded by a chain link fence), Sergeant Myron Pryon began shooting at the students with his .45 for unknown reasons. He was soon emulated by dozens of other Guardsmen who began shooting their M1 rifles into the crowd. Sixty-seven rounds were fired in just under 15 seconds. Four students were killed. Nine were wounded.
The four students were Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder. Two were participating in the protest. Two were simply walking from one class to the next. None were within 200 feet of the Guardsmen. None of the wounded students were within 70 feet of the Guardsmen (making the explanation given by the Guardsmen that they felt threatened somewhat suspect). The event sparked nationwide protests across the country as more than 4 million students went on strike, causing more than 900 colleges and universities to close. Kent State closed down for six weeks. On May 8th, eleven people at a protest at the University of New Mexico were bayoneted by New Mexico State Guardsmen. Five days after the shootings, more than 100,000 protestors arrived in Washington D.C. The President's Commission on Campus Unrest concluded that the shootings were "unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable". No matter how one feels about the Vietnam War, or protestors, or any of the other political issues of the day, I would hope that everyone can agree that National Guardsmen killing University students who were armed with little more than a few rocks is a tragedy.
Forty-four years later, enter schlock merchandiser Urban Outfitters who, today, unveiled a new item in their catalog: A faded pinkish Kent State sweatshirt decorated with bloodstained holes. They claim this was intended to be a joke, but it seems like there's little to joke about in an incident in which four people were killed for, at most, the crime of voicing their dissent. Only someone entirely ignorant of history would think this was a matter fit for a joke. Urban Outfitters has since "apologized" for their tastelessness, but one has to seriously question the judgment of anyone who would have thought this product was a good idea to begin with.
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