By Carl M. Cannon for RealClearPublicAffairs

Fifty-one years ago today, cornered and panicked National Guardsmen sent to quell unrest at Kent State University opened fire without warning on a crowd of antiwar demonstrators.

Four students — William Knox Schroeder, Allison B. Krause, Jeffrey Glenn Miller, and Sandra Lee Scheuer — were killed. Eight others were wounded, including Dean Kahler, who was paralyzed from the waist down.

The day before, Ohio Gov. Jim Rhodes had gone to Kent, where he denounced the demonstrators as “the worst type of people that we harbor in America.” This was an ugly thing to say. Absurd, too.

The people he was talking about were dedicated and politically engaged college students, most of whom had never committed a crime in their lives. Very few of them were committing a crime that day, either: They were protesting an increasingly unpopular war.

They were also very young. Allison Krause had turned 19 less than two weeks earlier.  Bill Schroeder was also 19. Jeff Miller and Sandy Scheuer were 20, as was Kahler, a first-semester freshman. Scheuer and Schroeder weren’t even participating in the protest. They were walking to class.

“Gotta get down to it — soldiers are cutting us down,” Neil Young sang in his angry anthem memorializing their martyrdom. “What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? How could you run when you know?”

A couple of years ago, Joe Biden was riffing off this pivotal tragedy when he said, inexplicably, that “over 40 kids were shot” at Kent State on May 4, 1970.

I’m not sure what he was thinking: The death toll that day was bad enough, so much so that it helped alter the course of U.S. public opinion about the war in Vietnam.

Today, President Biden is scheduled to speak in the White House about the progress of coronavirus vaccinations.

Precision of language will be important, especially with a cohort of Americans who are doing their country no favor by refusing to be immunized against this pandemic that is still killing people all over the world.

As “Star Wars” fans would tell him today: “May the 4th be with you, Mr. President.”

Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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