Peace profile: Muhammad Ali

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Tufts University]On: 05 November 2014, At: 10:26Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Peace Review: A Journal of SocialJusticePublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cper20

    Peace profile: Muhammad AliTimothy L. ReedPublished online: 07 Aug 2006.

    To cite this article: Timothy L. Reed (2004) Peace profile: Muhammad Ali, Peace Review: A Journalof Social Justice, 16:1, 107-111, DOI: 10.1080/1040265042000210247

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  • Peace Review 16:1, March (2004), 107111

    Peace Profile: Muhammad Ali

    Timothy L. Reed

    In the 1960s boxer Cassius Claylater known as Muhammad Alibecame oneof the most controversial and polarizing figures in the United States. While hisdecision to join the Nation of Islam alienated some, it was Alis refusal to bedrafted into the armed forces during the Vietnam War that infuriated manyAmericans. Consequently, he became, arguably, Americas most vilified person.But as frustration with the conflict in Southeast Asia grew in the streets ofAmerica, Ali became a focal point for the anti-war movement. And, because hewas willing to sacrifice everything to stand by his principles, he became one ofthe most admired people in the world.

    Since the 1950s, the United States government had worked to preventcommunism from overcoming the Southeast Asian country of Vietnam.[A]s you know,; explained President John F. Kennedy in a 1962 newsconference, the U.S. for more than a decade has been assisting the government,the people of Vietnam, to maintain their independence.; In August 1964,Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara falsely informed the American publicthat [w]hile on routine patrol in international waters, the U.S. destroyer Maddoxunderwent an unprovoked attack.; This fabricated attack, which would come tobe known as the Gulf of Tonkin incident, was used to justify the creation of aCongressional resolution granting President Lyndon Johnson broad discretion touse force in Southeast Asia. The resolution passed unanimously in the House,while only two senators opposed it.Following the passage of the resolution, the United States launched an air

    campaign over North Vietnam and a massive troop build-up in the region. TheSelective Service Act, which allowed the government to draft young men into thearmed services, was invoked and by 1966 more than 400,000 American troopshad been sent to South Vietnam.By 1965, after twice failing the mental examination one had to pass to be

    drafted during the Vietnam War, Muhammad Alis draft classification stood atI-Y, deferred status. After finishing his second test, Ali stated, [m]an, I am tired,but I did my best. I dont want anyone to think Im crazy.; Everywhere peoplewere asking,; explains John Cottrell, how such a supreme athlete with theability to win the world heavyweight championship, spout poetry, and ad libspeeches, could be found unfit to carry a rifle in the Army.;As Howard Zinn explains, it was not until about 1968 that the cruelty of the

    war began touching the conscience of many Americans.; Because people felt Aliwas purposely failing his military examinations during a time when many stillsupported the war, and because he was a member of the Nation of Islam,

    ISSN 1040-2659 print; ISSN 1469-9982 online/04/010107-05 2004 Taylor & Francis LtdDOI: 10.1080/1040265042000210247

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    anti-Ali sentiment steadily rose. An example of the uproar; against Alis I-Yclassification was the Georgia attorney who had earlier organized a nationalFire Your Nigger Week; campaign but then turned his energies to a newcampaign: Draft That Nigger Clay.; A South Carolina Congressman also gaveseveral speeches, in which he passionately declared,

    Clays deferment is an insult to every mothers son serving in [Vietnam]. Here he is,smart enough to finish high school, write his kind of poetry, promote himself all over theworld, make a million a year, drive around in red Cadillacsand they say hes too dumbto tote a gun? Whos dumb enough to believe that?

    The World Boxing Association (WBA) even tried to strip Ali of his title, withpresident Ed Lassman stating that Ali was provoking world-wide criticism andsetting a very poor example for the youth of the world.Ali reacted by stating, youre going to have trouble if you vacate my title. The

    whole Asian-African world is looking up to me;; adding, I give the youth andthe other people something to look up to.; While Lassman was unsuccessful intaking the championship belt from Ali, various other boxers were eager toremove the title from him through more traditional means, including FloydPatterson, who volunteered to square off against Ali so that he could take thetitle from the Black Muslim leadership.Former heavyweight champion Joe Louis was also critical of Ali. During the

    Second World War, Louis volunteered for U.S. Army service. The meek Louis,who in the eyes of white America had never done anything to discredit hisrace, was celebrated for his decision. To whites, explains Chris Mead, JoeLouis was the symbol of his race. Louis generosity, his willingness to serve, andhis patriotism reassured whites about the loyalty of all black Americans. Louiswas carefully used by the military to boost the morale of troops in the field, andto encourage blacks to enlist in the armed forces.While controversy was brewing about Alis draft status, Louis said of the

    young fighter and his membership in the Nation of Islam, The things theypreach are just the opposite of what we believe. The heavyweight championshould be the champion of all the people. He has responsibilities to all thepeople. Louis then went on to graphically describe how he would have brutallydefeated Ali in the ring in his prime. Oddly enough, not only was Louis thefighter that Ali was said to have resembled as a baby, Louis was Alis modelhero as young fighter. Now, the two stood in stark contrast to one another.Despite the growing pressure and hatred toward Ali, he maintained that his

    conscience precluded him from participating in the Vietnam conflict. Whyshould they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home,contended the champ, and drop bombs and bullets on brown people inVietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs. In aninterview for Sports Illustrated, Ali also explained that the war contradicted hisstrong religious beliefs:

    If I thought going to war would bring freedom and equality to twenty-two million of mypeople, they wouldnt have to draft me. Id join tomorrow. But I either have to obey thelaws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up and followingmy beliefs. Weve been in jail for four hundred years.

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    Ali was torn between his civil duty and his religious obligation, and his internaldialogue would not allow him to disregard his loyalty to his faith.Although Ali made it clear that he had no interest in serving in the armed

    forces in any capacity, his non-Muslim handlers, as well as the government, stillencouraged him to volunteer to serve in a Louis-like way. If he agreed to do so,it would make him a useful symbol for the government, and make money for hisLouisville sponsors, since Ali would undoubtedly become an American hero andthe biggest draw in boxing, following a tour in Vietnam. One of his benefactors,Worth Bingham, met with Ali and explained that the government wanted thetitle back in patriotic hands. Ali could choose which branch of the military toserve in, and after a few weeks of basic training would be sent to the reservesor special services. You never go near a battlefield. Its done everyday,explained Bingham. But Ali would not take the deal.Finally,