Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own…
Forty years ago today, on Thursday, April 30, 1970, Richard Milhouse Nixon, the president of the United States, appeared on television for a special announcement about the Vietnam War. He told us that US troops, tens of thousands of them, had moved into Cambodia, expanding an already prolonged and costly war into another country. He claimed it was a necessary step toward ending the war, and toward insuring that the US would not be perceived in the world as "a pitiful helpless giant."
Nixon's announcement kicked off the most intense wave of campus struggle this country has ever seen, a month of bitter and exhilarating clashes which triggered huge changes that echo to this day. May, 1970 also changed forever the lives of some significant number of the hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of students and others who took part.
Today that incredible upsurge, which pretty much shut down the 1969-70 school year throughout much of the American higher education system, is remembered mainly through one of its most dramatic events--the killing of four students at Kent State University by a sustained fusillade of gunfire from Ohio National Guard troops occupying their campus.
For forty years, the veterans of those days and younger activists have struggled to keep alive the memories of Kent State and of the subsequent police murders of two more students, this time at a traditionally Black college in Mississippi, Jackson State. We have succeeded in this, helped in part by that amazing mnemonic, Neil Young’s heartbreaking song, "Ohio," which opens with the couplet at the start of this piece.
But we have, in significant ways, lost the memory of the vast eruption which Kent State and Jackson State were a part of, and whose flames the killings provided so much fuel for.
Over the course of next month, I hope to recall--in a series of posts under the heading May '70--some of that legacy, for OGs like myself who were there and for younger folk who may never have learned much at all about the events in question. I will draw on my own memories and those of friends, along with some Internet surfing, especially in the early posts. Ideally, others whose lives were shaped during that heady month will come forward to weigh in with their own thoughts and memories.
There is one final thing I’ll spell out in this first post. You can consider it a reminder for the veterans of those days. Or call it context for young folks who may find it hard to believe that, for instance, in the first week of May 1970, more than 30 ROTC buildings around the country burned or were bombed. 30. More than four a day.
The Vietnam War had created a deep, deep fissure in the American body politic, deeper than anything since the Civil War. And this time the divide was not sectional. It ran through every part of the country, divided communities, split classes, sundered families. If anything, it was generational (though that itself is a big overgeneralization). As we sang along with Phil Ochs:
It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
And it was that split--between the young and the America we had grown up in--that made us sense, in May of 1970, that we were finally on our own…
Click here for the next installment.
April 29, 2010
posted by Jimmy Higgins
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,