When Muhammad Ali took the real heavy weight June 25, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in History, Racism, Vietnam, War.
Tags: anti-war, boxing history, cassius clay, dave zirin, draft resister, heavywieght title, history, muhammad ali, peace activism, permanent war, Race, racism, roger hollander, tet offensive, vietnam, vietnam deaths, Vietnam War
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In an era defined by endless war, we should recognise a day in
history that wasn’t celebrated on Capitol Hill or in the White House. On
June 20, 1967, the great Muhammad Ali was convicted in Houston for
refusing induction in the US armed forces. Ali saw the war in Vietnam as
an exercise in genocide. He also used his platform as a boxing champion
to connect the war abroad with the war at home, saying: “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?” For these statements, as
much as the act itself, Judge Joe Ingraham handed down the maximum
sentence to Cassius Clay (as they insisted upon calling him in court):
five-years in a Federal penitentary and a $10,000 fine. The next day,
this was the top-flap story for the New York Times with the headline:
“Clay Guilty in Draft Case; Gets Five Years in Prison.”
The sentence was unusually harsh, and deeply tied to a Beltway,
bipartisan consensus to crush Ali and ensure that he not develop into a
symbol of anti-war resistance. The day of Ali’s conviction the US
Congress voted 337-29 to extend the draft for four more years. They also
voted 385-19 to make it a federal crime to desecrate the flag. Their
fears of a rising movement against the war were well-founded.
The summer of 1967 marked a tipping point for public support of the
Vietnam “police action”. While the Tet Offensive, which exposed the lie
that the United States was winning the war, was still six months away,
the news out of south-east Asia was increasingly grim. At the time of
Ali’s conviction, 1,000 Vietnamese noncombatants were being killed each
week by US forces. One hundred US soldiers were dying each and every
day, and the war was costing $2bn a month.
Anti-war sentiment was growing and it was thought that a stern rebuke
of Ali would help put out the fire. In fact, the opposite took place.
Ali’s brave stance fanned the flames. As Julian Bond said, “[It]
reverberated through the whole society. … [Y]ou could hear people
talking about it on street corners. It was on everyone’s lips. People
who had never thought about the war before began to think it through
because of Ali. The ripples were enormous.”
Ali himself vowed to appeal the conviction, saying: “I strongly object to
the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the
world the impression that I have only two alternatives in this stand –
either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative, and
that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my constitutional
rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail.
In the end, I am confident that justice will come my way, for the truth
must eventually prevail.”
Already by this point, Ali’s heavyweight title had been stripped,
beginning a three-and-a-half-year exile. Already Elijah Muhammad and the
Nation of Islam had begun to distance themselves from their most famous
member. Already, Ali had become a punching bag for almost every
reporter with a working pen. But with his conviction came a new global
constituency. In Guyana, protests against his sentence took place in
front of the US embassy. In Karachi, Pakistan, a hunger strike began in
front of the US consulate. In Cairo, demonstrators took to the streets.
In Ghana, editorials decried his conviction. In London, an Irish boxing
fan named Paddy Monaghan began a long and lonely picket of the US
Embassy. Over the next three years, he would collect more than twenty
thousand signatures on a petition calling for the restoration of
Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight title.
Ali at this point was beginning to see himself as someone who had a
greater responsibility to an international groundswell that saw him as
more than an athlete. “Boxing is nothing, just satisfying to some
bloodthirsty people. I’m no longer a Cassius Clay, a Negro from
Kentucky. I belong to the world, the black world. I’ll always have a
home in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Ethiopia. This is more than money.”
Eventually justice did prevail and the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s
conviction in 1971. They did so only after the consensus on the war had
changed profoundly. Ali had been proven right by history, although a
generation of people in Asia and the United States paid a terrible price
along the way.
Years later upon reflection, Ali said he had no regrets. “Some people
thought I was a hero. Some people said that what I did was wrong. But
everything I did was according to my conscience. I wasn’t trying to be a
leader. I just wanted to be free. And I made a stand all people, not
just black people, should have thought about making, because it wasn’t
just black people being drafted. The government had a system where the
rich man’s son went to college, and the poor man’s son went to war.
Then, after the rich man’s son got out of college, he did other things
to keep him out of the Army until he was too old to be drafted.”
