EntertainmentMusicThe story behind 'Ohio' (Neil Young, 1970)

The story behind ‘Ohio’ (Neil Young, 1970)


On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced on television that the US Army was preparing to invade Cambodia during the Vietnam War. This event was one more drop in the great glass of indignation that led American society, especially young people, to take to the streets and protest the government’s warmongering.

One such protest following Nixon’s announcement took place at Kent State University in Ohio on Monday, May 4. About 2,000 young people gathered on campus for a series of rallies to reject the war in Southeast Asia. The previous days there had already been moments of tension, but on the day of the demonstration the members of the  National Guard got out of hand and opened fire on the students. A shooting on university soil perpetrated by the forces of order themselves, something never seen before in a developed country.

The students began to run and scattered under fire from the National Guard and smoke bombs. No one expected such a reaction from the authorities. The event resulted in nine injuries (one of them suffered permanent paralysis) and four young people dead.

The Kent campus shooting sparked protests at several US universities and a student strike. In the days that followed, more than 450 campuses across the country had to close due to demonstrations (some peaceful, some violent). At New York University a giant banner hung on the facade read: “They can’t kill us all . “

In those years there were several groups and singer-songwriters who had joined the peace movement and who wrote protest songs, but it was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young who quickly echoed the success of Kent State University. The news published in Life magazine shocked David Crosby, who showed it to Neil Young. After going through the photographs of the massacre one by one, Young picked up his guitar and composed what would be the best protest song in history.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, We’re finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming, Four dead in Ohio!

Gotta get down to it Soldiers are cutting us down Should have been done long ago.

What if you knew her And found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know?

Only two and a half weeks after the incident, the song was already recorded and could be heard on the radio, although the main stations in the country did not play it due to the direct reference to President Richard Nixon. “Mentioning Nixon himself is the bravest thing I’ve ever seen,” David Crosby would later say of Neil Young’s lyrics. The song was played on university radio stations and young people quickly identified the members of the super-group CSNY as the spokesmen for the pacifist movement.

For Neil Young, the massacre at the University of Kent had been the most important lesson taught in any educational institution in the United States. An event that effectively educated a large part of society in the culture of pacifism and respect for human rights.

As David Crosby asked himself at the end of the song with bitter cries: “How many more? how many more?” How many more had to die for the people to wake up against the war? Thanks to the genius of authors like Neil Young, and the social commitment of so many singers, society has been able to move forward and progress, based on positive values ​​for the whole of Humanity. Because war and death can never be the solution or the answer to the world’s problems.

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