‘Kent State’ by Derf Backderf – Thirteen Seconds of National Guard Mayhem in Ohio


‘Kent State’ by Derf Backderf, a graphic novel   (2020) – 280 pages

‘Kent State’ is a grim read, but the Kent State campus shootings are now a part of United States history. It is a graphic re-enactment of the events leading up to and including the National Guard shooting on May 4, 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio.

The book explains the circumstances which led to the National Guard to fire indiscriminately into a crowd of demonstrators and Kent State students on a grassy hillside outside Taylor Hall. Two of the four people who were murdered by the National Guard were not even participating in the protests but were instead walking from campus building to building to get to their classes. Besides the four dead there were nine others who were shot, two who were crippled for life. Despite various legal processes afterwards, no one was ever held responsible for the shootings and the murders.

Derf Backderf (which I would guess is a pseudonym) has a sure-handed knowledge of the available facts of the situation, a steady drawing hand, and a righteous anger about what transpired. Unusual for a graphic work, ‘Kent State’ has 28 pages of notes at the end documenting everything that appears in the book.

In 1970, the United States was at the height of the Vietnam war, and there were demonstrations against the war on college campuses throughout the United States. A lot of the townspeople had disdain for these campus long-haired radicals and hippies, and it was a useful ploy for politicians to stomp down hard on the protesters in their rhetoric and actions. Ohio was one of two states that orders its National Guardsmen to carry loaded guns in civil disturbances.

The president at the time, Richard Nixon, had just announced the expanding of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. Six years later, the United States would bring their troops home in defeat after an estimated 58,220 US soldier deaths and another 153,303 US soldiers wounded.

As I said at the beginning of this article, it’s grim but its history.


Grade:   A




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