Without Kent State, would there have been an animal rights movement?
KENT, Ohio––The shots fired by National Guard members into demonstrators against the Vietnam War at Kent State University on May 4, 1970 were in a sense the first shots fired in what British historian Richard Ryder would call, 30 years later, the Animal Revolution, in the title of his 2000 book subtitled Changing Attitudes Toward Speciesism.
But no one knew it at the time, not even 21-year-old underground poet, history major, and part-time factory worker Bill Arthrell.
Arthrell on April 22, 1970 helped to precipitate the events leading toward the shooting by threatening to burn a dog with napalm.
Had neither napalm nor a dog
Arthrell’s intent was to use the public’s love of animals to dramatize what was then still mostly indifference toward U.S. military deployment of napalm in Vietnam to start forest fires that often burned civilian villagers as well as enemy combatants.
Arthrell had neither napalm nor a dog.
Two weeks later he and many others hugged the ground in fear for their lives.
Whether the National Guard members fired in spontaneous panic or under orders has never been established.
A tape recording of the shooting indicates that someone shouted “Fire!” but does not indicate who. None of the protesters shown on video were armed.
More than 60 shots in 13 seconds
“Between 61 and 67 shots were fired in 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine,” recounted Elyria Chronicle Telegram reporter Andrea Misko on May 4, 2000, the thirtieth anniversary of the shootings.
“Arthrell, a committed pacifist, was among the 1,500 students who gathered on that day to protest the Vietnam War and the National Guard’s presence on campus,” Misko wrote. “He later was arrested and indicted, along with 23 other students and one professor, on rioting charges,” but all of the charges were eventually dropped, due to lack of evidence that any of those arrested had done anything illegal.
Arthrell, though arguably the most influential in the later emergence and growth of the animal rights movement, in which he had no active part, in truth staged at least the fourth and apparently last version of the public threat to napalm a dog.
Arthrell did mention in a July 31, 2019 Facebook post that “In my recent travels I’ve been observing the evolution of the animal rights movement,” but segued on to discussion of an Eric Burden appearance in Ukraine, where he was visiting at the time.
Steve Kiyoshi Kuromiya
Steve Kiyoshi Kuromiya, already a seasoned activist at age 25, orchestrated the first and most publicized version on April 26, 1968, two years before Arthrell did it.
Small, somewhat effeminate, reclusive, and openly gay, in contrast to the outgoing 6’2”, 180-pound Arthrell, Kuromiya was born on May 9, 1943 in an internment camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, where Japanese Americans were imprisoned during most of World War II.
Kuromiya was first arrested in 1954, at age 11, for allegedly corrupting the morals of an also gay 16-year-old.
Living on his own from age 17 on, Kuromiya in 1961 won one of six Benjamin Franklin National Scholarships and was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania to study architecture.
But Kuromiya never completed a degree. His first demonstration, in 1962, began with a two-day fast, followed by two days of picketing in a blizzard on behalf of Grinnell Support Against the Resumption of Nuclear Testing.
Later in 1962 Kuromiya joined a Congress of Racial Equality sit-in against segregation at a Maryland diner, then met Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy and author James Baldwin after attending King’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963.
In March 1965 Kuromiya helped to lead an occupation of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, in support of the marchers who were injured by police at the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, en route to the state capital in Montgomery to demand voting rights.
From civil rights to anti-Vietnam War protests
Kuromiya then flew to Montgomery, where on March 13, 1965 he, King, Fred Shuttlesworth, and James Forman were beaten by police while helping African-American high school students to register voters.
Briefly hospitalized, Kuromiya the next day demanded, and received, what King called the first apology ever received from a southern law enforcement officer for injuring a civil rights worker.
Ku Klux Klan posse disbanded
Kuromiya and King subsequently drafted a statement signed by the county sheriff in which he disbanded the Ku Klux Klan-dominated volunteer posse that had assaulted Kuromiya.
