Video Classics: ‘Ohio’ – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

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Anti-War March Held At Kent State

Anti-war march at Kent State on the anniversary of the 1970 shooting (John Bashian/Getty Images)

The exact sequence of events, and indeed the events themselves, surrounding the Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970, will probably never be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

The long-propagated view is that it was a merciless ‘massacre’ by National Guardsmen of helpless students. Certainly there were those who tried to push that view to advance their political agenda, which was largely that of the protestors, namely ending U.S. involvment in Southeast Asia. Guardsmen testified they were in fear for their lives, and believed they had been fired upon (a fact that remains unclear to this day). The presence of at least one gun in the crowd (belonging to an FBI informant, in fact), and the confusion resulting from a violent confrontation with that informant moments before the shooting, certainly played a role.

In the end, though, it wasn’t a deliberate ‘massacre’ of students (one side’s view), nor was it a clear case of self-defense by outnumbered guardsmen confronted by an angry mob (the other side’s). The truth of the matter is as muddled as the facts … people on both sides were scared, violence was in the air, and confusion, excitement and anger all led to tragedy.

In light of that, [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Neil Young[/lastfm]‘s attribution of the killing to President Nixon himself in the song Ohio is probably unfair … while Nixon’s reaction to the shootings was characteristically wooden, if not callous, he certainly didn’t give orders to have students shot. Nonetheless, Young’s inclusion of the lyric ‘Tin soldiers and Nixon coming’ was called by [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]David Crosby[/lastfm] ‘the bravest thing I ever heard.’

The lyric prevented the song from being played on some AM stations, but many FM stations and the more ‘underground’ radio elements just played it all the more.

It wasn’t the band’s intent to capitalize on the tragedy.  They just wanted to give a voice to what many in the country were feeling at the time. Nonetheless, they gained a great deal of popularity because of Ohio. Following the release of the song, the counterculture adopted the band members as something not unlike standard bearers, a following they would keep for the rest of the decade.


Have memories of this song? Add your thoughts to the comments below or take a look at Video Classics past…

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