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Four Dead in Ohio: Was There a Conspiracy at Kent State? Paperback – March 1, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
Revised for the 25th anniversary of the Kent State murders, Gordon's book probes for the answers behind the May 4, 1970, slaying of four students by National Guardsmen during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
A compelling, highly readable analysis of the shooting, the cover-ups that followed, and the complex legal battles that surrounded the 1970 killings of four students by National Guardsmen at Kent State . . . Gordon systematically addresses the major unresolved questions of who did what and why in a manner that brings more clarity to this controversial historical tragedy than any other work to date . . . reads like a whodunit . . . As entertaining as the best detective fiction and as analytical and well documented as the best journalism or scholarship. -- Choice magazine
Balanced and thorough--and as close to the last word as anyone has come so far. -- Unsolved Mysteries of American History by Paul Aron
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Top Customer Reviews
Instead Gordon's book provides an excellent objective summary of what happened on May 4th, good detail about subsequent investigations and litigation, and a decent exploration of possible cover-ups with speculation as to motives.
There is not much to support a real conspiracy regarding the shooting itself, mostly just suspicion stemming from the efforts of local, state, and federal authorities to vindicate the guardsmen involved. Gordon's logical analysis of the situation, along with information released under the Freedom of Information Act, supports the idea that this was more a desire to cater to the conservative political base than to hide facts about a government conspiracy.
Gordon's most interesting points are not about the shootings or the subsequent investigations, but about the degree to which the action was condoned (and even applauded) by older Americans. His most memorable statement being that the killings were "the most popular murders ever committed in the United States".
Many years later Gordon examines the situation from a distanced perspective. The most likely scenario is that a handful of guardsmen and their NCO had agreed at some point during their time on campus to act on their frustrations if a good opportunity arose. After a bungled and especially embarrassing sweep across campus they found themselves bringing up the rear of the formation. When they reached the top of a hill they stopped, turned, and fired a volley into the parking lot 300-400 feet away. A payback scare for the students who had been "disrespecting" them during the 40 hours they had been on campus; or just a demonstration that they had live ammunition.
There had been rocks thrown and tear gas fired during this time, extreme for a crowd control situation but tame by civil disturbance standards. 200 miles east at Watkins Glen (NY) it is an annual tradition for bands of drunken motor racing fans to burn random cars. For years the Sheriff and his special posse have spent entire evenings tear gassing and battling these crowds without a single shot being fired. Of course few (if any) of the deputies had mega-hatred for the race fans; and unlike the KSU students even the most drunken spectator knew that the guns of the deputies were loaded.
While the shots were probably just intended to scare, there is also a possibility that those who hatched up this idea intended to shoot students and just wanted other shooters to cover their actions (no one is telling). It is also possible that some of the troops walking just ahead of this group and unaware of the plan were spooked by the first shots and turned and fired directly into the crowd hitting students.
There were 67 shots fired over a 13 second period, an extremely long time for this sort of situation. Although in photos the firing line looks organized, the targeted locations were extremely varied with enough cars and pavement hit to support the idea that the intent of many (but obviously not all) was to just scare the students. As Gordon points out (and the many photos illustrate) there is little logic to the notion that those who fired felt particularly threatened at the moment of the shooting, if anything they had reached a commanding position far safer than their previous location. In fact there was a detached company of guardsmen much closer to the targeted students (they were deployed a few yards from the students on the parking lot side of Taylor Hall) who looked on with amazement during the shooting.
Allison Krause (a teenage girl) was shot in the "back" three times from a range of 340 feet. Hard to spin that as self-defense. Does anything more need to be said about the amount of hate that was on the firing line that day?
I had several minor issues with the book. On page 32 Gordon reprints a Knight Newspaper drawing (made shortly after the shootings) of the area of campus where the shootings occurred, complete with arrows and labels tracing movement and location of the participants. This diagram is neither in scale nor properly oriented, and gives a confusing (warped and compressed) view of the scene. On page 54 is a chart made by the FBI of the same area. The FBI chart is to scale and properly oriented, and illustrates the significant distortions of the newspaper drawing. The only possible value of the newspaper drawing is that it may explain why some newspaper readers supported the actions of the guardsmen (the compressed scale makes its look like the students are just a few feet from the guardsmen), but Gordon does not explore this possibility. So why even include it?
Related to this are several references to the left flank of the firing line when Gordon apparently means the "right" - military unit alignments "should always" be be described from the unit's point of view (like a football formation). Finally, his description of the maneuvers on the football practice field appear to suffer from similar right-left confusion.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
First, Grin claimed I did not answer the question: "Was there a conspiracy at Kent State?" Actually, my chapter on the shootings re-examined Peter Davies' argument that there was such a conspiracy existed, and on page 63 I argued there probably was not a conspiracy. The noise level and the limited amount of time the Guardsmen had to converse amongst themselves were two of the reasons I doubted the enlisted men could have decided to shoot the students.
From there I re-examined a similar question: "Could an order to fire been issued by one of the commanding officers on the scene?" Drawing on new testimony produced by the trials, including some pretty damning grand jury transcripts that were read into the record but never shown to the jurors, I weighed the claims made by various eyewitnesses to the shootings. Some of the witnesses suggested the order to fire was given by Sergeant Myron J. Pryor, who, according to two former soldier eyewitnesses, allegedly tapped the three or four Guardsmen closest to him and pointed to designated targets. Others thought they saw Major Harry Jones make a motioning signal before the Guardsmen turned and fired. Jones was basically directing traffic with a baton that, in violation of Guard regulations, was not standard Guard equipment.
Even though there were more witnesses against Jones, and Jones was less than forthcoming under oath, I pointed out several reasons to give him the benefit (such as one Guardsman's story that Jones was angry at the shooters). The accusations against Pryor made much more sense to me, and I hinted that he was the most likely candidate to have given a localized order to fire.
Secondly, I was taken aback by Grin's claim that I used a diagram that was not to scale and which gave a distorted picture of the scene. His claim makes no sense. The diagram was originally published in the Akron Beacon Journal and it accurately reconstructs the Guardsmen's movements and the distances between the victims and the firing line. The Guardsmen are all pointed in the right direction, and the buildings are all basically in the right places, so I have no idea why Grin (whoever he is) would make such a vague, fuzzy and unsubstantiated claim.
What irritated me the most, though, was Grin's suggestion that my decision to reprint the Beacon Journal's diagram somehow raises a question about the overall reliability of my research. Even if there was any merit to Grin's argument, to jump from a diagram to a sweeping claim about the overall reliability of my book is a non sequitur. It is also utter, utter nonsense.
One of the things I am most proud of is that in the 16 years since my book was published, no one--not a single journalist, scholar, or groupie--has been able to identify any errors of fact (either significant or nitpicking).
People may disagree with the conclusions I reached, but no one can honestly say I misquoted anyone, got basic facts wrong, or was less than conscientious with the material at hand.
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