Nancy Yockey Bonar, Personal Narrative and Commentary
Submitted via e-mail, April 18, 2000
Shared Blame Turns to Peaceful Resolution of Differences
I was a housewife and a fairly new mom around the time of the May 4 shootings at Kent State, my alma mater. One of my sharpest memories is of a neighbor. He was a member of the National Guard assigned to KSU for several days prior to, and during, the shootings on the hill at Taylor Hall, home of the School of Journalism.
I'd see "George" come home so exhausted, bedraggled and frustrated after pulling long duty hours trying to contain illegal rioting and looting in downtown Kent; the burning of the ROTC Building on campus; and the taunts, stone-throwing, and filthy language and gestures of the students. George talked a little bit about those things, and about how so many of the Guardsmen were exhausted after having just served long, wearisome hours curbing violence during a truckers' strike. But after the May 4 shootings, he didn't say one word, per military instructions. But I imagine his anguish was overwhelming.
Of course I, too, was anguished over the shootings; angry that so many outside agitators had chosen Kent as a home base to protest the federal government's policies regarding Vietnam, initiated by President Lyndon Johnson and later embraced by President Richard Nixon, who sent our troops into Cambodia.
This anguish lingered for a long time. I watched in dismay as KSU earned, what I believed to be, an unfair reputation as a hotbed of liberalism as a result of the shootings. I watched with alarm as the enrollment figures plummeted, eventually by 3,000. (I never saw figures on the percentage of KSU students who were actually involved in the chaos, although they might have been published), nor did I ever know the defined numbers of outside agitators, including those with membership in the Students for a Democratic Society - SDS, that had a headquarters in Kent.
It wasn't until a few years later, when I had read James Michener's book on the KSU May 4 incident, that I could put things into perspective. I finally understood, from the viewpoints of Michener (and his research assistants) and those who were interviewed for the book, what had led up to the rioting, burning, calling in of the National Guard and shootings. Yes, I'm sure Michener didn't get all of the facts and probably had some facts wrong. But I do believe he got the flavor of what happened.
Perhaps it was a cop out on my part of not wanting to take sides or to place blame. But I came to believe that there were many "sides:" the federal government (for its policies in Vietnam and the taunts by Nixon and his defenders of those who protested the war); state government and its agencies and the university for not having a "game plan" for student rioting and for being unable to contain the rioters before the shootings, and, of course, the disobeying students and non-students. I continue to feel strongly that the students who were actively involved in the rioting and outside agitators should consider the deaths of four students and injuries of nine others as blood on their hands, as well as on the hands of the government and commanders of the National Guard.
I would advise anyone with an interest in May 4 at KSU to stand quietly at the marble memorial wall near Taylor Hall and reflect on what might have been done to prevent the tragic deaths of four students and what we should have learned from those tragedies. This helped me with some resolution.
I cringed when I read an Akron Beacon Journal story in early 2000 in which a KSU professor was quoted about this year's 30th anniversary. He said, in effect, that it's about time KSU recognized what happened on May 4. I'm waiting for the ABJ to run a list of things that KSU has done through the years to memorialize May 4. Katie Byard's Sunday, March 26, front page story, while I believe it only listed the memorial wall, was an excellent presentation of what's coming up in the way of programs for the 30th anniversary of May 4. Also, I do hope the paper (and other media) runs a chronology of all of the events leading up to the shootings.
As a long-time member of the Alumni Council of the KSU School of Journalism and Mass Communications, I at first sighed and frowned that once again May 4 would be dredged up through KSU's 30th anniversary programs and reports on them by the media. Enough is enough! Why do we have to keep recalling what happened on May 4? Let's keep moving forward. I thought this as both a former journalist and, more recently, retired as a public relations counselor.
But, now that I've seen the programs and goals for the upcoming May 3-5 anniversary programs, I'm confident that KSU has made the right move. I'm particularly impressed with the speakers/symposiums of national stature and with the focus on dealing with the peaceful resolution of conflict, learning from history and so forth. I'm convinced this is the right "public relations" move.
I expect my alma mater, with help from the Akron Beacon Journal as the major media for the events, to make a positive "silk purse out of a sow's ear." Of course, I'm sure there will be some media digging hard for "sensational" stories, ones that will once again produce anguish for me and so many other alums.
As an alumnus and a member of the KSU JMC School's Alumni Council, I'll be on campus as a greeter in Taylor Hall and in support of the university's effort to mark the 30th May 4th anniversary in positive ways.
Nancy Yockey Bonar
Kent State University, Journalism Degree, 1958
Former journalist, retired public relations counselor