Anti-Israel protests: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s ‘Ohio’ doing rounds in US varsities again

Anti-Vietnam War protests were instrumental in changing the US position

Pro-Palestine campus protests (File) Pro-Palestine protesters clash with counter-protesters at the encampment in the quad at the University of Chicago on the South Side | AP

If it was rap music that articulated protest during the Arab Spring upsurge in 2010 and onwards, it was the music of Beatles, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Phil Ochs and Pete Seeger among other stalwarts, that ruled the waves during the anti-Vietnam protest that rocked American universities in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Their music and songs became the news anthems of protest even as Communist Latin American guerilla Che Guevara became the new hero…Cut to the present, it is obvious this was a mess US defence majors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing, among others, were definitely not looking to get into.

More than 100 colleges—including some of the top ones like Columbia University, Brown University, New York University and the University of California—across the US have witnessed protests by students, including campus camp-ins, in the last few weeks demanding the college authorities disclose the funding relationship they have with Israel and to pull back and divest from such investments, including with US companies that have contracts and business deals with Israel.

More than 2,000 protestors have been arrested across the US by the police bringing back memories of the Vietnam anti-war protests.

And in this protest, like in the past, music is also playing a strong role. Old songs are being dug out from the attic. Like ‘Ohio’ sung by Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

‘Ohio’ was written by Neil Young after he first heard of the shooting down of four students—nine were injured—by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970. The students were part of the anti-Vietnam protests at the Kent State University.

The songs were about the US role in the Vietnam War which many young American students saw as an internal fight between two warring Vietnamese sides, where the US had no business to be in. But the US was there, and in good force too.

But now, the protests have also spread to nearby Canada and Mexico, across the Atlantic—to France, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland and even faraway to Australia. In many places there have been violent confrontations between the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups.

The anti-Vietnam War protests were instrumental in changing the US position about the war, which resulted in President Lyndon B. Johnson deciding not to contest the elections in 1968.

While the last US forces withdrew from the war-scarred country on March 29, 1973, President Richard Nixon quit office in 1974 even as the US Congress cut military and economic aid to Vietnam by 30 per cent.

Whether and how the prevalent sentiment among the young translates into a political force will be extremely important during the US presidential polls in November. 


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