Kuromiya, influenced by King, became involved in anti-Vietnam War protest in October 1967.
After King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, Kuromiya helped to look after King’s children during the week of King’s funeral, then turned to antiwar protest in earnest by designing, printing, and distributing a poster promoting burning draft cards. This got Kuromiya arrested for allegedly misusing the mails to incite crime and promote indecency.
Pennsylvania SPCA rep was skeptical
Simultaneously, Kuromiya circulated a flyer declaring that on April 26, 1968, “At noon on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, we will use napalm on a defenseless dog to illustrate the horrors of this weapon. Innocent Vietnamese are being burned alive by the jelly-like gasoline, paid for by your U.S. tax dollars.”
Not everyone took the threat seriously.
Pennsylvania SPCA state manager Leroy Ellis told John Charnay of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Charnay reported, that “Assistant vice president for student affairs Alice Emerson called him and mentioned that similar demonstrations had been threatened at other institutions but did not materialize. Ellis speculated that this demonstration might never take place.”
Women’s SPCA responded in force
However, Charnay continued, on the day of the event, “William Savage of the Women’s SPCA informed the Daily Pennsylvanian that an ambulance was on hand from his organization in the event that the napalming could not be prevented by the group’s plainclothes agents and several dozen plainclothes agents from the Pennsylvania SPCA, the police commissioner’s office, and the civil disobedience squad, who were there with local television, radio, and press officers, and thousands of faculty and students to witness the napalming.
“Charles Renshaw, special agent of the Women’s SPCA, said that he would make an on-site arrest of the demonstrators involved, should the napalm burning of a dog take place.”
Warned Renshaw, “The penalty for this would be a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment by separate or solitary confinement at labor not exceeding three years or both.”
The American SPCA, headquartered in New York City, with no jurisdiction in Pennsylvania, also issued vehement quotes to as many media as could be persuaded to report them.
“The question is whether napalming people is horrible”
But, recounted Evan Forster for Poz.com on February 1, 1996, summarizing contemporary media accounts, “When 2,000 people gathered on the appointed day, instead of witnessing the burning of a dog, they were handed flyers which read: “Congratulations. You have just saved the life of a dog. Now, how about saving the lives of thousands of innocent people in Vietnam?”
Witnesses interviewed by Charnay indicated that Kuromiya, while offending many people, had nonetheless made his point.
“A student in the College for Women, Ronne Mandelker, was spotted strolling along with her St. Bernard, Max,” Charnay wrote.
Said Mandelker, “I don’t think the question is whether napalming dogs is horrible. I think the question is whether napalming people is horrible.”
Restaurant & theatre critic
Charnay observed “several dozen veterinary students who appeared dressed in their uniforms [scrubs] to protest the napalming of the dog as an inhumane act.”
Offered Temple University professor Sidney Simon, “To find veterinary students concerned about anything is progress.”
After the controversy over the dog burning threat subsided, Kuromiya was less prominent in anti-Vietnam War work.
“Oddly enough, when not organizing or protesting, Kuromiya was spending considerable time in Philadelphia’s finest restaurants and theaters, doing research as editor of The Collegiate Guide to Greater Philadelphia,” observed Forster.
Following the Stonewall riots outside a New York City gay nightclub, beginning on June 28, 1969, Kuromiya co-founded the Gay Liberation Front; started the first gay organization on the University of Pennsylvania campus, called Gay Coffee Hour, in 1972; survived lung cancer and AIDS; ran an AIDS information hotline and web site called Critical Path; and died of cancer in 2000 at age 57.
Re-involving himself in architecture, Kuromiya was most noted in later life for having traveled the lecture circuit for five years with techno-futurist Buckminster Fuller, until Fuller’s death in 1983, collaborating with Fuller in writing six books, the last of which appeared in 1992.
Along the way, Kuromiya was involved to some extent in practically every major cause of his time except animal advocacy.
“America went berserk”
Kuromiya might have avoided animal advocacy because of the enduring notoriety of the threat to burn a puppy, which was emulated twice by others later in 1968.
