On June 20, 1967, federal Judge Joe Ingraham sentenced former heavyweight champion boxer Cassius Clay (though he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali on March 6, 1964) to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for refusing to submit to U.S. Selective Service laws; it was the maximum sentence allowed.
Talking of his stance in objection to the Vietnam War, Ali did not pull any punches…..
“I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong” and “no Vietcong ever called me nigger.”
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam, while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.”
“This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once, and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. … If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn’t have to draft me; I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”
“I ain’t draft dodging. I ain’t burning no flag. I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my right here at home. “
Ali was stripped of his boxing title, and his boxing license was suspended. He was not imprisoned, but did not fight again for nearly four years while his appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was eventually successful.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. We have no forced draft today except for the economic one where many feel they have no options. We are still sending soldiers 10,000 miles to murder other poor people. The same few are profiting from the killing. We even go to war for foreign countries who are not our friends. The empire rolls on. Only the manufactured enemies change.
If there is one lesson to be learned from Ali’s life, it is that when we all refuse to blindly follow the lies of war…war just might end. You never know.
“War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.“
John F. Kennedy