The Day the '60s Died full movie review - The Nightmare Of Kent State
No single war (at least not until Iraq in 2003) was as divisive in American history as the war in Vietnam.
It divided the nation in ways that it had not been divided since the Civil War; and in a great many ways, that division has never quite fully healed. Of all the events surrounding that war that signified just how great the divisions in our country would be, perhaps none was as great as what took place on the campus of Kent State University, a mid-size college in northeast Ohio, just 40 miles south of Cleveland, on May 4, 1970. The events leading up to and past it are looked at in the 2015 PBS documentary THE DAY THE 60S DIED: THE KENT STATE SHOOTINGS.
As related by those who had been students at that campus during that incredibly turbulent time, along with Vietnam veterans, and, most notably, Pat Buchanan, then a speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, the Kent State tragedy was the culmination of several years of student dissent that only needed a catalyzing event to have the whole thing explode in the faces of the American people. This event was Nixon's extending of the war into Cambodia on April 30th to eliminate what he claimed were Vietcong strongholds right along the Cambodian/Vietnamese border. Only ten days earlier, on April 20th, Nixon had continued to prop up the idea of winning a just peace in Vietnam that would not besmirch America. Unfortunately, the Cambodian incursion and the televised speech that went along with it had the effect of pouring an immense amount of gasoline on what was already a raging firestorm. Colleges, universities, and more than a few high schools around the nation became hotbeds of extreme dissent. And Kent State was the flashpoint, with the campus's ROTC building being put to the torch two nights after the speech, and right after Nixon referred to the student protesters as "bums". On the orders of the very hard-right wing Ohio governor James Rhodes, the state's National Guard was called in to stop the disturbances; but as with a lot of things that involved force, it only had the opposite effect.
And at 12:24 PM on May 4, 1970, for reasons that remain shrouded in controversy, a contingent of National Guard troops fired into a group of twenty protesters on a knoll on the campus. Thirteen students were shot. Nine were wounded, one so severely that he suffered from permanent paralysis. Four others students?Allison Krause; Jeffrey Miller; Sandra Scheuer; and William Schroder?died on the spot. The killings sparked outrage among the young, and a vicious backlash among supporters of the war in general and of Nixon in particular (some even saying that more students should have been killed). It was a savage time, one that only got worse when, on May 14th, two African-American students, Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green, were gunned down by highway patrolmen outside a dormitory at Jackson State University in Mississippi.
THE DAY THE 60S DIED, though just a little less than an hour in length, does display the kinds of divisions that had been fracturing America for several years already, and how those fractures still exist (and may, in some ways, be more insidious now than even in 1970). But while the "establishment" may have won the battle for the hearts and minds of the American public of the time, they would go on to lose not only the Vietnam War but, as the "cultural warrior" Buchanan admits, other even more significant "wars" of the American culture, with the birth of the environmental, gay rights, and women's rights movements. As horrible as Kent State was, it was also a reminder that a lot of good can come from such horror, which is what this documentary shows with incredible force. The ideals of the 1960s have lived on, even if the decade itself died with those four on that horrible day.