Muhammad Ali’s opposition to the USA’s war against Vietman in 1966 was well known given his choice to air his opinions freely on issues which otherwise were considered sensitive by most celebrities. In March 1966 at the peak of the war changes in the American law made him eligible to serve in the army.
Ali openly refused to join the army (if called upon) stating that his religion won’t allow him to kill. He didn’t find any sense in killing people who had not abused him, not harmed his family, not harmed his people. He said he was more concerned about why the Blacks in his hometown didn’t receive justice and equal rights rather than fighting those against whom he held no grudges.
A year later he was called in the Houston court for his scheduled induction in the US Army. Despite multiple calls he refused to step forward when his name was called. His acts led to his immediate conviction and arrest, however by paying a fine he stayed out of jail. Later in the day came the bigger shock his boxing license was suspended and he was immediately stripped of the World Heavyweight Championship.
Ali who was already vilified by large sections of the US population owing to his allegiance to the Nation of Islam become the biggest villain in the nation overnight. At that time majority of the population was totally in favor of the war against Vietnam and Ali refusing to serve was considered an act of treachery to the nation. Even the Nation of Islam deemed his actions too radical as they believed he was insulting the black American war veterans.
Ali stood firm in his stance as one by one all states of the nation suspended his boxing license. He refused multiple invitations by the Army to even serve as an entertainer for the troops but he flatly refused. His conscience wouldn’t allow him to shoot his brothers, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America.
In the next couple of years Ali become financially instable fighting battle after battle in court. However, a change occurred in the people’s stance, the population of the nation gradually became against the continuing war. This coupled with Ali’s speeches in various colleges across the nation against the war won him many followers. His speeches were simple and direct to the point. He wouldn’t be used by powerful whites to kill the poor and he didn’t feel anyone who was poor or black needed to do too.
Growing support had converted Ali to a youth icon and America’s prime symbol for the movement of global peace. By 1970 many of the states had reinstated his boxing license and he returned to the ring in October 1970. In June 1971 the court overturned his conviction too.
The decision to stand by his beliefs had come at a great personal cost. Ali had lost 3 years of his career, and that too those which would have comprised the peak of his career. When he returned to the ring he was still the best of the lot, but many argued that he was not the same as before.
Years later it did not matter, his humanity and ability to stand up for what he viewed as correct made him the greatest of all time. Ali stood his ground and lost crucial years of his career, but the world gained a champion in the fight for peace and independence and equality for all.