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At UW-Madison, the Kent State shootings — which occurred 40 years ago Tuesday — helped prompt one of the most turbulent periods in the university's history.

Hearing of the shootings hundreds of miles away, UW-Madison students responded with rallies calling for an end to the Vietnam War. For days in early May 1970, they torched buildings, broke windows and threw rocks at police. Police used tear gas liberally and the governor called for the National Guard to occupy campus.

A group of four young men bombed the Army Math Research Center in Sterling Hall in August 1970, killing a young physics researcher.

Karl Armstrong, one of the four, has since said the Kent State shootings inspired him to begin sabotaging the U.S. military.

"As soon as that came across the news, I knew the time for public discourse and peaceful demonstrations was over," he told the State Journal in 2001. "The message of our government was, ‘if you want to demonstrate against the war, we will kill you.'"

Students and faculty were angry over the expansion of the war in Cambodia, said Jeremi Suri, UW-Madison history professor. Kent State, and subsequent deaths of two students at an anti-war protest at Jackson State University, triggered a growing unrest.

"We never had troops fire on college students," said Paul Soglin, a law student at the time. "That was something you might see in Mexico and South America and places like that.... To mimic an old phrase, ‘it can't happen here.'"

Soglin, in an interview Monday, recalled that campus was so disrupted, students were given an option of taking their final exams or getting a pass/fail grade for the semester.

Dick Wheeler, who now runs a subscription service and website on Wisconsin politics, covered the shootings as a 26-year-old reporter with Scripps Howard Newspapers in Ohio.

"There was shock among the administrators. There was shock among the reporters, and there was shock among the student body," he said. "Things like that aren't supposed to happen on a college campus."

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