Monday, September 30, 2013

"The Trials of Muhammad Ali": The interesting part concerns the military draft as a moral issue

The Trials of Muhammad Ali”, a biography of Cassius Marcellus Clay, well known as a professional heavyweight boxer who adopted Islam and even the “Nation of Islam”. 

But the most interesting part of the somewhat didactic film (by Bill Siegel) concerns Ali’s resistance to the Vietnam era military draft. The film presents the newspaper headlines of the sudden doubling of draft calls and lowering of induction standards in 1965. The film is not always clear in the early part of this presentation about Ali’s conscientious objector status.  Ali was eventually convicted of “draft evasion”, stripped of the right to box, and threatened with five years in prison.  But his case wound up before the Supreme Court, which reversed the conviction on what amounted to an arcane procedural technicality.
   
There was a legal controversy in religious objection to military service, in that CO status was supposed to be recognized only if the objection was to all combat.  Ali’s objection was specifically about the Vietnm war as a white man’s war in some fundamental way offensive to people of color. So his case took on an existential character.

In 1981, the Supreme Court would rule that a male-only draft had been constitutional, even though conscription ended in 1973, after a few years with a lottery instead of deferments.

The film also makes a point about Ali's statements to newspapers, seen as provocative in the pre-Internet world where self-broadcast did not yet exist. 
   
I’ve discussed elsewhere my own experience with the draft from 1968-1970 and my own “sheltered” situation because of my education, in conjunction with previous student deferments.  That episode of our history is somewhat forgotten but of considerable moral importance.
  
The film mentions Ali’s relationship with Malcolm X, assassinated in 1965.  There is a 1992 film of that name by Spike Lee, which I did see, although for some reason I got the time wrong and missed the first twenty minutes.  It is very long.  
  
  
The official site is here.  The companies involved are Kartemquin, PBS Independent Lens, and Koch Lorber.
    

The possibility of resuming of the draft, and all the moral concerns that go with it, have been mentioned since the 2001 9/11 attacks.  It has been suggested that the draft would prevent a president from going to war foolishly, or that it is part of basic fairness.   Charles Moskos, an “author” of the military “don’t ask don’t tell” in 1993, changed his position on open gays in the military in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and gave up supporting his own previous solution.  

Military conscription would probably make a good topic for a documentary film. 

I saw this film at the Landmark E Street in downtown Washington Monday afternoon before a small audience, while Congress stewed a mile or so away/ 

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