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Tin Soldiers and Nixon’s Coming

Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

On May 4th, 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired live ammunition into fleeing student protestors and killed four people. All students. Two of whom were not protesting but walking between classes. All of this because the President had gotten us involved in another war, in Cambodia, against people we had no quarrel with, because of some vague determinations about Communism. 

William Knox Schroeder was twenty and died with his class supplies in his hand. He was also a member of the ROTC. That didn’t save him. All that mattered was that he was a student and he was there. An army officer in the making, and the army shot him for trying to make it to a lecture on time. And Nixon went on television and called them “bums”. 

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, for all of their personal drama, were an important voice to the counterculture. They were topical, they kept music-lovers up to date on the news. They wrote, arranged, and recorded Ohio within three weeks. David Crosby wept after the master take. It’s really a testament to their furor, how they could turn such a moment of national trauma into a hammering protest single in less than a month. In the hands of most of their contemporaries, it would’ve ended up becoming a cheap period novelty, but being CSNY, it remains a tear-wrenching classic. 

But that’s not where 1970 ends. Eleven days later, at Jackson State University, the Mississippi Highway Patrol murders another two students, both Black, one of them a high schooler. This is happening all over the country. Just two years earlier, in Orangeburg, South Carolina, three Black students were shot by police at a desegregation protest. 

And then the murder of student protestors stops. 

It would be a fool’s affair to think that one song so shamed this nation’s law enforcement that they simply laid down their arms and joined the flower power. No. They just switched to rubber bullets, clubs, tear gas… the principle is the same. All apologies for these atrocities were court-ordered. This song crystallized the people’s anger, gave it an anthem, but it’s just a song. Protest is more than the soundtrack, and we didn’t protest this enough. 

Nobody in power learned a lesson here, besides maybe ‘we should just kick their ass instead of killing them’. And they don’t need to kill anymore. They’ve shown they can do it. I don’t reckon there’s an educated student protester in this country who doesn’t have fleeting thoughts of Kent State when facing police lines. And if they don’t, they should. When we speak up, the enforcers of peace and security are not our friends. We’re finally on our own. 

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