Guardsmen may have lied about reasons for shooting

Justin Stine's view

“As the Ohio law says, use any force that’s necessary even to the point of shooting. We don’t want to get into that but the law says that we can if necessary.”

This statement was made by Maj. Gen. Sylvester Del Corso of the Ohio National Guard in a press conference less than 24 hours before four students were killed and nine others injured at Kent State in 1970.

According to the book The Truth About Kent State: A Challenge to the American Conscience, President Nixon issued a statement shortly after the shootings that said the students deserved what was coming to them.

“When dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy,” he said.

This also seemed to be the mindset of most of America for a few days following the tragedy. Such a powerful statement coming from the leader of the United States influenced the majority of the American public to agree with him.

While media outlets all across the United States reported the “bare facts” of the shootings, the actions of the National Guard seemed to be justified. The American people simply accepted the consequences of tragedy. The news reports claimed the guard fired in self-defense because it felt threatened and surrounded by the students.

Initially, reports and statements by Del Corso claimed that a sniper from a building off-campus had fired at the National Guard. The day after the shootings, Del Corso was interviewed on a radio talk show in Cleveland.

According to the authors of the book Thirteen Seconds: Confrontation at Kent State, when the host of the talk show brought up the proximity of the off-campus buildings to the Commons area and the fact that the buildings are only two stories tall, Del Corso became nervous and unresponsive. The next day, Del Corso changed his story and told a reporter that there was no sniper involved. Hours later, in another interview, he reverted back to his original story and told a reporter that there was a sniper involved.

In July 1970, an official report of the FBI investigation of the shootings was released. The investigation drew several conclusions that were inconsistent with much of what was being reported on the news. First, there was no sniper involved. Second, the investigation determined that the shootings were unnecessary and unjustified. The guardsmen did in fact still have tear gas available when they fired into the crowd of students. Only a few guardsmen were injured during the tragedy, and only one injury required medical attention. Finally, the investigation concluded that no student posed a threat to the lives of the Ohio National Guard.

In the coming months, more was published of the FBI investigation. It was later determined that the Justice Department had reason to believe members of the guard had conspired to fabricate their reasons for firing.

In September 1970, President Nixon assembled a special commission to investigate the shootings and campus unrest at both Kent State and Jackson State in Mississippi. Soon after hearing this, Ohio Gov. James A. Rhodes put together a special grand jury of his own to investigate Kent State. Under the law, this grand jury officially forbade any federal intervention or federal investigation for the time being, in turn, not allowing Nixon’s special commission to investigate the tragedy.

Justin Stine is an electronic media productions major, the treasurer of the May 4 Task Force and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].