Feb 10, 2010


In a nutshell then... for anyone who doesn't know what the song Ohio is about... on May 4th 1970 some students at Kent State University in Ohio were protesting against the US invasion of Cambodia. The National Guard were called in and somehow the troops discharged 67 rounds, killing 4 students and wounding 9 others. And Neil Young wrote the powerful protest song Ohio. When I was planning this trip I knew the site of the tragedy was somewhere I had to visit.

KSU is a big college, it even has its own airport, but as big as it is I did expect the site of the shooting and the memorial to the victims to be easy to find. The events were recently voted the most memorable Ohio news story of the past 75 years so surely a sign or two would lead me to the spot. Well after half an hour of driving round the snow bound campus I began to suspect that maybe the powers that be didn't really put too much effort into remembering their past.

To be fair there is a large-ish memorial on the grounds. But a "granite plaza" with a "granite sidewalk and bench" is easily overlooked as just some non-descript street furniture. And yes there are plans to build a visitors center, but the low cost sign that told us this really didn't inspire much confidence. This year is the 40th anniversary of the shootings so I'm not going to hold my breath for the visitor's center. Disappointed, we moved on to the car park next to the memorial. There, spread out over about 40 yards are the four spots where Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder died. I'm glad the spots are marked but the manner in which this has been done seemed to be a new low for KSU. To start with it's in a car park and each death bed is marked with 6 short pillars. Set amongst the cars of the current students they look like spaces that have been set aside for repairs. The campus seemed to me to have as many car parking spaces as Manchester City Center. So why they had to cram as many cars as possible into the land that lay between the four fatal spots beats and disappoints me.

There is a little more to the site but you only find that out when you read about it. Looking at the young and happy faces of the current students standing in that car park was confusing. They seemed indifferent to the tragedy. I wanted the ground to be in some way revered. But at best the spots looked common place. At worst, an inconvenience.

I've often wondered if the song Ohio, as good as it is, should really have been called Kent State. Maybe then people would remember better. Maybe then the University would have stayed in the spotlight. Maybe then the memorial wouldn't be so disappointing. But Ohio is a more beautiful word than Kent so Neil gets a pass on the grounds of poetic license.

As I was leaving the campus, I started to wonder if having a memorial mattered. It was 40 years ago. That war is over. Perhaps I was being too precious about it. Then I turned on an Ohio talk radio station and heard the right wing host banging on about Iran and its suppression of student protests. And I wondered... when he'd been preparing for his show... did Kent State even cross his mind?

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