Published July 1974 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Those Who Fled Don't Deserve Amnesty The question of amnesty for draft-age young men who fled their country to avoid service in Vietnam continues to disturb many Americans. There seems to be a softening of attitudes among some people toward draft evaders and deserters as Vietnam fades further into the background. Considerably more is involved, however, than just the self-interest of any individual who might now like to come back, and have everything forgiven and forgotten. The basic issue is that of the citizen's obligation to his country-under any and all circumstances. Most of those who fled, did so because they said they considered the war evil and their country immoral for waging it. But they are willing enough, now that our part in the war has ended, to come back to the same "immoral" country they left. Many amnesty advocates argue that they should be permitted to do so with no questions asked. Forgiving the evaders and deserters would deal a sickening blow to the families and friends of those who did make a sacrifice for their country. The "moral" approach of the draft dodgers ignores the fact that others had to be drafted to go into their place, and that many of these surrogates were killed or wounded. Amnesty, moreover, would set an example that could prove to be disastrous in a future national crisis. If there is to be no penalty for not serving, then thousands more might defect in time of another war. It is idle to argue that those who evaded their responsibilities, and who now want to evade the penalty, were high-principled persons who obeyed their conscience. Those who truly act upon a principle ought also to be willing to take the consequences of their actions. Those who fled America to avoid the draft ought now to be willing to make their new home their permanent home. No society can exist if it permits its citizens to obey only those laws they wish to obey. The obligation of citizenship must be as binding in one area of responsibility as in another. It is possible that there m a y b e some individual cases that should be judged on their merits. But no person who fled the country should be repatriated on any basis that suggests that his action is being vindicated. Jobs and educational opportunities for those who did serve in Vietnam are now much more important than is amnesty for any individual who ran out on his country when his time came to serve.