The blood of tens of thousands is on John Kerry's hands...and yet he pretends our hatred of him is political.
The MacNeil/Lehrer Report -- January 21, 1977
Just a day after Jimmy Carter's inaguration, he followed through on a contentious campaign promise, granting a presidential pardon to those who had avoided the draft during the Vietnam war by either not registering or traveling abroad.
The pardon meant the government was giving up forever the right to prosecute what the administration said were hundreds of thousands of draft-dodgers.
Some in veterans' groups, like Tip Marlow of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization, said Carter did too much by allowing those who evaded the draft to come home without fear of prosecution.
"We were very displeased with the pardon," Marlow said. "We feel that there is a better way for people who have broken laws to come back into the country, and that's though one of the pillars of the formation of our nation -- and that is our present system of justice."
Meanwhile, many in amnesty groups say that Carter's pardon did too little. They pointed out that the president did not include deserters -- those who served in the war and left before their tour was completed -- or soldiers who recieved a less-than-honorable discharge. Civilian protesters, selective service employees and those who initiated any act of violence also were not covered in the pardon.
Louise Ransom, affiliate director of Americans for Amnesty, said she believed the problems with the draft resulted from the way it was conducted.
"There seems to be a myth that because you once went into the army, there's some kind of esprit that you have accepted or believed in," Ransom said. "Well the truth of the matter is that so many of the draft-eligible young men legally avoided the draft that ... all the services took their people predominantly from poor and minority people in this country -- took them right out of high school before they had the opportunity to even examine whether they were conscientious objectors."
Though not all of the groups calling for amnesty received it, Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY) said Carter's pardon was a good first step toward healing the war's wounds.
"I'm pleased that the pardon was issued, I'm pleased that it was done on the first day [of Carter's administration] and I'm pleased that President Carter kept a commitment that he made very clear to the American people," Holtzman said. "I would have liked to have seen it broader, I would like to have seen it extend to some of the people who are clearly not covered and whose families will continue to be separated from them ... but I don't think President Carter has closed the door on this category of people."
Military historian Robert Alotta linked the problems with the Vietnam-era draft with those the U.S. saw in its other armed conflicts.
"In the study of the wars the U.S. has been in," he said, "I cannot label one as a popular war -- one that had everyone's support."
Vietnam's gradual evolution, Alotta said, made it seem to some that "we were involved in a war that's not the United States' war."