Was it a good idea for Jimmy Carter to give a blanket amnesty to draft evaders?

My opinion is no.

By the mid-1970’s, some kind of amnesty program was obviously needed, to heal the divisions left by a very unpopular war. However, this did not change the fact that draft evaders and deserters had broken the law.

Thousands of other young men, faced with the draft, had met their obligations. This required a very great sacrifice on their part - too often the greatest one. The people who evaded the draft and were later granted the Carter amnesty made no sacrifices. Nothing was required of them to earn this benefit.

This was very unpopular across a broad spectrum of American society at the time. But even leaving aside questions of popularity, this progran was simply a mistake.

Carter was criticized at the time, too, for making no provision for deserters from the military, and since that time, those cases have had to be addressed individually instead of systematically.

Before the Carter program, President Ford put a program in place where amnesty would be granted to a draft evader after two years of community service were served. Amnesty could be earned for desertion as well, through two years of noncombatant military service. This program seemed like a more balanced one, and also a more complete one. It allowed people to work a black mark off of their record rather than just pretending they did no wrong.

Not surprisingly, few people took advantage of it, waiting instead for Carter’s sweeter deal, promised in his campaign. I still think, though, that the Ford program would have been better for the country in general.

Nah. Carter was right. Fuck the draft. I would have dodged it too. The government was wrong to ever institute it at all and doubly wrong for conscripting people to go to Vietnam.

Yeah it was a good idea because it broke the cycle of conscription. Had the Ford plan been implemented then conscription may have still existed afterwards because the idea of involuntary service to the government was still being implemented, but it was non-military in nature.

A volunteer army is more effective than a conscripted army anyway, and is something that a representative government should provide. In general, the more freedoms the public have the better. Being free to not be conscripted against your will is better than the alternative. Carter helped to break that cycle.

Plus the vietnam war was unpopular, and even though the US did good things in Vietnam (built infrastructure) we did bad things in Vietnam and Indochina as well. Forcing someone to fight a war they don’t want to fight for a cause they don’t believe in is not something a representative government should do to its citizens.

My opinion is that draft dodgers behaved in a more honorable way than draft compliers. The Vietnam War was an unethical war, and a person has no obligation to participate in an unethical war, but does have an obligation to refuse to participate in an unethical war. By avoiding the draft, some people fulfilled their obligation not to participate in an unethical war. This is a mark of honor for them.

I know most people see something honorable in military service. I do not. At best, it is dirty, dangerous, awful work, which ought to append about as much honor to the workers as the orderlies in a hospital during a pandemic who haul diseased corpses to the incinerator. At worst, it is the evillest work on earth. The fact that a government tries to force people into this work does not convey an ethical obligation on anyone: all it does is it demonstrates the moral shortcomings of a democracy, inasmuch as a democracy can lead to a great evil.


What were the options for someone who didn’t want to serve in Vietnam because they believed it to be immoral? Did they have CO status back then? Could you sign up for a non-combat role? Was prison the only option? What type of prison (country club or brutal rapes/beatings type prison)? Thanks for the answers.

Let’s be clear here. I’m saying that an amnesty should have been granted, but that the Carter blanket amnesty went too far.

At least requiring community service should have been part of the policy.

Why? It was the government that was wrong, not the draft dodgers. I see the amnesty as a tacit acknowledgement that the draft was wrong to begin with.

Let me be clear as well. The draft dodgers were in the right. They should have been honored. If you want to make everyone do community service, that’s a proposal I can tentatively get behind (I would really need to see specifics first); but draft dodgers should not be punished for fulfilling their ethical duty.


Again, I am in full agreement that an amnesty was needed and justified.

Still, those that evaded the draft broke the law. Others, many of whom did not support the war, obeyed the law and fulfilled their military obligations. Do you consider them chumps for doing so?

There was a mechanism in place to honorably avoid service, by becoming a conscientious objector. I obviously have no problem with people who avoided service through this legal means. Fleeing to Canada, on the other hand, is not a legal means to avoid service.

Such a thing can be forgiven, but it ought to require some effort on the part of the person who broke the law in the first place.

