COMMENT POSTED TO AN ARTICLE IN THE INDEPENDENT
I greatly admire Ali, but my admiration is not just for his boxing prowess.
It is for his genuine courage in standing up for what is right, and he did so against a great ugly roaring crowd.
He refused to go to the insane Vietnam War, citing his beliefs as a newly-converted Black Muslim.
He said “I beats ’em up, but I don’t kills ’em,” and “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” among other memorable lines on the matter.
He paid for his beliefs. Many of the ugly crowd called him names, with the usual bellowing American Patriot stuff about “Love it [America] or leave it!” heard. The political establishment worked hard to ruin his career and succeeded to a considerable extent, but he was just too big a world figure for them to crush him, as they would lesser people.
He stuck to his beliefs, and of course he was always right. Vietnam proved a disaster for all involved, a genuine holocaust with an estimated 3 million Vietnamese killed and their land left wrecked with bomb craters and land mines and saturated with ghastly Agent Orange, something which is crippling and killing children to this day. More bombs were dropped there than in all of WWII, including early versions of cluster bombs to cut bodies to ribbons and shiploads of hellish napalm to burn flesh right off the bones of living people.
Much of this is forgotten today, both the complete horror America inflicted on a country which never attacked it and the courageous stand of Ali. Had there been more like him, perhaps the foul Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon would have failed earlier before creating so much destruction.
Ali stood tall against the crowd, much like Dr. Stockman in “An Enemy of the People,” and he eventually prevailed, regaining his career with his talents and natural charm, and eventually became one of the most loved popular figures of the century.
I feel honored to have met him once, in Vancouver in 1971. We spent a couple of minutes chatting after he finished a demonstration of rope-jumping tricks in a hotel lobby, sharing the background of living on Chicago’s South Side. He put his fist up for me to put mine against as he returned to his room. I’m sure he could see the admiration in my face, something he was used to seeing in the faces of fans, but I will always regret not telling him why I really so admired him.
Footnote: I’ll just add that today in Syria we can see that America’s establishment learned nothing from a decade’s slaughter in Vietnam, except to not use drafted troops in its deliberately created horrors. Once again, they are killing and maiming and making armies of refugees, only now they use proxies gathered and supplied from the four corners of the earth.