Learn about the beta

277. Editorial Note

On May 4, 1970, at approximately 4:45 p.m., the President told Kissinger: “At Kent State there were 4 or 5 killed today. But that place has been bad for quite some time—it has been rather violent.” Kissinger suggested that the Nixon administration would be blamed for the killings and he noted that thirty-three university presidents were appealing to the President to leave Vietnam. The President asked about the student strike, observing: “If it's peaceful it doesn't bother me.” Still, Nixon worried if the students were “out of classes they'll be able to raise hell.” Kissinger thought they would hold teach-ins and possibly march on Washington. Nixon hoped “we can get some people of our own to speak out.” Kissinger stated that “The university presidents are a disgrace,” to which Nixon replied: “They still get an inordinate amount of publicity, like the students. We have to stand hard as a rock. Everybody's been through this—de Gaulle, Marcos…If countries begin to be run by children, God help us.” Kissinger suggested that “of course, student disorders hurt us politically.” The President responded: “They don't if it doesn't appear we caused them.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, May 4; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 363, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

The reaction at American colleges and universities to Cambodia and the killings at Kent State continued to grow over the next few days. [Page 930]The effects of anti-war demonstrations are not often cited in official documents, but as Chief of Staff Haldeman makes clear in The Haldeman Diaries, they had a profound impact on the state of mind of the President and his advisers. (pages 158–164) On May 6 Kissinger met from 3 to 4:15 p.m. with eleven students and five faculty members of Stanford University in the White House Situation Room. The students and faculty members attempted to convince Kissinger that U.S. policy in Southeast Asia was not legitimate, especially the attack on the Cambodian sanctuaries. Kissinger attempted to explain the rationale for the decision. Neither made much progress with the other. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 340, Subject Files, Stanford University, May 1970) Kissinger recalls in White House Years (page 510) that he met with ten student groups about Cambodia during May 1970 alone. The bulk of the memoranda of conversation of these meetings are in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 268, Memoranda of Conversation, 1968–1977, December 1968–November 1970.

On May 6 from 10:41 to 11:36 a.m., President Nixon met with six Kent State students who were against the war in Vietnam. In addition, William Stanton, Congressman from Ohio, and Thomas Ball of the Kent State University Alumni Association of Washington, D.C., attended. Press Secretary Ziegler, Chief of Staff Haldeman, and Assistant to the President Ehrlichman accompanied the President. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President's Daily Diary) On May 7 the President met with eight university presidents who were members of the Association of University Presidents to discuss the demonstrations and violence on American campuses. The college presidents were William C. Friday of the University of North Carolina; Fred H. Harrington of the University of Wisconsin; G. Alexander Heard, Chancellor of Vanderbilt University; Charles C. Hitch of the University of California (Berkeley); Edward Levi of the University of Chicago; Malcolm Moos of the University of Minnesota; Nathan M. Pusey of Harvard University; and W. Allen Wallis of the University of Rochester. (Ibid., White House Special Files, President's Office Files, Box 81, Memoranda for the President, May 1970) Kissinger's discussion with the Stanford students and professors and Nixon's discussions with the university presidents are published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume I, Documents 65 and 66.

On May 7 Secretary of State Rogers and Kissinger discussed student demonstrations, with Rogers stating: “These student protests are greater than any of us anticipated. 136 universities are now closed. If one could talk individually with them, we could change their minds.” Kissinger responded: “I have been talking to student groups, but when the faculties are present, it is impossible.” Rogers stated: “I had some students and faculty members from Grinnell in. The faculty had all the [Page 931]credentials of erudition and thoughtfulness, but they are more emotional than the youngsters. Most of it is psychological—it's all mixed up with what Agnew said, the President's unfortunate statement about bums, their worry that they will be drafted.” Kissinger responded that the Provost of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called him to say that “he wishes he could find it in his heart to say we caused it, but we gave the pretext. MIT was ready to blow anyway.” Rogers agreed that “It (the Cambodian incursion) was just the spark—it was present anyway.” After Rogers suggested that “we will have to stick behind him [the President],” Kissinger suggested that “After another week or two when the troops come out, it will be better.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Kissinger and Rogers, May 7; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 363, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)