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By Neil Young
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 itSoldiers are cutting us downShould have been done long ago.What if you knew herAnd found her dead on the ground?How can you run when you know?
Gotta get down to itSoldiers are cutting us downShould have been done long ago.What if you knew herAnd found her dead on the ground?How can you run when you know?Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,We're finally on our own.This summer I hear the drumming,Four dead in Ohio.
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Neil Young is a renowned guitarist, singer, and songwriter born on November 12, 1945 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He was both a solo performer and a member of many different bands including Buffalo Springfield, Crazy Horse, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Neil Young is famous for being an artist considered unpredictable and constantly evolving and adapting to the changing times, characterized by restlessness, strong opinions, and experimentalism. Young began performing by the early 1960s, both arranging and writing material, and released his debut solo album Neil Young in 1969.
Neil Young was very productive during the 1970s, releasing over a dozen albums including his two greatest commercial and artistic successes, After the Gold Rush and Harvest, and the song “Ohio” which was a protest against the Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970. In the 1980s, he was known for his experimentation and different styles of music which he attributed to his frustration in trying to communicate with his second son, Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy, and lost much of his popularity with his unconventional, varying styles. In the 1990s, Young was rediscovered by a new post-punk generation who appreciated his unique sound and serious message to his audience, fighting and protesting for causes he believed in. His most famous albums include Tonight’s the Night, Long May You Run, Rust Never Sleeps, Freedom, and Sleeps with Angels. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
“Tin soldiers” refers to the National Guard who opened fire on a student protest of the Vietnam War at Kent State University.
The Ohio National Guard was brought onto the campus because of anti-war rallies at the university that started May 1, 1970, the day after Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia and widen the Vietnam War was publically announced. The rallies began peacefully, but soon became violent between the protestors and the local police force. The governor of Ohio banned the protests and brought the National Guard to Kent State, which led to the height of the rally on May 4, 1970.
The line in the song with the phrase “Tin soldiers” acts as a metaphor (examples), a comparison of two unlike things, comparing the Ohio National Guard responsible for the Kent State shooting, to toy tin soldiers. It acts as a criticism of the soldiers’ behavior as brutal and unfeeling. Neil Young wanted to show his deep concern over their actions which he considered to be a massacre and unjustifiable, by comparing the soldiers to empty, unthinking toys of Nixon who he considered to be responsible for the deaths of four unarmed student protesters.
Richard Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, and entered office in 1969, during one of the most turbulent eras in American history. The United States was fighting the extremely unpopular war in Vietnam, and faced other conflicts with China and the USSR. The nation was extremely divided and although he was known for helping bring about more political stability and ending US involvement in Vietnam, the events that occurred during his presidency made him unpopular with anti-war and anti-government protesters. The allegedly unprovoked Kent State shooting by members of the Ohio National Guard brought further harsh criticism from people who blamed Nixon for their actions. Due to the Watergate Scandal in 1972, Nixon became the first president to resign from office.
The line in “Ohio” saying “We’re finally on our own” represents the anti-war and anti-government sentiments of so many Americans during the Nixon and Vietnam War era. Many songs of the time, similar to “Ohio”, were messages against war and encouraged protests. This line shows the feeling of the youth of the 1960’s and 1970’s, that they were on their own, and free and independent in college. It also shows that many students, such as the four that died in the Kent State shooting, had to be self-sufficient because they were unable to trust their government.
“We’re finally on our own” is a line that represents one of the main themes in “Ohio”. Neil Young wrote this song after hearing about the Kent State shooting and the deaths of four unarmed students by the National Guard – soldiers of the government meant to protect the people, but had instead caused the death of young, innocent protesters. His lyrics became an anthem to the young generation against the Vietnam War, that felt free and independent as they joined millions of Americans in the protests and rallies that characterized the era. It also expresses the loss of faith in the government, expressing the ideas that during these decades, so many people felt disillusionment in the government and Nixon administration that they felt they were completely on their own.