Excuse me?

A fact not in evidence. The same administration that gave amnesty to draft evaders in 1977 reinstituted draft registration in 1980.

It was probably a pretty good idea. On balance it probably brought him more votes than it cost him, and I definitely don’t think this act cost him the election.

It was mostly a Democratic war (Nixon beside the point) so it was important for a Democrat to make amends to settle things with the party’s own anti-war contingent. (Carter wasn’t of that legacy and the Dems hadn’t had their guy in the WH since warmonger Johnson left town)

All in all, not one of his mistakes.

This is a tough issue for me, I don’t see a clear answer.

The OP has a strong point I think. Even in the case of a person dodging the draft in an immoral war, I’m uncomfortable with giving carte blanch to people to break the law, mainly because it’s too much of a judgement call as to when a war is moral or not.

On the other hand, I also see the point where a person should not be punished for taking the ethical high ground, and hence should suffer no punishment at all.

I’m on the fence so far, and look forward to hearing more arguments.

A few points on this one.

If someone has a moral objection to war, the honorable course, obviously, is to become a conscientious objector. That will legally allow someone opposed to war in all forms to not fight in one.

For those opposed to a specific war, the answer isn’t as nice, since the decision to go to war is a societal decision, not an individual one. There are lots of volunteer soldiers in Iraq who oppose that war, I’m sure. But since they’re not conscientious objectors to all war, and since the decision to go to war was arrived at through a democratic process, they’re going.

The Vietnam-era draftees who obeyed their induction orders faced a similar calculation. I’m sure most of them weren’t thrilled to go. And again, I have to ask, were they chumps? They thought at the time they’d go to jail if they didn’t go, only to find out later that they wouldn’t even have had to do community service.

They’re not “chumps” because they had no way of knowing they could have dodged and got amnesty.

If they were opposed to the war, and somehow knew they could get away with dodging without any penalty, and still risked their lives, then maybe they’d be chumps.

So did Rosa Parks. So did all those who participated in sit-ins during the civil rights movement. So did those who participated in the Underground Railroad. Civil disobedience is part of the American ethic. Immoral laws are made to be broken. I don’t think there was anything wrong with evading the draft. I don’t believe the government has the right to conscript soldiers (involunatary servitude) and I don’t believe that any American is obliged to comply with the draft.

Not chumps but I do consider them to be victims. It wasn’t the draft dodgers who victimized them, though, so those who complied with the draft really have no place in the conversation. If anything, maybe the government owed them an apology and extra compensation but punishing draft dodgers does nothing for veterans.

Of course it wasn’t legal. If it was legal it wouldn’t require an amnesty. The point is that (IMO) the draft was immoral and so those who refused to comply do not deserve punishment.

i don’t believe “forgiveness” is required. Does Rosa Parks need to be "forgiven’ for refusing to comply with a bad law? I see this in the same light. It was the Johnson and Nixon war machines who needed to be forgiven.

the decision join the military ethically belongs to the individual. It is unethical for the State to usurp that prerogative for them.

Conscription is wrong. Laws implementing conscription are wrong. Breaking such laws is not wrong. Punishment when one has done no wrong is injustice. There is a reason Lady Justice holds a double-edged sword. Healing one of the cuts inflicted by the backside of that blade is a good deed. It is a necessary deed because of the limitations of the legal system in modeling justice. When the strictures of the legal system would impose punishment on those who did no wrong then it is the legal system which should be corrected, and no cost should be incurred by those who, while in violation of the messed-up system, did no wrong otherwise.


There is a difference between civil disobedience and running off to save your hide.

Either way, on the first hand, you ought to do your community service since accepting the consequences of your illegal actions is traditionally a hallmark of civil disobedience.

In the second case, you should do the community service as an atonement for the fact that someone else had to be drafted to take your place.

I disagree. Self-preservation is a basic human right.

Not when we finally recognize that the law was wrong. And people who went to Canada did not know they were going to get an amnesty. They thought they’d never be able to return to their country. They were accepting consequences.

Nobody had to be drafted at all. That’s a completely bogus argument.