Ali's greatest fight was against the military

by Tommi Avicolli Mecca

It's interesting that boxing champion Muhammed Ali died only two months after Army chaplain Rev. Chris Antal resigned from his post in a letter to President Obama that protested the country's drone program.

"The Executive Branch,” Antal wrote, “continues to claim the right to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, for secret reasons, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials.” 

Ali and Antal have a lot in common.

Muhammed Ali wasn’t a man of the cloth, but he, too, had the cojones to tell it like it was when it came to this country's wars. 

In April 1967, Ali refused to answer the call of the draft board and serve in Vietnam. "My conscience," he said, "won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father.”

“The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality.” 

Ali's comments on queers, prostitutes, interracial couples and Jews were not as enlightened. But his refusal to go to war helped influence my decision to register as a conscientious objector when I turned 18. My conscience also wouldn’t let me kill poor hungry people in a country about which I knew nothing, especially since, as a queer, I was hated in this country as much as commies were. Maybe more.  

The military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about is now larger and scarier than it was back then. Its budget grows and grows every year, while Congress cuts vital services that people desperately need. Young people, especially poor, working-class and those of color, end up in the military because there aren’t a whole lot of other options for employment or careers. Those lucky enough to afford college graduate with huge debts on their backs that they will spend the rest of their lives paying off. 

Meanwhile, most Americans don’t even know what their country is doing in their names because the nation’s dumbed-down mainstream media doesn’t cover the latest wars like it did in the late 60s. The military controls what we see, not the producers and editors. Forget freedom of the press. 

Rev. Antal wants to change that. “I could have gone quietly, I realize that,” he told Army Times. “But I decided to submit a resignation in protest because I want to use the opportunity to raise public awareness, to generate a public conversation, and to hold the administration accountable,” he said.

An administration that is not accountable. A corporate world that is not accountable. A military that is not accountable. "We the people" is just a phrase on some piece of old yellowing parchment. 

Muhammed Ali’s statements about Vietnam sent shockwaves throughout this country and cost him millions of dollars in court fees and lost boxing opportunities. But it helped turn a lot of people against the war.

Unfortunately, Antal’s message won’t have that same effect.

Views: 165

Comment by Zanelle on June 4, 2016 at 9:20am

Thanks for writing.  Ali was so much more than just a boxer.  He was a force.  

Comment by JMac1949 Today on June 4, 2016 at 9:43am

The man was tested more than the boxer.  His career was gutted because he refused conscription into the US military.  He did not fight from March 1967 to October 1970—from ages 25 to almost 29—as his case worked its way through the appeals process. In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction in a unanimous 8-0 ruling, (Thurgood Marshall recused himself, as he had been the U.S. Solicitor General at the time of Ali's conviction).

Many Americans loathed him for many reasons, but over time he became one of the most admired and recognized American citizen in the entire world. In many African homes two photos were on display, JFK and Mohammad Ali.  His friends said he often couldn't get to sleep because he obsessively worried about children who couldn't get enough food or shelter.

Comment by koshersalaami on June 4, 2016 at 9:47am
I'm learning here on this site how much he meant to conscientious objectors.
Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on June 4, 2016 at 10:00am

thank you,Tommi  :)

Comment by Ron Powell on June 4, 2016 at 11:30am

Comment by Dandy Lion on June 4, 2016 at 2:23pm

I'd read another statement from Ali from which some of your quotes are drawn.


“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand 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 am not going ten thousand 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 put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.

But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…

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. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.”

And great clip from Ron.


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