Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Way back in '68, Ohio, Kent State (no way, wrong date)


In May of 1970, the great Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote, Of course: / Bullets don't like people / who love flowers.

Well--of course--he didn't write that exactly. That's Anthony Kahn's translation, also from 1970. Yevtushenko's poem, "Bullets and Flowers," was a propaganda piece, published in Pravda--"Truth"--which, as the reader will no doubt already be aware, is the house organ of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. "Bullets and Flowers" begins as a eulogy for 19-year-old Allison Krause, killed on the commons of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio on May 4th, 1970 while participating in a student protest. She was shot once through the heart at a range of 343 feet by an unidentified National Guardsman armed with an M1 Garand rifle, bayonet affixed.

During the Kent State massacre (or shootings, or murders--the preferred terminology varies depending on the politics of the speaker) 12 other casualties occurred during the same 13-second barrage, three of whom died. One was rendered paraplegic by a bullet which shattered his spinal column. One of the students killed--a bystander, who was not participating in the protest--was a member of the Kent State ROTC chapter.

Yevtushenko's poem leans heavily on the fact that Krause reportedly had also participated in protests the previous day, and was quoted as saying "Flowers are better than bullets" while she placed a blossom in the barrel of an M1 Garand rifle. It would be poetic to believe it was the same rifle that killed her, and--in fact--artistic license has since conflated the two events, the placing of the flower and the shooting of the student. But the truth of the matter is that there is no reason to believe that the gun she decorated is the gun that killed her. Not all of the 77 Guardsmen present discharged their weapons. Of the 29 who admitted firing, some claimed to have fired into the air.

"Bullets and Flowers" goes on to explicate in detail the uselessness and frailty of flowers in times of war. It becomes a condemnation of U.S. policy in Vietnam--a sentiment which those of the Kent State victims who were actually involved in the protests would no doubt find laudable--and from there it shifts to a call to arms, a clarion cry to the children of the world demanding they rise up and overthrow a corrupt system, become a legion of flowers... armed with bullets.


Earlier, protestors had distributed leaflets inviting students to a demonstration at which the protestors announced they planned to napalm a dog. When the audience arrived, they found protestors gathered around a table on which stood, indeed, a shivering dog.

The students announced that they had no intention of allowing the protestors to burn the dog alive.

The protestors replied, "Then why aren't you doing something about the napalming of people in Vietnam?"

It wasn't those words exactly, of course. Eyewitness reports are notoriously inaccurate.

Some eyewitnesses reported that the barrage into the crowd, later that same day, lasted a minute or more. But it was 13 seconds, and 67 bullets were fired.


The sound of massed gunfire is not what you would expect. You don't realize at first what it is that you're hearing. Is that fireworks? Is it something breaking apart? Once you do--once the screams begin, once the wind brings you the stink of gunpowder--it still takes a while for the truth to sink in. The sound seems to go on for a long time--far longer than 13 seconds. Surely that was a minute, at least. Two minutes.

But people are still milling in place. Sitting on the grass crying. Some still haven't realized what just happened. The human mind is not equipped to deal with gunfire. You have to be trained for it.

It's hard to tell at first who's hurt and who's just in shock. Uninjured bystanders drip red from splatter or from their attempts to assist; the wounded may not even know they are bleeding.


They never intended to burn that dog.


"Bullets and Flowers" was a rush job, like another great piece of Kent State propaganda: the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song "Ohio," which was released as a single and receiving national airplay within twenty days of the shootings. ("Shootings" is perhaps the most accurate term, as it acknowledges that most of the casualties were not killed, after all.)

The CSNY song also mentions Allison Krause, inaccurately. It references John Filo's Pulitzer-Prize-winning photograph of a fourteen-year-old runaway, Mary Ann Vecchio, who knelt weeping over the dead body of Jeffrey Glen Miller (also a student protestor, shot through the face and killed instantly at 265 yards). The lyric of the song runs: What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?

Miss Vecchio is not known to have been acquainted with Mr. Miller. Mr. Miller, of course, was not a her.

"Ohio" peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. It had a profound effect on the national perception of the shootings at Kent State, as the shootings at Kent State had a profound effect on the national perception of the Nixon Administration and the war in Vietnam.


In the midst of his true and angry poem (unless it is his Truth-published effort at propaganda), Yevgeny Yevtushenko also wrote--or was translated to have written:

All the dead are bums.
      It's not their crime.
You lie in the grass,
      a melting candy in your mouth,
done with dressing in new clothes,
      done with books.

I don't know if Miss Krause had a candy in her mouth when she died, or if that's a poetic interpolation, like the fictionalized images of Krause being shot at short range by a bullet that tears a battered white daisy from a gun barrel.

But it's an effective one.


--from "Ten Years After: Kent State in the Rearview," Solomon Todd, The Nation, May 1980.