KENT STATE by James A. Michener


What Happened And Why
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Michener and staff have produced a collage, now appearing in the Reader's Digest, of graphic second-hand accounts, reconstructions of student life and town sentiment, interpretations and misinterpretations of the Kent State events of May 1970. About the shooting itself, the book says the Guard was not surrounded; no order to shoot was given; there is no evidence of a sniper and much evidence that the Guards were not all afraid for their lives. It was, however, "not murder," but "a tragic accident": a "riotous condition," if not a real riot, prevailed, and Michener insists that hard-core revolutionaries were out to force a confrontation, as if their intent proves their responsibility. This claim is backed up chiefly by testimony that people with NLF flags were standing on the sidelines and yelling revenge slogans afterward. Coeds' profanity, which receives countless repetitive references, assumes the proportions of a second major cause; Cambodia itself and the national pattern of uprisings are given infinitely less weight. On the one and foremost hand, Michener stresses campus visits by SDS leaders over the years, and at psychologically key points he interpolates nonsense about Cuban funding of SDS (his most highly praised source is Eugene Methvin, ultraconservative author of The Riot Makers) and about radical plans to make Kent a regional focus of their efforts. In other spots he acknowledges that the campus "straights" were passionately anti-war and anti-draft, that many moderates were glad to see the ROTC building burn, and that "disorders" were "much, much worse" on other Ohio campuses. There are long pontifications about how the "new life style" touches the most apolitical students, along with an equation between life-style and "Marxist-based" worldwide student revolt. In his descriptions of the teaching assistants, so inflammatory as to invite further witch-hunts, as in his imputation of uncanny powers to the activists, Michener is making mischief; but especially in the epilogue he covers himself with a plea to spare peaceable radicals and junior faculty for the sake of free-flowing ideas. As a work of interpretive journalism, it is far less scrupulous than I. F. Stone's Killings At Kent State (1970).
Pub Date: April 30th, 1971
ISBN: 0449202739
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1971


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