Me and Muhammid Ali
Jun 4, 2016, 11:13am
In Memoriam: Muhammid Ali: His ability as a boxer can be disputed. His brashness can't be denied! But his stand against the War in Vietnam and identifying himself as a Conscientious Objector was the defining moment of his life and that of a whole generation! And for that we should all be grateful. It took real courage to fight that fight - and to win. Yes, he ended up being lauded as a hero though it took many years and then mostly for his abilities in the ring. But we should never forget that standing for principle is itself its own reward. May you rest in peace - you deserve it! And for your stand - You Are The Greatist! (This article was written two years ago on May 15 - "International Conscientious Objector Day.)
"War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today." John F. Kennedy
International Conscientious Objector Day on May 15
Did you know that May 15 is "International Conscientious Objector Day". No I didn't either until I read this Objecting to their wars.article. And as I read the article - I was flooded with images from long ago about my path to being a conscientious objector so let me share a personal journey...
1965: The VietNam war was really ramping up and having just graduated from college, the local draft board in New York addressed my intentions. And at the time there were only two known paths available – back to school or join the military. So I went back to school. Cowardly, perhaps. But I needed time to think about my options and beliefs. I even considered joining the service but philosophically that didn't ring true - even as a medic or non-combatant.. At the same time a good friend named Tom and I engaged in long discourses about what was going on in VietNam, the civil war and the nationalistic nature of the opposition. And after all the US and the western powers had promised to hold free elections. (Never happened! – because obviously HO Chi Minh would have won.
So I attended Graduate School and read and studied and found that being a Conscientious Objector (CO) best described my situation. And once decided, I ended my education and filed the paper work. Now this was not a decision taken lightly - the general belief was that the government would not accept anyone who professed this position. And according to all the advice from such groups as The War Resistors League - you had to be prepared to go to jail for your beliefs - Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, somewhere in the area of 2-4 years.
Meanwhile I received an order to report to Fort Holobird, MD for and induction physical. Many people suggested I just go along and see what happened. At that time many young men failed the physical so I thought maybe I would, too. Not so, however. The only slight wrinkle was that I had checked a box that said I sometimes get depressed – that being kind of normal if you think about it. So I went into a psyche evaluation and the doctor asked me why I got depressed so I answered "Sometime life gets me down" and he replied "Life gets everybody down - you pass" . I was normal.
Oh, and one other weird thing – I got a letter from the draft board – actually two letters in one envelop – the one said that I was to report for induction into the army and the other separate letter – granting me a school exemption from the draft. If that isn't messing with you – then what is?
But as started down this road I saw in the newspaper that one very famous person was also declaring himself a CO – Muhammed Ali. Weird, a fighter being basically non-violent!
Back then, the process was stacked against you. For starters you had to appear before your draft board and defend yourself. And that was somewhat disturbing since on the same day - I was held up and robbed while working for the Department Of Welfare in Harlem. So I had no draft card or identification but it didn't seem to stop the board from ripping into me as being a coward, a hypocrite and basically a slacker. Of course, they did not approve my request and we moved on to the next hurdle.
The FBI had to do an investigation and make a recommendation. Meanwhile after I was turned down by my draft board I read where Muhammed Ali was also turned down by his. (Some kind of strange parallel path – a couple of times more I would hear bad news from the draft board and he would, too.). It might seem strange but it gave some kind of comfort to being on the same path. You weren't alone.
So the FBI did investigate - talked to some neighbors, came by and talked to me and appeared to be somewhat bored by the whole thing. Later I was given a copy of the FBI report and they supported my being classified as a CO. Or as they said - I was the person that I represented myself to be. But that of course did not mean much since the draft board, frankly a bunch of rabid old men just did not want to accept any of it. Funky! But that was the process back then. Of course if you were connected in some way (like Baby Bush) then the board bent over backward to help you avoid service. But that was much later!
But heartened by the FBI report I moved on with my life while keeping one eye on the mail. And lo there came the day that I received another letter from the draft board with a reclassification – that meant that I was too old for military service, over 26 years old at this time. Free... after almost 4 years. Of course you can read where Muhammid Ali went on to win his case.
Since then I have tried to live a dedicated life and have to the best of my ability upheld the beliefs espoused almost 50 years ago. And there is a certain soft spot in my heart for all men and women of conscience and consciousness, especially those who fought the system and won, even a small victory. And of course to Muhammid Ali who gave me encouragement without even knowing he did it. Thanks one and all.
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