Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
Neil Young wrote "Ohio" after seeing photos of the massacre in Life magazine. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded it in one night, and it hit the airwaves just weeks later. Well, it didn't hit all of the airwaves, as many AM radio stations refused to play it (FM was still in its infancy). Young's lyrics were scathing for the time. Few people dared to name names, but Young laid those four dead at President Nixon's feet. For his part, Nixon said, "This should remind us all once again that when dissent turns to violence it invites tragedy." In other words, those kids should have known better; they were asking for it. The song ends on a haunting note with the ad-libs "Why? Why?" and "How many more?"
This anniversary finds Young about to release Living With War (full coverage here), a protest album that has already upset the current Establishment. Of course, many of the people responsible for the Iraq War thought Vietnam was a good idea, too, even though most of them weaseled out of it one way or another (TANG, anyone?).
Decades later, the spectre of Kent State still looms over every war protest, indeed every peaceful demonstration, in America. It is a reminder that violence can unfold and escalate suddenly and without warning or just cause. We're really never more than an itchy trigger finger away from violent suppression.
I can only imagine the emotions I would have felt hearing "Ohio" in its day. Four weeks after Kent State, in another college town less than 400 miles away, I was born. Three weeks after that, "Ohio" hit the Billboard charts.
UPDATE 05/05/2006 - Bob Geiger wondered yesterday what it would take for Kent State to happen again. He said it comes down to five letters: D-R-A-F-T. If college students feared that their own butts might wind up dodging IEDs in Iraq, they would be just as agitated about this lying administration's war as those Kent State students were about Vietnam 36 years ago. Judging from the current regime's feelings about dissent, the authorities would react as the Ohio National Guard did. And Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and Hannity would be cheering them on, claiming that the students hated America and deserved to be shot.