In 1990's Letter to the Next Generation, documentary film maker James Klein returns to Kent State University to recall that era and consider the ways in which students from the early 90's differ from those of the late 1960's and early 70's. What he finds is a general lack of political and worldly involvement or concern, at least compared to the atmosphere he experienced during his college years there. By juxtaposing archival footage and photos with interviews of students and professors circa 1970 and 1989, Klein explores the staggering differences between two generations of students. This results in a moving example of cinema journalism, and although Klein's vision may be personal and opinionated, the documentary nevertheless remains inquiring and responsive to the views of others.
On May 2, 1970, National Guard troops were called to Kent, Ohio, to suppress students rioting in protest of the Vietnam War and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. The next day, scattered protests were dispersed by tear gas and on May 4, classes resumed at Kent State University. By noon on that day, despite a ban on rallies, some two thousand people had assembled on the campus. National Guard troops arrived and ordered the crowd to disperse, fired tear gas, and advanced against the students with bayonets fixed on their rifles. Some of the protestors, refusing to yield, responded by throwing rocks and verbally taunting the troops. Minutes later, without firing a warning shot, twenty-eight Guardsmen discharged their weapons toward a group of demonstrators in a nearby parking lot, killing four students, wounding eight, and permanently paralyzing another. The closest casualty was twenty yards away and the farthest was almost 250 yards away. After a period of disbelief, shock, and attempts at first aid, angry students gathered on a nearby slope, and were again ordered to move by the Guardsmen. Faculty members were able to convince the group to disperse, and further bloodshed was prevented.