Kent State: An American Tragedy (Hardcover)

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A definitive history of the fatal clash between Vietnam War protestors and the National Guard, illuminating its causes and lasting consequences.

On May 4, 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio, political fires that had been burning across America during the 1960s exploded. Antiwar protesters wearing bell-bottom jeans and long hair hurled taunts and rocks at another group of young Americans—National Guardsmen sporting gas masks and rifles. At half past noon, violence unfolded with chaotic speed, as guardsmen—many of whom had joined the Guard to escape the draft—opened fire on the students. Two reductive narratives ensued: one, that lethal state violence targeted Americans who spoke their minds; the other, that law enforcement gave troublemakers the comeuppance they deserved. For over fifty years, little middle ground has been found due to incomplete and sometimes contradictory evidence.

Kent State meticulously re-creates the divided cultural landscape of America during the Vietnam War and heightened popular anxieties around the country. On college campuses, teach-ins, sit-down strikes, and demonstrations exposed the growing rift between the left and the right. Many students opposed the war as unnecessary and unjust and were uneasy over poor and working-class kids drafted and sent to Vietnam in their place. Some developed a hatred for the military, the police, and everything associated with authority, while others resolved to uphold law and order at any cost.

Focusing on the thirteen victims of the Kent State shooting and a painstaking reconstruction of the days surrounding it, historian Brian VanDeMark draws on crucial new research and interviews—including, for the first time, the perspective of guardsmen who were there. The result is a complete reckoning with the tragedy that marked the end of the sixties.

About the Author

Brian VanDeMark teaches history at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis. The author of several books on American history, he also coauthored Robert McNamara’s best-selling Vietnam memoir, In Retrospect, which became the basis of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Fog of War. He lives in Maryland.

Praise For…

Kent State is a brilliant book, a riveting and emotionally wrenching story about the day the Sixties died. Brian VanDeMark has achieved something rare, a narrative that honors both those who died and those who killed on May 4, 1970. When I was an ‘angry young man’ at the time, I could not understand it, but VanDeMark has revealed the facts behind the tragedy. It is a remarkable scholarly achievement about a tipping point in America’s divisive political landscape.

— Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer and Executive Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography

Brian VanDeMark’s beautifully written book forcefully reminds us of the Vietnam War’s impact on American domestic life, and the strife that tore us apart and destroyed innocent lives—as at Kent State.
— Robert Dallek, presidential historian

Brian VanDeMark provides an insightful look back at one of the most tragic moments of the 1970s when four students at Kent State University were killed by the Ohio National Guard. VanDeMark unpacks how the story unfolded, shattering some conventional narratives that we have about what took place in this shocking moment in American history.
— Julian E. Zelizer, Princeton University

Masterful.... The definitive book about the atrocity that took place at Kent State in early May 1970.... VanDeMark's thorough, balanced, and nuanced reporting, extensive quotes from scores of principals, and vivid, absorbing prose will stay with readers for a long time.... [This] top-notch book embodies the term must-read.

— Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Product Details
ISBN: 9781324066255
ISBN-10: 1324066253
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: August 13th, 2024
Pages: 416
Language: English