By Thomas Hauser
This is the political season. The United States is at war in Iraq. Those realities have become inextricably intertwined.
Meanwhile, boxing's standard bearers have long held mixed views and reacted in different ways when called to serve in the United States military.
Jack Dempsey was indicted, and tried for conspiring to evade the draft during World War I. After a seven-day trial, he was acquitted; but the allegation that he was a draft-dodger haunted Dempsey throughout his ring career.
Gene Tunney, who defeated Dempsey in two historic fights, enlisted in the Marines at the start of Word War I.
Joe Louis donated several purses to the Navy Relief Fund and enlisted in the Army one month after Pearl Harbor.
Muhammad Ali has been largely silent during the current dialogue regarding the war in Iraq. But he refused induction into the United States Army during the war in Vietnam and was precluded from fighting for three-and-a-half years. He was also criminally convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, although ultimately his conviction was overturned by the United States Supreme Court.
That brings us to today's heavyweight champions. Vitali Klitschko right) holds the WBC crown. John Ruiz (bottom pic) wears the WBA belt. Chris Byrd (left) is the IBF champ. Lamon Brewster is on top at the WBO. And then there's Lennox Lewis; the last man to have been recognized as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
The physical courage of these men is beyond question. They're warriors in the truest sense. Thus, it's interesting to hear their thoughts on the war in Iraq.
"I'm very interested in politics. I spend a lot of time reading about political things. Wladimir and I are both very active with UNESCO [the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]. We have traveled around the world and seen children without parents living on the streets; children without hope, just trying to survive one more day."
"On the war in Iraq, I am entirely negative about it. We come from a military family. Our father and grandfather were career military officers. I am a captain in the Ukrainian Army Reserve and a professional fighter. But I am against aggression. In every war, people lose their homes; children lose their parents; young men have their bodies torn apart. Sometimes a war has to be fought, but people are dying in Iraq for no good reason. I am against the war. I have no sympathy for Saddam Hussein, but what America is doing now in Iraq is wrong. War is never a good answer. I hope it ends as soon as possible before too many more people die."
"I'm worried about this country. We're drifting backward. What's going on in politics today isn't good. We're losing jobs; people who want to work can't get jobs. And at the same time, the big companies are sending jobs overseas and getting ridiculous tax breaks. Teachers supply wisdom and knowledge to our children, but our teachers are underpaid. Rich people keep getting richer. And the way things are going, I'm not even sure Social Security will be around when I retire."
"The most painful thing to me is the way our veterans are being treated. These are guys who risk their lives for our freedom. Then they come home. A lot of them have problems from the war. And instead of the government taking care of them, they're left out in the cold. There are veterans coming back from Iraq who are living homeless on the streets. That's heartbreaking to me."
"When the war started, the government told us that it was a noble war to fight terrorism. But even if that was true, President Bush didn't have a master plan to deal with the situation. I'm not sure he even told us the truth about why we were going to war in Iraq. And now our troops are dying every day. America needs a change in leadership now."
"I'm not that interested in politics. I'm registered and I vote. But my thing is, whatever Scripture says, I'm with it. If a candidate is in favor of abortion, I won't vote for him. I'm against teaching evolution in the schools. I'll vote for Bush in November because he's the closest of the candidates to Scripture. As far as Iraq is concerned, I think Bush is on a bit of a power trip. I don't know if we should have gone in there or not. But we're in so far now that we can't just pull out."
"At first, I thought the war in Iraq was justified. I understood the need to protect ourselves and respond to the World Trade Center bombing. But now, it seems like that's not what this whole mess in Iraq is about. I think Bush knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He was just sitting up at night, trying to find a reason that would justify in peoples' minds going to war. Oil was the real reason Bush went in. Hey; I'd give my life for this country if the cause was just. But I don't think people should be dying just so the oil companies can make bigger profits."
"And we got a bigger war going on in this country right now. We pay for the government, but Bush and the government aren't working for us. You got mothers living on the street with their children. People can't get decent health care. Kids can't get an education. But unless you're making a million dollars a year, Bush doesn't care about you. People say, 'Things are bad, but I'm just one person. What can I do?' Well, what you can is vote and persuade one other person to vote, who persuades another person to vote and on and on. If the people vote, we can regain control of our country."
"You don't want people coming over to your country and blowing up the place. Obviously, you have to protect against that. But this war isn't about defending America. It's about oil."
"America and England have this air of superiority. What we're doing in Iraq reminds me of when white Christians went to Africa and said, 'You people are living like heathens. You don't know what's good for you and, whether you like it or not, we're going to show you.'"
"There are times when you can't have peace without war, but I don't think this is one of them. The government is trying to create an atmosphere where people believe we have to be there, but we don't. Rumsfeld is a liar, and Bush is a puppet."
"I haven't said more publicly about the war because I'm of the opinion that what I say about world politics doesn't matter. I don't have the background in that area to be credible. If I say the war in Iraq is bad, the government will simply find another athlete who says, 'No; it's good.' But I believe that what the United States is doing over there will effect the world negatively for a long time."
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Nothing that any of these champions said was meant to question the courage or decency of American soldiers and other coalition troops serving in Iraq. Nor is there anything "anti-American" about their sentiments. John Ruiz, Chris Byrd, and Lamon Brewster are American citizens, while Vitali Klitschko and Lennox Lewis have chosen to live in the United States.
In judging their thoughts, one should remember the words of Mark Twain: "True patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the nation all the time, loyalty to the government when it deserves it."
One should also keep in mind that, just as there's nothing courageous about a manager sending a fighter into the ring, there's nothing courageous about middle-aged men sending young men overseas to kill and die in battle.
August 5, 2004