Recounted Greg Hand in a 2010 blog posting entitled The Weird Tale Of Cincinnati’s Napalm Puppy For Peace,
“It was the most brilliant political theater ever staged in Cincinnati. It was also the stupidest. On November 8, 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, Joseph Schneider and Hester Butterfield announced that on Veterans Day they would napalm a puppy at the University of Cincinnati.
“America went berserk.
“It was four years before the famous photograph of a naked child, later identified as Phan Thi Kim Phuc, appeared in American newspapers, illustrating the effects of a napalm attack,” Hand mentioned.
Pup named Steppenwolf
The Cincinnati Draft Project’s Ad Hoc Committee to Bring War Atrocities Home distributed a flyer reading, “You are invited to attend a ritual dog-napalming. Bring family and friends to watch the sacrificial burning of a three-month-old puppy with new, improved, sticky napalm. Veterans Day, 12:30 — University of Cincinnati Bridge.
“It’s not going to occur,” Hamilton County SPCA manager Norbert Mahlman (1918-1992) promised Associated Press on November 9, 1968.
“The society reported that several of its agents, city police, and the university’s security patrol would be on the campus to prevent the burning,” Associated Press reported.
Schneider and Butterfield did arrive with a puppy.
Wrote Hand, “From the outset, it should have been obvious that neither Butterfield nor Schneider had any intention of harming the puppy, who happened to be named Steppenwolf.”
“We want people to get really mad”
Butterfield, recalled Hand, “was the grand-daughter of Cleveland financier and industrialist Cyrus Eaton. Her husband [Jim Wessner] had just begun a four-year prison sentence for draft evasion,” for which he actually served 19 months, “and she assisted draft resistors finding jobs after prison.
“Schneider, a 19-year-old student and contributor to the radical Independent Eye newspaper in Cincinnati, hinted that no puppies would be harmed in the interviews he gave to the mainstream news media.”
Said Schneider to the Dayton Daily News, “We’ll try our damnedest to make the connection between getting stirred up over the death of a dog, yet going along with the maiming and murder of the Vietnamese. We want to get people really mad and stop us from killing the dog.”
From 300 to 400 people arrived at the Tangeman University Center to protest the threatened puppy burning.
Declared Schneider, while Steppenwolf played in fallen leaves, “I could no more burn that puppy with napalm than I could burn a Vietnamese kid or a member of this audience.”
Harboring an unlicensed dog
Six days later, reported United Press International on November 15, 1968, “Demonstrators from St. Cloud State College in Minnesota planned to burn a 6-month-old St. Bernard puppy, using napalm, to dramatize their protest of the chemical in Vietnam. But police, ordered by Governor Harold Lavander to prevent the burning, arrested Doug Erickson, a student at the school, when he led the dog to the courthouse steps. Erickson was charged with harboring an unlicensed dog.”
“Burn the creeps!”
Assessed Schneider in an Independent Eye column published on December 2, 1968:
“Judging from the volume and contents of the hate mail flooding the Cincinnati Draft Project office, the infamous Veteran’s Day puppy napalming, intended as a guerrilla theatre stunt, proved more educational to its perpetrators than its intended audience.
“What came as a shock was the gullibility which Cincinnati displayed in believing that a group of pacifists was going to burn a live animal, especially since similar stunts had been done elsewhere and were covered by the national press.
“And although we already had enough reason to believe in the American genius for violence, we were surprised at the ‘animal lovers’ who threatened to ‘burn the creeps’ in order to save the dog.”
Our Bodies, Ourselves
What Schneider and Erickson went on to do, ANIMALS 24-7 has been unable to trace. Both had common names even for men of about the same age in the Cincinnati and St. Cloud areas, respectively.
Butterfield, however, went on to work for the New England Free Press, helping to produce the 1970 first edition of the women’s health book Our Bodies, Ourselves, also helping to form the Boston Women’s Health Collective and the women’s organization Bread & Roses.
