On the Internet, May the Fourth is “Star Wars Day.” For people of a certain generation, or from Northeast Ohio, the date immediately calls to mind not science fiction but horror: the Kent State Massacre.
Protests had broken out on the campus of the university in spring 1970, after Richard Nixon announced U.S. bombing in Cambodia. Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes called out National Guard troops to quell the demonstrations. A little after noon on May 4, they opened fire on the students. Four students—Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder—were killed. Nine others were injured. A commission convened by Nixon concluded, “Even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified.” No guardsmen were indicted or convicted. For years, it was unclear what prompted the shots, though a more recent tape analysis suggests an order was given to fire.
Amid the violence, Kent State photojournalism student John Filo shot an indelible image of a woman kneeling over Jeffrey Miller’s body. The photograph was widely published and later won a Pulitzer Prize. Neil Young saw the photo in Life magazine and was moved to write a song. Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young recorded “Ohio” on May 21, just 16 days after the shooting.
It’s not a complicated song: just a verse, a chorus, then the same chorus and the same verse again. Sometimes less is more. “Ohio” seems to capture the horror and menace of the moment. It’s a scary and sad thing to listen to, even 46 years later.