A brief write-up of Moments of Truth: A Photographer’s Experience at Kent State, 1970. (Kent State University Press: 2019 ($34.95).
Howard Ruffner did something very clever in his just-published collection of photographs taken at Kent State just before and during the May 4, 1970 killings. Ruffner, a photographer and stringer for Life magazine (where some of his photographs originally appeared), enhanced his famous photograph of the Guardsmen turning and preparing to fire on the students. As Ruffner notes, his enhanced photographs show a complete absence of rocks by the feet of the Ohio National Guardsmen.
For those who are old enough to remember the campus killings, Ruffner's photographs just demolish the Ohio National Guards' claims that they were pelted with rocks and other objects before they fired to protect themselves from a lemming-like crowd of crazed students. Ruffner's photographs may be the most damning evidence that the Guardsmen did not tell the truth and the four fatalities did not deserve to be killed.
The rest of Ruffner's photographic memoir consists of a brief retelling of his background, a review of how he became one of the most important witness for the victims during both the criminal proceedings and a civil trial alleging wrongful death and injury. He also provides other photographs taken both before the shootings, and in its immediate aftermath, and in the four days following President Richard Nixon's announcement that he was sending combat troops into Cambodia, which many students considered to be an expansion of a hated war.
Ruffner’s book is a welcome addition to the literature on the tragedy, and reminds us that while there might be plenty of "moments of truth," we still do not why a faraway war came home to America's campuses.
This blog is written by William A. Gordon, a Kent State alumnus and the author of "Four Dead in Ohio" and three other books. It offers commentary on the still unfolding developments in the Kent State shooting case.