May ’70: 1. Finally On Our Own

(2PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

Tin soldiers and Nixon’s 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.”

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.

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.

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…  


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    • dennis on April 30, 2010 at 06:29

    I plan to post a bunch of articles on the May, 1970 campus upsurge at Fire on the Mountain over the next month. I’ll try and repost here. I’d love to have other folks’ memories and reflections to flesh out this project. And if all this happened while your parents were teething, I’d be interested in hearing what you know about the May ’70 upheaval and where you learned it.


  1. the JFK assassination and Watergate: The quicksand of Vietnam, riots in American cities and the Civil Rights movement, a string of political murders, Women’s Lib with abortion legalized and greater freedom for sexual expression, and intense anti-establishment cultural responses with lifestyle experimentation that drove people like the proto-fascist Reagan crazy. All this smoothly following the Cuban Missile Crisis and near obliteration.

    Throw in Huey Newton, Patricia Hearst, Charles manson, and there’s quite a bit of craziness.  

    Maybe I’ll share sometime (?!^?)some personal experiences.

    Now that would be weird indeed.

    Thanks Dennis

  2. Minute history anyway, very minute.

    In fall of 1968 Pun Plamondon was on the run. He was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, the first “hippy” ever to appear on it. He had participated in blowing up a CIA office in Ann Arbor MI.

    I was a fifteen year old living with parents in Ohio.

    My father was a college professor and his new friend from Ann Arbor was also a prof. His new friend knew the White Panthers, John Sinclair from Ann Arbor.

    One evening in late 68′ my dad told me his prof friend was coming over to play some ping pong in our rec room, he was going to bring a friend. The friend was introduced to me as John or whoever, I was told later that he was Pun Plamondon, on the run, on the Ten Most Wanted list etc. He was being given a place to stay for a few days.

    So, I played some table tennis with one the most wanted men in America at that time.

    The wiki entry makes no mention of Plamondon being in Ohio while a fugitive so I’m guessing this is undocumented till now.

  3. A Neil Young film.  This can’t be embedded, probably because it is too recent, but it is well worth viewing at

    the Neil Young Channel.

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