[May 05, 2014] On May 04, 1970 at Kent State University, four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard. There were protests on the Vietnam War’s expansion into Cambodia which sparked efforts by the Ohio governor to send in the National Guard. Events that day became a classic study in small unit leadership and what can happen when it fails.
There were several protests of the war leading up to the 4th of May and those protests were not confined to the campus but also downtown and involved throwing rocks and other debris at police. Also, the ROTC building was burnt to the ground. The atmosphere was tense and the Ohio Governor was emotional in expressing his fear of radicalization of the town.1
Regardless of the background, the Ohio units can be studied for their small unit leadership and its failures and successes. A detailed study made it clear that it was only one unit that fired the shots and its members thought they were threatened – clear instructions on what to do were not given. Units that had strong leadership that communicated what was going on, did not fire and were also able to maintain their formations.
This says much about unit leaders and their importance, especially in stressful situations. It is also a classic study in the psychology of people in difficult situations. It is a clear voice for strong leadership and quality training that keeps individuals on mission regardless of outside stressors.
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