50 Years Since the Rebellion of May of 1970

by on April 30, 2020 · 9 comments

in History, War and Peace

By Frank Gormlie

Introduction to Series

A half century ago exactly, our country was being literally torn apart over the war in Vietnam and its subsequent escalations. Today, the only reference to the Vietnam War is how the number of American deaths from the COVID-19 virus have now exceeded the deaths of US servicemen during the entire Vietnam period.

Yet, history has caught up with us.

Fifty years ago exactly to the day, on April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced to the nation that he had ordered the invasion of Cambodia by US troops. Nixon didn’t call it an “invasion” but it was clear he was expanding the war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, not de-escalating it as he had pledged.

With his announcement, Nixon set off a month-long torrent of protest mainly by college and university students, an intensity never seen before on American campuses. Protests began immediately on campuses across the nation – some of which were extremely militant. Five days later, at Kent State University in Ohio, National Guardsmen, without provocation, fired in the crowds of unarmed students, killing four and wounding another eleven.

The murders of the 4 students – only two of whom was actively protesting – caused an explosion of anger and outrage on the campuses, and in every region and every state students revolted and rebelled to the greatest extent ever seen on American college campuses. Ten days after Kent State, two young African-American men were shot to death by police at Jackson State University in Mississippi.

Before the dust settled, hundreds of campuses had been racked by turmoil, many closed for the rest of the academic term, students were wounded by buckshot in New York State, students were bayoneted in New Mexico and hundreds were arrested, there were two self-immolations, including one here at UC San Diego – and literally, millions of college students and faculty members had demonstrated opposition to Nixon’s policies.

We’ve all seen the images from Kent State of May 4, 1970. And Kent State will undoubtedly be the central focus on any official or media remembrance of those events. But there were many photos, images and events from those days that also need to be remembered.

Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Earl Warren, called it the worst American crisis since the Civil War. Historian Howard Zinn called it the largest student strike in history. What happened May 1970 forever changed US politics and it led the Nixon White House down a steep rabbit hole that ended with impeachment proceedings and his resignation four years later.

However great the turmoil, however bloody the reaction by America’s young was, the full extent of what happened has never been fully documented. There has not been one single book published about everything that came down that month – until this year – with the planned publication of my book expected out later in 2020, 1970: Rebellion in May, a Narrative of the National Student Strike.

Beginning tomorrow, May 1, 2020, the OB Rag will offer a daily series on the events of half a century ago, posting samples of what happened at different colleges each day in May for the first week or so.

What came down 50 years ago is extremely important for Americans to remember, realize and acknowledge, for the rebellion that ensued has been forgotten and its lessons and experiences have been covered up by the dust of history, and the buried voices and actions of those who were involved need to be uncovered. The record of what did happen needs to be brought out to the light of day. What did happen deeply affected the culture and politics of this country and for many reasons, still to this day, our national psyche remains marred by the events of half a century ago.

Between 4 and 5 million Americans were involved in the student strike, tens of thousands of college faculty members joined them in the protests and the rebellion in this largest strike in our history, where nearly a thousand colleges and universities were closed by the end of the month in 1970.

Every type of protest imaginable occurred, from giant, massive peaceful demonstrators, to sit-ins at intersections of college towns, to barricades of major highways and even railroad tracks, to the marches on various institutions, whether there were the local ROTC facility, the statehouse or the Federal Building, to violent clashes with police and state highway cops, to the flooding of campuses with tear gas, to the hundreds injured in fights with law enforcement, to the burnings of campus buildings, to show-downs over the lowering of the American flag in honor of the Kent State dead.

State governors called out their National Guards in 16 states to put down the students’ rebellion that erupted on over three-quarters of American colleges. The rebellion on campuses affected American GI’s in Vietnam, as entire companies refused to engage in combat; it pushed Congress to reassert is war-making powers, it highlighted the deep, ingrained racism in society, in politics and on the college campus; it signaled a dramatic shift in public opinion about the war and ultimately it forced Nixon to bring the troops back early from Cambodia and hastened the complete withdrawal of American forces in Southeast Asia.

So join with us in this week-long commemoration of the 1970 rebellion in May.

there’s also a website devoted to May 1970

 

 

 

 

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Chris April 30, 2020 at 3:00 pm

As I mentioned in other threads on here and The SDFP, I’ve often wondered how Guardsmen who actually pulled the trigger felt in the aftermath. How did they feel as soon as it was over? Has this had any affect on them in the years that followed? I know most people wont care and some may find it offensive that anyone would. But whatever, I sill find it interesting. Ironically, one of the students killed was an ROTC cadet with plans of a commission after graduation.

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Avatar Geoff Page May 1, 2020 at 10:43 am

Not sure how old you are, Chris, but I remember these days, maybe you are too. Lots of people in those days thought anyone with long hair or who bucked the establishment by protesting the war deserved to be shot. I can just as easily imagine that whoever puled those triggers never felt a twinge of regret. Looking a young people today with piercings, tattoos, and all kinds of odd hairstyles and colors, it is hard to imagine a time when having “long” hair could get you beat up and what was considered long hair would make anyone laugh today.

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Avatar Chris May 1, 2020 at 12:16 pm

58. You might be right Geoff but I think it’s equally feasible they or some of them do. Just like plenty of war vets came who back from Vietnam had regrets about their personal actions (some did some didn’t and others felt regret over a period of time). I doubt any of these Guardsmen (those still alive) will ever come forward so we’ll probably never know. Still I like to ponder.

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Avatar Geoff Page May 4, 2020 at 2:12 pm

Certainly a possibility, Chris, I would not discount that or the other. Those guardsmen were very young and time may have changed their minds. But, what also colors their memories was that they had to live through an investigation and live under a cloud of suspicion for a number of years. It might make a good story, I bet someone has talked to them.

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Avatar Michelle May 4, 2020 at 3:55 pm

I personally would not find it offensive to know the minds of those young men. After the events at Kent State they were thrown into chaos. There was an investigation, albeit an anemic one. And those young men were held in limbo, unable to publicly voice any regret or uncertainly. The Nixon administration and the so called “ silent majority” used them as a tool. I obviously find the violence that was committed by them reprehensible, but I think compassion should be afforded to them too.

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Avatar Chris May 7, 2020 at 6:19 pm

I think we all agree then

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Avatar Laura D in OB April 30, 2020 at 7:19 pm

Frank! This is wonderful that you have recorded this history and are presenting it here for us. It was truly the first time I could remember such well deserved anger at the government, and bewilderment at Nixon’s and Alexander Haig’s choices.
Thank you!

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Avatar Anna Daniels April 30, 2020 at 7:45 pm

Frank, so glad to see the first installment in print. You have thought and worked long and hard on this. Well done!

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie April 30, 2020 at 8:25 pm

Thanks Anna, and it’s still going …. on and on ….Whew!

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