As we remain mired in a period of permanent war, take a moment and
consider the risk, sacrifice, and principle necessary to dismantle the
war machine. We all can’t be boxing champions, but moving forward, all
who oppose war can rightfully claim Ali’s brave history as our own
Tags: Ann Wright, anti-war, black women, black youth, cheney, david love, George Bush, haliburton, Iraq, Iraq war, krb, laverna johnson, military contractor iraq, military rape, military sexual harassment, muhammad ali, racism, roger hollander, violence against women, war profiteers
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Have you heard the story about LaVena Johnson?
LaVena Johnson, a high school honor student, decided to enlist in the Army to pay for college. On July 19, 2005, after serving eight weeks in Iraq, she was killed, eight days short of her 20th birthday.
Pvt. Johnson — she was posthumously promoted to private first class — was found dead on a military base in Balad, Iraq, in a tent belonging to military contractor KBR, a spinoff and former subsidiary of Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s company. She was the first woman from Missouri to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The U.S. Army officially ruled her death a suicide, saying she shot herself in the head, case closed. But this is where the story begins.
Johnson’s family knew something was wrong. They had talked to her on the phone a few days earlier, and she was in a great mood as usual, and was planning to come home for the holidays, earlier than expected.
Questions were raised when Johnson’s family viewed her body. There were suspicious bruises, and while the military claimed that this right-handed soldier had shot herself in the head with an M-16 rifle, the gunshot wound was on the left side of her head.
But the truth began to make itself known when the family received the autopsy report and photos they had requested under the Freedom of Information Act:
The 5-foot tall, 100-pound woman had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, probably a weapon. Her nose had been broken, and her teeth knocked back. There were bruises, teeth marks and scratches on the upper part of her body. Her back and right hand had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire. Her genital area was bruised and lacerated, and lye had been poured into her vagina. The debris found on her suggested her body had been dragged.
And despite all this mutilation, she was fully clothed when her body was found in the tent, with a blood trail leading to the tent.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, the Army has refused to investigate. Through an online petition, ColorofChange.org demanded an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Johnson’s story is really several stories in one, and is about more than an individual Black woman who was raped and killed by her fellow soldiers. African Americans have fought in every war since the Revolutionary War, and often their country has been a far more formidable foe to them than the so-called enemy they were told to fight.
Often, youth of color, lacking opportunities at home and in need of money, look to the military as a career option and a way to pay for school. But in light of all the death and destruction of the unjust and immoral war in Iraq, fewer of them took the bait this time, and opposition to the war among Black youth has posed a challenge for Army recruiters.
Perhaps these young people were channeling war resisters of a prior generation, such as Muhammad Ali, who once said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. … They never called me nigger.” That war was devastating to poor communities of all races, and the black community in particular, as their young men came home in the thousands in body bags, or maimed, traumatized, as dope fiends or completely insane.
It was this “cruel manipulation of the poor,” as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called it, one that united people of different races “in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit.”
Forty years later, we find ourselves in another unjust and senseless war. This “home invasion” of Iraq, as Philadelphia veteran journalist Reggie Bryant aptly characterized it. And Johnson is a symbol of this war, as a casualty who risks being swept under the rug.
We may never know how many crimes have been hidden in Iraq. War is good for that sort of thing and little else, concealing the rapes, murders, shooting of children, bombing and pillaging of homes, the money stealing, and other crimes that are committed — including the crime that is war itself. People are taught to kill like animals, to dehumanize and humiliate others.
But the case of Johnson raises yet another issue: Violence against women is a problem in the U.S. military, and other slayings and suspicious deaths similar to Johnson’s are being classified as suicides. And Johnson is not the only woman to die a suspicious death on the Balad military base.
Retired Army Reserve Col. Ann Wright said 1 in 3 women who join the military will be raped or sexually assaulted by servicemen. Of the 94 military women who died in Iraq or during Operation Iraqi Freedom, 36 died from injuries unrelated to combat. While a number of them were ruled as suicides and homicides, 15 deaths remain that smell suspicious. For example, eight women from Fort Hood, Texas, died of “non-combat-related injuries” at Camp Taji, three of whom were raped before their deaths. Camp Taji is an Army base about 10 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Also, a number of female employees of Halliburton/KBR have been sexually harassed, assaulted and gang raped in Iraq. Their employment contract calls for such cases to be decided through arbitration rather than in a court of law. Halliburton and KBR, these war profiteers awash with money, even wanted one alleged rape victim to pay for their costs to defend themselves in arbitration. Lord have mercy …
It is clear that under President George W. Bush, no friend of justice, the cases of these brutalized and slain women could not see the light of day. But we are living in a new time, so it seems, and perhaps now is the time that the family of LaVena Johnson, and all those other nameless women killed by the military, will find the justice they deserve.