The Vietnam War goes down in history as one of the worst wars ever in the world, which resulted in the death of more than 3 million people in a period of 20 years. It was a fight predicated on ideology, with the Communist government of North Vietnam against South Vietnam--the latter being backed by the United States. The United States was hell bent on vanquishing the Communist thought, and to achieve this, they did not care about any consequences.
During this time, the United States military was heavily increasing in South Vietnam, and by 1962, there were 9000 troops in South Vietnam, compared to around 800 during the 1950s. This meant that military conscription in the United States was being intensified, with a bid to crush any iota of communism in Asia (according to the Domino theory, which stated that if one Asian country became Communist, many others would follow the same route).
It was for this reason that conscription increased, US aid to South Vietnam significantly rose, while tensions prompted the idea of a devastating war. In the midst of this, one of the most prominent men in the world of boxing, Muhammad Ali, stood defiantly against the whole idea of fighting in the Vietnam War. Because as this war was raging on, racism in America was at its peak, with black people being treated as second-class citizens, subjected to the deplorable conditions of warped imperialistic whims.
Muhammad Ali was rooted so deeply in his convictions, that on 28 April 1967, he refused to be inducted at the Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station in Houston, Texas. His words accompanying this brazen act of protest have endured for years. "I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong," he proclaimed. Vietcong was a derogatory term meaning a Vietnamese Communist.
The way African Americans were treated at that time was just inhumane, and he could not bear that. He could not keep silent on that. Yet alone fight for the country that treated blacks as if they were not human beings too. And for that, he viewed conscription with scorn.
"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform," he said, "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?…I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years."
Ali exuded a spirit of resilience, buoyed by sheer determination to fight the injustice pervading the world at that time. By refusing to join the US army to fight in Vietnam, a war that was catastrophic, he stood for humanity, he stood for the black people as a true champion. But that came at a price, maybe he even anticipated that. He was stripped of his heavyweight title and his passport, and was banned from fighting in the U.S. In 1971, a Supreme Court decision overturned Ali’s conviction, but the damage had been done when he was at his best in his boxing career.
He attributed his stoic heroism to his religion, Islam. "It is in the light of my consciousness as a Muslim minister and my own personal convictions that I take my stand in rejecting the call to be inducted. I do so with the full realization of its implications. I have searched my conscience." Ali also said, "no Vietcong ever called me nigger." That alone was powerful and it definitely rattled the system.
This act of defiance will forever be etched in the history books, and it is a story that must be retold without tiring. Fighting for what you strongly believe in and paying a price for it is what we even need these days, as the world is facing a growing threat of a perversion of some democratic tenets that define our existence.
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