“Ohio” by Neil Young: The Greatest Protest Song

Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming

We’re finally on our own

This Summer I hear the drumming

Four dead in Ohio

This is the introduction and hook of Ohio by legendary musician Neil Young. It was released a month after the Kent State massacre, an event in which the Ohio National Gaurd opened fire on a group of anti-war protestors. It tragically killed 4 of the protestors, paralyzed one, and wounded 8 others (History Channel, 2021). The event cause mass outrage and there were many responses, the greatest was from Neil Young. 

Young starts the song by referencing Tin soldiers and Nixon, the men who carried out and allow the attack. But there’s more to the ‘Tin soldiers”, firstly Young is calling them out for being pawns to their masters, following orders without any empathy. But he’s also calling out the fact that many in the national guard were young, inexperienced, fake soldiers parading as real ones. Next Neil explains the feeling of his generation, on their own, the older generation and the government have abandoned them. They spend their summers hearing the drumming of marches, and the drumming of guns. Which eventually culminated in four dead in Ohio. This leads into the verse,

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?

This of course describes the event more, but it also pleads for empathy. Neil wants the soldiers and those in charge of the war in Vietnam to imagine if they knew one of the victims. He accuses them of cowardice, running away from something that should have never occurred. He also informers them of the protestors’ message, that the war in Vietnam should have been done long ago. 

The bridge of the song is a repetitive chant of “na na na na na na na”, which allowed the song to easily sang at protests. The recording of the song itself uses multiple voices for this portion of the song. The ending is also repetitive, with Young sounding more and more desperate as he echos out

Four dead in Ohio

-Parker K.

Bibliography:

History Channel Article https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/national-guard-kills-four-at-kent-state

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