The Consequences of War Dissension

July 17, 2020

The most powerful Humanities Moments for me occurred during William Sturkey’s NEH session entitled “Contested Patriotisms: Dissent and Nationalism on the US Homefront.” One thing that stuck with me was Sturkey’s assertion that “dissention always has consequences.” He then gave Muhammad Ali as an example of how anti-war stance severely affected him on both a personal and professional level.

As someone who was not born during this era- coupled with the fact that I’ve had some pretty crappy history teachers- I have to admit that my initial imagery of Muhammad Ali was centralized around him as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time)- a positive reference to his unquestionable domination within the boxing ring, and one that represents the perception of him towards that latter years of his life. (I actually have a Sonny Liston signed copy of the iconic image referenced with this moment hanging in my guest room.) Though I was familiar with Ali’s refusal to participate in the war, I was not familiar with the extent at which he was forced into vocalizing his views, and the unpleasant consequences of such a stance by a well-known black man in the 1960s.

Immediately I was interested in further research on dissention surrounding the Vietnam War. But not just from the lens of larger-than-life individuals such Muhammad Ali, but of lesser-known individuals that dissented against the war and how they were affected. Furthermore, I also became intrigued to learn how status effected one’s involvement in the war.

One thing I more clearly realized as a result of this session was the extent to which our textbooks focus heavily on the political rhyme or reason of war, and so little on the human impact. This session helped to connect historical puzzle pieces for me that had been left disconnected by my own fragmented historical context. As an educator, it has motivated me to ensure that I focus on the human aspects of any historical events or current issues that I present to my students.