Robert Rashka wastes a lot of indignation over Muhammad Ali, whom he calls a “brave coward” in his “Ali deserves no praise” letter (July 20).
No one went to Vietnam in Ali’s place. Had he been inducted, Ali would almost certainly have spent two years teaching GIs to box and fighting in exhibition matches. He wouldn’t have seen combat any more than Elvis did.
Mr. Rashka says Ali refused “our country’s call to duty.” The call came not from our country but from politicians who were deathly afraid of being labeled “soft on communism.” Ali, who never attended college, still knew better than Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon that Vietnam was no threat to the United States. The Pentagon even capped tours of duty in Vietnam at 12 months, knowing it couldn’t convince its own troops and their families that this was a war we had to win.
Mr. Rashka mentions the 58,000 names on the Vietnam Memorial, but patriotism is not blindly following orders; if it were, the commandant of Auschwitz would be revered as a patriot. Were it not for courageous peaceful protesters like Ali, there might have been twice as many names on the Memorial and twice as many bereaved families.
Nor did our country allow Ali to get away with refusing to be drafted. He was barred from boxing for three years and was past his prime when he was finally reinstated. Few of us would sacrifice three or more years’ worth of income for a principle.