On April 28, 1967, a day when 37 Americans were killed in action in Vietnam, and when I was in Vietnam myself, heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army.
Clay had defeated opponents in the boxing ring, but when he was called upon to put on a uniform and fight for his country, he said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong.”
In order to beat the draft, Clay renamed himself Muhammad Ali. He claimed that he was a minister of the Nation of Islam, a conscientious objector, and exempt from the draft. His boxing license was revoked, and he was convicted of draft evasion. But he successfully appealed the conviction in 1971 and regained his boxing title in 1974. Afterwards, with time and sickness, Ali became an almost universally sympathetic figure.
In 1994, Ali visited Vietnam, where he was regarded as a hero. In 2005, Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the government called him “a great American.” However, he never apologized for his draft stand. Ironically, even draft dodger Bill Clinton has had the audacity to say he wished he had served.
A former draftee who stood next to Clay when he refused to be inducted recently said, “You want to ask, ‘Who went and who didn’t, and who went in their place, and how did they fare?’”
Apparently our perception of nobleness has drastically changed over the past 50 years and nothing for the better.
Frank B. Austin, O’Fallon