Muhammad Ali Refuses to Enlist
In 1966, Muhammad Ali was on top of the world, second in worldwide fame to only the Beatles. Having cemented his place as Heavyweight Champion after a decisive rematch with Sonny Liston, Ali was on his way to what would be a second successful defense against Floyd Patterson when he received his draft notice. Refusing to fight on the grounds of his religious convictions, Ali famously declared “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” which gave a powerful voice to a whole generation that did not want war. Ali’s deft rationale even inspired Martin Luther King’s public denunciations of the war, but it did him no favors with the the leaders of the country or the Boxing Commission.
Ali would show up to his army induction on April 28th 1967, but when his name was called he refused to step forward. Standing still even after five attempts and a legal warning, Ali was arrested and only a month later convicted and stripped of his title. He lost his license to fight, and the country refused him a visa to fight outside the country. Ali’s rhetoric was increasingly defiant, and soon began directly attacking the culture of racism that reared its ugly head in times of unrest. For three years, Ali would lose appeal after appeal, until his case finally made its way to the Supreme Court.
Ali’s legal struggles were already a rallying point for America’s black community, but by 1971 the country as a whole was extremely war weary after three years of a rapidly expanding KIA list. Desperate to support his family, Ali spoke at universities where anti-war sentiment was particularly high and attached himself to other pacifist icons in popular culture. In June, the Supreme Court unanimously repealed his conviction, a huge victory for the peace movement during the otherwise stormy currents of the Vietnam War.
Thich Quang Duc’s Hauntingly Peaceful Immolation
As beautiful as it is horrifying, the photograph of Thich Quang Duc’s immolation is as awe-inspiring as Tank Man or the execution of a Viet Cong soldier. Today, most know it as the cover of a Rage Against the Machine album, but it was so striking when it first appeared in newspapers that even President John F Kennedy commented on its profundity.
Subjected to French colonialism for many years, then-South Vietnam suffered through the dictations and discriminations of a Catholic ruling class, many of whose pro-Catholic effects were most widely felt by the huge Buddhist majority. Protests broke out following the ban of the Buddhist flag, and the shooting of eight unarmed Buddhist civilians sparked a religious revolt that would soon draw the attention of the whole world. But before Americanization began, the Buddhist monks of South Vietnam engaged in a series of public immolations that began with Thich Quang Duc’s.
The monk remained so calm and still during his suicide that the Diem government charged the monastery of drugging Quang Duc, but their guilt-defering accusations only served to embolden the revolt against the government. With the release of the photo, worldwide opinion against Diem permanently soured, and within six months his regime would be toppled and his life ended. Curiously, Quang Duc’s heart remained well intact, even after his funeral cremation. It is heralded as a holy relic, and Quang Duc was declared a bodhisattva, or “enlightened one,” by Vietnamese Buddhists.