Published September 1972 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd A General Amnesty Would Be Unpardonable Since America's large-scale involvement in Vietnam began in 1964, 70,000 men have either illegally evaded the draft or deserted in the face of assignment to Vietnam. Draft dodgers and deserters have always been considered dishonorable in the United States. And the current efforts to grant a general amnesty to men who left the country or went underground to avoid service would be a personal affront to the more than 2.5 million Americans who have served honorably in Vietnam. West Virginians, especially, would be appalled at a general amnesty, because men from our State always have selflessly answered the call to duty. Advocates of amnesty argue that draft evasion and desertion are the only alternatives to military service, and claim that precedents exist for granting amnesty. Neither argument is sound. A man opposed to war can register as a conscientious objector-over 240,000 men have received C.O. status since 1964, thereby contributing to the nation's efforts in a non-military way-or he can go to jail. Choosing a five-year jail sentence over a two-year tour of duty can hardly be applauded, but it is, nevertheless, a legitimate expression of dissent. Draft evasion and desertion are not. Of nine amnesties granted since the Civil War, only four were war-related. President Coolidge pardoned 100 men who deserted between the time World War I ended and the time the formal armistice was signed. President Franklin Roosevelt amnestied 1,500 WWI draft evaders-but it was 15 years after the war, and after all had served prison terms. President Truman's two war-related amnesties covered less than 10 percent of the World War II draft dodgers. A few present-day draft dodgers and deserters may deserve consideration, and will get it as their cases are considered on an individual basis. A general amnesty, however, would merely invite future desertions and draft evasions, thus undermining national security, and would be a disservice to the memories of those who died there. Furthermore, our returning veterans should not have to compete for jobs against those who fled the country to avoid the draft. We should concentrate our efforts on honoring the men who chose the hard road through Southeast Asia, rather than on excusing those who chose the easy road to Canada or Sweden.