Butterfield later headed the Cyrus Eaton Foundation, funding a variety of human health and welfare projects. Relocating to Munich, Germany, Butterfield as of December 2021 had long been deeply involved in helping refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ukraine to resettle and find “safety, work, and medical care,” the Cyrus Eaton Foundation web site summarizes.
Butterfield never again mentioned “napalm the dog”
Like Kuromiya, Butterfield appears to have involved herself to some extent in practically every major cause except animal advocacy.
Unlike Kuromiya, who often acknowledged and described his role in “napalm the dog” protests, Butterfield never again mentioned hers in any interview or public statement that ANIMALS 24-7 could locate.
There were no further “napalm the dog” incidents until Bill Arthrell announced that on April 22, 1970 he would napalm a dog in front of the Kent State University student union building.
Arthrell, who funded his education through factory jobs, was among the constellation of street poets and guerrilla theatre performers who were inspired by Cleveland beatnik poet and publisher Darrell Allen Levy (1942-1968), better known as d.a. levy.
Who was d.a. levy?
A U.S. Navy veteran, levy produced and distributed mimeographed poetry under the Renegade Press and Seven Flowers Press imprints. He and Asphodell Bookstore owner Jim Lowell fought an ultimately successful battle against obscenity charges filed against him in 1966 and 1967 for publishing poems by minors that included four-letter words, produced an underground newspaper called the Buddhist Third-Class Junkmail Oracle in 1967-1968, and shot himself on November 24, 1968, in a fit of despair.
A vegetarian, d.a. levy left stacks of undistributed chapbooks and some unpublished poems to younger fellow poet and publisher Robert Jay Sigmund, better known as rjs. Sigmund passed much of the material along to ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton, who later distributed it through his own Samisdat imprint (1973-1992.)
Several former d.a. levy associates were later supportive of the early animal rights movement and animal advocacy generally––rjs, for example, was a dog rescuer––but as of April 22, 1970, all of this remained in the distant future.
Recounted Howard W. Crombie in a recent Facebook posting, “Noon came, and hundreds gathered to protest Bill’s announced napalming of an innocent dog. They were intent on stopping Bill by any means necessary. Police were out in force. The County Prosecutor kept watch. An animal welfare officer [from the Portage County Animal Protective League], dressed in official animal welfare officer uniform, waited, with collar and leash in hand, to take the dog into protective custody. A little old lady handed out flyers for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“Bill, dressed in a suit and tie, arrived at noon.
“Bill addressed the crowd. Scientifically, objectively, clinically, he described napalm and its effects on flesh.
“The crowd booed”
“Bill asked the crowd “How many of you have come here today to see me napalm a dog?”
“The crowd booed.
“Bill asked the crowd “How many of you are willing to take action to stop me from napalming the dog?”
“The crowd growled and shook their fists.
“I have some news for you. There is no napalm. There is no dog.
“You’ve come to stop me from committing a very immoral act. Good for you. But realize, it’s not happening to just one dog, it’s happening to tens of thousands of people, compliments of the U.S. military, and we don’t seem to hear their screams. And just because it’s on the other side of the world doesn’t make it any less real or any less painful. So please, take your wonderful morality and apply it to the war in Vietnam and not just to this protest here today.”
Continued Crombie, “There was silence. Then applause. Bill walked quietly through the crowd back to his dorm room,” where Arthrell later recalled that the first thing he did was to take off the uncomfortable tie.
“We were never going to napalm a dog”
Contemporary news reports and Arthrell’s own statements verify every detail of the Crombie account.
Said Arthrell to writer Michael Crifasi in 2010, “We were never going to napalm a dog. I’m a Buddhist for God’s sake. What I said that day was that hundreds of civilians were being napalmed in Vietnam every day, but nobody rushed out to stop that. And napalm wasn’t even legal. Our own government had agreed to that. But yet, there we were, using it every day.”
