I’m back after much needed vacation to sunny Key West and back to the land of the ice and snow of Indiana. Now that I’m back, it’s time for another edition of #HistoryMonday. Today’s topic of historical significance is all about amnesty and presidential support for the dodgers—but not the baseball team formerly of Brooklyn and now Los Angeles
On this date in in 1977, President Jimmy Carter pardoned all Vietnam War draft dodgers. This action was a fulfillment of a campaign promise. During a debate with Pres. Ford, Carter announced an intention to pardon those who didn’t register for the draft or left the country in order to avoid conscription. Both candidates for president that year had announced plans to offers some relief for those who had avoided serving. Ford was only willing to provide clemency to those that applied or otherwise qualified themselves to receive a pardon. Carter, in keeping with his evangelical Southern Baptist faith decided a blanket pardon would be more appropriate and move the country forward. The pardon was only extended to civilians who had been convicted of violating the Military Selective Service Act by draft-evasion acts or omissions committed between August 4, 1964 and March 28, 1973. Provisions of clemency and pardon were not available to servicemembers who had deserted or went AWOL.
Much of public sentiment had turned against the war by the time of Pres. Ford’s ascension to the Presidency and Carter was likely continuing Pres. Ford’s attempts to move the country forward after a two-plus decades long war. Still the hawkish members of congress on both sides of the aisle were unhappy with Pres. Carter’s decision. They argued by pardoning these draft-dodgers, it would only encourage further disobedience by potential draftees. Additionally, critics argued that rewarding disobedient draftees, it esteemed the sacrifice of willing servicemen who had fought and died in the war too little—a dishonor to their memories.
The so-called doves in congress, were unhappy that Carter did not also extend pardons to the servicemen who had went AWOL or deserted during the war. So, the decision by Pres. Carter wasn’t popular with either of the major factions of congressional leadership.
Worth noting, Pres. Carter did reinstate the Military Selective Service Act some three years later in response to the U.S. involvement in the Soviet-Afghani War. Currently, all males age 18-25 are required to register under this act for purposes of conscription. Failure to do so affects financial aid and other federal assistance rather than punitive attempts to arrest as before. Recently, legislators have attempted to introduce bills that would eventually end the mandatory registration for the Selective Service Administration. There is at least some traction to this movement, as a study is expected to be produced by next year highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the registration. Of course, the requirement for males only invites questions about whether women should be equally considered as well as transgender individuals who identify as female but are born as a biological male. The most recent precedence for this argument still requires any individual who is a biological male regardless of transition surgery is still considered a male and required to register.
Admittedly, I’ve become much more libertarian and more of a war dove as I’ve seen how thinly our troops have been spread in at least the last two decades. Much of the war zones we’ve been fighting in have been an ‘ally’ a decade or two earlier only to be fighting us later. I appreciate the volunteer service members who fought and sacrifice for their country, I like others during the Vietnam era would like to see a more peaceful resolution and less American lives lost in wars that may not necessarily require our presence.
What do you think, should Pres. Carter have pardoned the draft-dodgers?