This line of “Ohio” references the growing discontent and national divide over many political and social issues that carried over from the late 1960’s into 1970, the year when the Kent State Massacre occurred and when Neil Young wrote the song “Ohio” in memory of the four students that were killed. The event sparked a huge nationwide strike that led to the closing of many colleges and universities. The line of this song illustrates the “drumming” or widespread rallies that Neil Young predicted for that summer, in the aftermath of the highly controversial actions of the National Guard, along with the already high-tension situation of the Vietnam War and Nixon’s ordered escalation (however temporary) of American involvement.
“This summer I hear the drumming” is a metaphor, using the word “drumming” to describe the restless feeling of the Vietnam War/Nixon era during the summer shortly after the shocking Kent State Massacre. Neil Young used the word “drumming” to evoke a sense of war, with a picture of the drum lines at the front, which references the significance of the Vietnam War in the American peoples’ everyday thought. Their discontent and protest against the war, Nixon, and specifically that year of the Kent State Massacre all culminated to a summer of rallies, violence, and protest which Young tries to illustrate with this metaphor.
The song “Ohio” was written by Neil Young shortly after the Kent State Massacre. The May 4, 1970 demonstration was meant to be a peaceful one, protesting the war in Vietnam, but turned violent when the Ohio National Guard opened fire into the crowd killing four students, paralyzing one, and wounding eight others, some of whom were not even involved in the protests. A great controversy was sparked over their actions, and whether or not the killings were justified by self-defense.
The event led to even stronger nationwide anti-war sentiments and distrust in the government, saying that the unarmed students were killed while lawfully protesting. Their deaths, called by many a massacre, caused many to lose their faith in the US Constitution and the peoples’ right of lawful protest.
The four slain students were Allison Krause (19 years old), William Schroeder (19 years old), Jeffrey Miller (20 years old), and Sandra Scheuer (20 years old).
The line “Four dead in Ohio” refers to the four students that were killed in by the National Guard, in an event that sparked rallies and a nationwide student and youth revolution. It comprises the main theme (examples)of Neil Young’s “Ohio”, or the song’s main idea and meaningful concept. It also acts as an allusion (examples), a reference to a person, place, or as in this case, an event, which would have been recognized by the audience of the time. This line, also showing repetition, became an anthem for the young generation of the 1970’s, and was simultaneously banned from many radio stations, for its anti-war and anti-Nixon sentiments and message.
The line “Gotta get down to it” is an example of an aphorism (examples), which is a literary device meaning a briefly stated truth or opinion, or statement of principle. Neil Young uses this literary device to express his opinion that the American public needs to take action and because it gives a stronger, more urgent feeling to his lyrics. In this line, Young is encouraging people to really fight and protest for against what they believe is unconstitutional and wrong, to bring about the change and peace they are hoping for.
Neil Young uses imagery (examples) with this line to illustrate the soldiers of the National Guard as executioners “cutting down” the protesters, both figuratively and literally. He uses this literary device to descriptively paint a picture of the soldiers as those who were oppressing the peoples’ right to protest and pushing them down every time they rose up. It also has a literal meaning, with the reference to the actual killing and shooting into the crowds. Young’s language and lyrics again portrays his theme of protest and fighting against the establishment, and remembrance of the shooting.
This line of Neil Young’s “Ohio” is a historical reference to the frustration felt by the majority of the American people during the Vietnam War era and Nixon’s presidency, incited even further with the Kent State shooting in Ohio. The Vietnam War was strongly opposed, costing 58,000 lives and billions of tax dollars, and dividing the country in a tumultuous era of changing world politics and modernization. The state of conflict the United States was in is referenced in this line as Neil Young writes that all the soldiers are doing is cutting the people down, and that the end to all the violence should have been solved long before, and that the protests (and the subsequent massacre) should never have occurred.
In this line, Neil Young uses a rhetorical question (examples), a question with an obvious or obviously desired answer, used for emphasis and effect. The lyrics of “Ohio” all encourage protest, characterizing the hippie and anti-war era of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and act as a criticism against the Vietnam War, Nixon’s policies, and the Kent State shooting. His clear anti-government sentiments make this final question at the end of his lyrics rhetorical, as he reiterates the point that it is impossible for anyone to escape the truth, knowing the injustice that occurred at Kent State University, and saying that something had to be done.