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Amnesty Program


ON JANUARY 21, the day following his inauguration, President Jimmy Carter fulfilled one of his major campaign promises by issuing a blanket pardon to all those who had peacefully refused to register for the draft or be inducted into the armed services during the Vietnam War. By granting the pardon, Carter hoped to bring America's tragic Vietnam experience to an end. Unfortunately, the pardon, while a step in the right direction, does not go nearly far enough.

Under the terms of the pardon only 20,000 draft resisters are covered. Carter has indicated that he will review the cases of the more than 100,000 deserters and others with less than honorable discharges on an individual basis, and that he will follow a similar procedure in the cases of those demonstrators convicted of destroying selective service files or protesting violently against the war.

By failing to include deserters, and those with less than honorable discharges, the pardon discriminates against those whose opposition to the war grew out their horror at the senseless destruction they witnessed. Moreover, while the majority of those eligible for pardons are middle-class whites, a disproportionately large number of deserters are members of disadvantaged minority groups. Many of these people simply lacked the information or financial means to evade the draft. Any government action to heal the scars caused by Vietnam surely must include these men. It should also cover those who participated in non-violent acts such as the destruction of selective service files in an attempt to stop American involvement in the war.

In granting the pardon, Carter once again distinguished it from an amnesty. He noted that while an amnesty would have represented an admission that the resisters were right in opposing the war, the pardon merely eliminated the danger of prosecution, leaving the moral issue unresolved.

It is just this refusal to address the moral issues involved in the tragedy of Vietnam that makes the Carter pardon unacceptable. An unconditional, universal amnesty for all Vietnamera draft resisters is the only acceptable solution. By failing to admit that the government's Vietnam policy was horribly wrong and that those who opposed that immoral policy in the only way they could were right, the pardon fails to serve the needs of those who were the victims and in many ways the greatest heroes of that time.

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