A Brief History
On January 21, 1977 newly inaugurated President Jimmy Carter created perhaps the biggest controversy of his presidency by pardoning Viet Nam War era draft dodgers.
Digging deeper, we find the United States in the 1960’s and 1970’s severely divided over support for the war in Viet Nam.
With Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Senator Eugene McCarthy and other prominent Americans vociferously opposed to the war, large portions of the population sided with them. The anti-war feeling went beyond just the political aspects and dove into the moral aspects for each individual soldier as well. The youth counter-culture that gave us the Summer of Love in 1967 and peace-niks made refusal to serve in the military mandatory to meet their moral standards.
Folk singers, civil rights activists, and many others urged young men not to cooperate with the government and refuse to serve. This sort of urging is illegal, but through the use of euphemisms and thinly disguised messages, the “burn your draft card” directive got out.
Meanwhile, many other more traditional or conservative Americans saw the hand of communism behind the anti-war/anti-draft movement (correctly so, to some extent) and considered draft evaders and those that encouraged or aided them as traitors.
Some draft dodgers fled to Canada or other countries, some went to jail, and some stayed in the U.S. in hiding. Feelings on both sides were extreme! People alive at the time remember chants of “Hell no we won’t go” and the ubiquitous “make love not war” graffiti.
When Jimmy Carter took office he kept his promise to pardon the draft dodgers from the Viet Nam era, but the form of the pardon was such that each draft dodger had to individually apply for his pardon. Now, not only did the conservative Americans bitterly denounce Carter’s action, but so did those in favor of the pardons! The peace-nik crowd felt the pardon should be a blanket automatic type and that by having to apply, each draft dodger was confessing to a crime.
Proving the old adage that “you can’t make everybody happy,” President Carter managed to really make nobody happy and this reality of course must have contributed to his defeat in 1980.
The cracked part of this history, is that by 1992 America elected a draft dodger (by legal means) president (Clinton) and then the speaker of the house (Gingrich) who likewise used the same legal but immoral ruse to avoid the draft. Following President Clinton, George W. Bush was elected in spite of purportedly having fraudulently joined the Air National Guard to avoid the draft and Dick Cheney as his vice president who avoided the draft by medical deferments!
Also, the current feeling in the United States is one of honor and appreciation for the military men and women with none of the stigma and labels of “baby killer” suffered by Viet Nam era veterans. Even those same veterans are today treated much differently than they were in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and have taken their place of honor with all American war veterans.
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