Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Peter Norman

In the Fall of 1968, the American War was raging in Vietnam, Martin Luther King had been murdered a few months before,  RFKennedy had been murdered as well. It was interesting times, so much good in art, food, architecture, fashion, music, cultural interaction going on, and yet such terrible things happening too.  Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

Whereas the hegemon deals with resistance through murder, people like Martin Luther King declare nonviolence as the proper means to right wrongs. MLKing, according to a court of law, was murdered in a conspiracy involving active duty USA military personnel, exactly one year to the day MLKing condemned American violence in Vietnam and the world. This led to riots across America in what we now call "the ghetto" and a general repudiation of nonviolence.  This was the intended effect of the hegemon, for the hegemon ever gains more strength when it draws violent reaction, and the hegemon ever diminishes in the face of nonviolence.  Nonviolence in the face of the hegemon seems ridiculous.

Jesus expressly disagreed, so Christians are obliged to be nonviolent.  Pro-war Christians are a contradiction in terms, the hypocrites so condemned by Jesus Himself.

But do all protesters need die?  Not actually, for example, here are two people who resisted, but did not die.

Tommie Smith was the Usain Bolt of 1968, the fastest man in the world.  An Australian, Peter Norman took the silver, and a another American, John Carlos took the bronze.  Smith and Carlos, during the awards ceremony, raised their fists in protest of USA cultural patterns and practices.  This act ended their athletic careers, and their act was deemed "violent" and they were whisked out of the Olympics and back to USA to face death threats.

Usain Bolt earns $20 million per year, and Tommy Smith would have earned a similar amount in his time, had he simply not raised his fist.  He knew what raising his fist would cost him.  But he simply could not allow the false narrative that is imposed upon winning athletes at the Olympics: USA is the land of opportunity.  Well, it may be for some, but not for Americans of African ancestry, or native Americans, etc.  For Smith and Carlos, no amount of money was worth advancing that lie.  (Both went on to careers as High School PE teachers.  Lucky kids who had them as coaches.

Nonviolent resistance may seem pointless but can be very effective on a diffuse basis.  Everyone in USA at the time was well aware of this event.  Back then the Olympics were covered by ABC all day with Highlights at prime time, in an era when there were only three TV channels.  The Olympics today are a difficult hash to watch, better viewed on Youtube after the fact.  But in 1968, Smith and Carlos electrified USA.

I recall watching it, and in my adolescents forming an understanding of the reality the hegemon could be resisted, needed to be resisted.  Nonviolence and its effects, along with the widely argued American war Vietnam war (no useful discussion of USA wars are any longer allowed), led me to consider all wars, and arrive at my conscientious objector position.  Among other influences, if Smith and Carlos could give up all, should one not consider joining them.  Peter Norman continued at the games after Smith and Carlos were ejected, but wearing sympathetic articles on his uniform for the rest of his time in Mexico.  Although an Australian he suffered terrible consequences for this, including being denied the opportunity to continue to compete against the best.  Within a year or two, I was writing a letter to the hegemon's representative for drafting people for war, and explained how I could not join their efforts.

They agreed, and categorized me 1-O (women and children first, they fight before I do.  I am very proud of that.)  Now, I harbor no delusions that the hegemon makes just exceptions, for the history of conscientious objectors in USA is historically they are usually beaten or starved to death after being thrown in prison.  There was no chance of this when I was drafted, so I did not fac that.  The American War in Vietnam was never an existential war, it was entirely a fun-time money-maker for the hegemon's minions.  Why the hegemon granted exemptions, and does to this day, is they simply do not want the idea of just cause and just war ever to be considered by soldiers.  To daft me would put me in the barracks of soldiers who had never thought of conscientious objection.

They think about it eventually, usually too late.  Who can ponder veteran suicide rates without considering a lack of orientation to just cause and just war before joining the military.

So Smith and Carlos missed out on millions, are now long forgotten, but had their effect, quite diffuse but long term.  Who knows how many they inspired, and unlike Dr. King, their legacy is too simple and clear to romanticize or hijack by the hegemon to advance the hegemon (no one will name streets after Smith or Carlos, or make a holiday that never mentions war resistance by MLK).

To this day, USA athletes are forbidden to protest war, and quite the contrary, USA athletics are probably the #1 venue for promoting war and sustaining the pattern and practices of oppression in the USA.  A current wikipedia article on Bill Walton simply does not mention his career anti-war resistance, and even contemporary newspaper articles of his actions were buried in newspapers of the time.

Smith and Carlos are the definition of hero, people who do what is right knowing they will get nothing for it, in fact lose everything they worked for, and go ahead because it is the right thing to do.

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