Radicalized, Arthrell recalled, by the shootings at Kent State and his own first arrest as the gunfire subsided, he went on to be arrested a dozen times altogether at peace protests.
Earning his university degree, and then a master’s degree in education, took Arthrell ten years, between factory stints to pay his tuition and living expenses.
“I didn’t get everything”
Post-graduation, Arthrell lived in London, Sweden, Germany, Thailand, and Greenwich Village in New York City.
Arthrell at age 42 finally gave up on his literary aspirations and settled down to 31 years of teaching history at Cleveland inner city high schools.
Though Arthrell almost always had a girlfriend, he told Crifasi, “I didn’t get everything. I didn’t get the wife and kids, but I got my career.”
His career included making a 2018 film, Ukraine: Path to Freedom, issued by Golden Gate Productions, based on three research trips to the regions invaded by Russia since February 24, 2022.
Arthrell had also worked with refugees from Donbas and had volunteered as a monitor during Ukrainian elections.
Arthrell’s last words to Crifasi: “Drive safe.”
Ironically, Arthrell died at about 10:30 p.m. on February 1, 2022, after reportedly making an illegal U-turn through a gap in the Will Rogers Turnpike median wall about nine and a half miles east of Miami, Oklahoma. He had left his sister-in-law Claudia Arthrell’s home in Tulsa about two hours before. Claudia Arthrell, widow of his older brother Danny, was his closest living relative.
Though Arthrell apparently never knew it, several of the keenest observers of the “napalm the dog” protests were pioneers of using U.S. Postal Service bulk mailing discounts to fund animal advocacy.
Among them were Belton Mouras, who formed the Animal Protection Institute in 1968 (see Animal rights movement pioneer Belton Mouras, 90); Brian Davies, who relocated his Save The Seals Fund from New Brunswick, Canada, to Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1968 and renamed it the International Fund for Animal Welfare; Cleveland Amory, who founded the Fund for Animals in 1968 (see Did Cleveland Amory write to Ann Landers? Yes!), and John Hoyt, who had just become president of the Humane Society of the U.S.
“Send money or the dog gets it!”
Animal advocacy appeals until then had made little if any use of the “Send money or the dog gets it!” approach to fundraising, but the furious nationwide response to the “Napalm the dog” protests showed the direct mailers how to rally the sort of returns they had previously seen only twice.
The two previous examples had both been generated by mass media coverage, rather than by animal advocacy campaign tactics.
The first was the plight of animals doomed to drown by the 1964 completion of the Afobaka Dam on the Upper Surinam River in South America, aired on television.
The second was the February 4, 1966 Life magazine photo essay by Stan Wayman that turned public opinion against the use of random-source dogs in biomedical research, leading to the passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act later that year.
The public response to the Wayman exposé inundated the White House with more letters of protest that week than were received protesting the Vietnam War.
Reportage about that, in turn, may have inspired Kiyoshi Kuromiya to introduce the “napalm the dog” protests.
Post-“Napalm the dog,” the “Send money or the dog gets it!” style of appeal became the economic engine driving the entire animal advocacy cause to this day.
That imitation is the sincerest form of flattery was also demonstrated by the late animal advocacy philosopher Bernard Rollin when confronted by a hostile audience on the verge of violence at a 1982 Stockmen’s Seminar in Kiowa, Colorado.
As Rollin wrote on page 187 of his 1982 book Putting the Horse Before Descartes:
“I said, ‘First of all, do you guys believe in right and wrong?’ ‘Hell yes,’ they replied. ‘This is Kiowa.’
‘So far, so good. Second question: Would you do anything at all to an animal to increase profit and productivity? In other words, if you could increase feed efficiency by torturing a cow’s eye with needles, would you do it?’
‘Hell no,” they chorused.’
‘Good,’ I said. ‘So now we’re just talking about price.’”
Though Rollin appears never to have credited Arthrell in a footnote, Arthrell’s rhetorical approach echoes on.