January 21, 1977: Jimmy Carter Pardons Draft Dodgers!


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

Digging deeper, we find the United States in the 1960s and 1970s 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 and the peace-niks that gave us the “Summer of Love” in 1967 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 to 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 Americans who were traditional or conservative saw the hand of communism behind the anti-war/anti-draft movement (correctly so, to some extent) and viewed draft evaders and those who encouraged or aided them as traitors.

Some draft dodgers fled to Canada or other countries, while some went to jail, and others managed to stay 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, 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 automatic, blanket type of pardon 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 may have contributed to his defeat in 1980.

The bizarre part of this history, is that by 1992, America elected to the presidency Bill Clinton who had managed to avoid the  a draft dodger legally, and then Newt Gingrich, who had likewise used the same legal but immoral ruse to avoid the draft, was selected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Following President Clinton, George W. Bush who had purportedly fraudulently joined the Air National Guard to avoid the draft and Dick Cheney who avoided the draft by medical deferments were elected to the White House!

Also, the current feeling in the United States is one of appreciation for the military men and women with none of the stigma and labels of “baby killer” suffered by Viet Nam veterans.  Even those same veterans are treated much differently today than they were in the 1960s and 1970s and have taken their place of honor with all American war veterans.


Historical Evidence

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Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War.

  • Matt

    One of my uncles fled to Canada to avoid being sent to Vietnam.

  • Sean Cooper

    I remember reading in a book about how Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors, took an assortment of drugs to raise his blood pressure and claimed he had homosexual thoughts just so he wouldn’t pass the physical and mental screening when he was drafted. I think that if the application process to be pardon wasn’t set up to be so difficult less controversy would of occurred. I understand that soldiers were needed to fight in the Vietnam War but if someone goes against their will then they might not serve much of a purpose anyway. It seemed that more effort was spent on punishing those who didn’t want to enlist rather then ending the war itself.

  • Bricker

    My father in law proudly served in Vietnam even though I found this war not to accomplish vey much. Communism is still a threat in Vietnam and the leaders in North Vietnam are still a threat to us as a society. I do feel that you are called to serve, you should. Dodging the draft can show a bit of cowardice and as proud Americans, we need to defend our honor and dignity. The reason why America is the free country it is today is because we have many brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us every single day. I am proud to be an American and would not want to live any where else.

  • Jonathan Potirakis

    I did not know much about Jimmy Carter when he was president and deffinately did not know that he pardoned draft dodgers. I knew that back in that time of era many people did do alot of things to get out of serving in the military.

  • Spencer NW.

    Both of my grandfathers fought in Vietnam, and neither of them ever questioned they were there. They just did their jobs.

  • LH

    My Grandfather fought in the Korean war and was going to re-enlist to fight in the Vietnam war but my Grandma convinced him otherwise because they were going to have a baby. I had to interview my Grandparents about life in the 1960’s for a different history class that I took and it was very eye opening in regards to the anti-war movement. We didn’t talk much about Jimmy Carter. I wish I had gotten their opinions on Carter pardoning draft dodgers. I’ll have to ask them about the pardons next time I see them!

  • kferencik

    I had family members that served in the war. I found that they where proud to have served our country but had conflicting feeling about it. But they also had a few choice words for those who had fled their obligations to serve. I think that Carter was trying to put the past in the past so we could move forward.

  • Kristy A.

    My grandfather served in the navy in the Vietnam war. He joined willingly and never questioned his duty. The military is a calling and one of honor. I can’t imagine being forced into it… I can’t imagine one of my loved ones being forced into it, so I can see how some would try to dodge the draft. It doesn’t make it right but I can understand.

  • Todd E.

    I don’t have any personal family members that serve or served in any war. Truly I’m against war, hated everything about it, but I wouldn’t run if I got pulled to go.

  • Kristen M

    I also don’t have any close family members that have fought in a war. My grandpa, for religious reasons, worked in a hospital during the 1960s as an alternative to fighting. I do believe that if your country calls you to serve you should do so in some way. I am grateful for those who have served our country.

  • Kristin Schlabach

    I don’t have any family members that have served in a war. Alot of my family is against war. I do have a cousin that recently joined the army and is in basic training right now. Personally, I don’t like war or the thought of so many people dying. But I also know that without those who fought for our freedom, our country would not be what it is today. I am extremely grateful to everyone who has ever fought for our country.

  • Del Mouse

    This article is great!

  • JW

    While I don’t agree with the idea of pardoning those that dodged the draft. In the case of what President Carter did, I think it was the best decision to put the country’s focus off of Vietnam and towards fixing the domestic issues at home. Carter was trying to Put the country in a different state

  • Ashton Miller

    I personally don’t have any family members that served or are currently serving in the war. While I don’t like war, but then again who does? I do think sometimes it is necessary and I respect anyone who has sacrificed for this Country. But I don’t think forcing someone against their will to fight is right either.

  • B Russo

    I have friends and family that have served for our country and I believe it is not right to force someone to participate in a war. Especially if the individual does not believe they need to. If this is truly a free country the individual should have the choice to participate in something of this magnitude.

  • Christopher J. Jesty

    I an pro for this movement. Carter was accused of many controversies, when he was revolutionizing the countries aftermath of the war.

  • Zachary Bailey

    Just as the other comments, my grandpa served almost 7 years in Vietnam, in the Rangers unit of the United states army. Most of the men back then found it no problem to head over sees, many tried to escape the draft, many of those attempts failed.

  • Amber Moore

    I actually think it was a great idea to make draft dodgers apply for pardons individually. It made them admit that they did something wrong instead of keeping it a secret. Good move by Carter.

  • Diana N

    By making draft dodgers apply for a pardon individually, Carter made them admit they committed a crime by dodging the draft, which was a crime at the time. I wonder how many people didn’t apply.

  • Meghan R

    I honestly don’t think there would be a way to please everyone. I think the point of a draft is that it should not be dodged without good reason.

  • Danielle

    I agree that men should’ve had to apply for a pardon. Nothing that anyone does is ever going to please everyone.

  • Raquel F

    I couldn’t imagine living a life running and hiding to dodge the draft.

  • MB

    All of my uncles and grandpas served in the war. They did not complain, they fought for our country and our freedom.

  • Emmaline K

    I didn’t realize that some draft dodgers went to Canada or other countries. I just assumed it was an unavoidable ‘duty’.

  • Amber Pope

    I can understand why people would not want to be drafted, but that doesn’t mean it is right to dodge it. The draft was put into place for a reason and purposefully avoiding it is not right. That being said, I think Carter did right by not having a blanket pardon. He is still accepting that the dodgers will not receive a penalty, but he is also making sure that they hold themselves accountable.

  • Brett Nagy

    I heard about people dodging the draft. I never realized how big of a deal it actually was.

  • Sabrina Peelman

    I understand why you wouldn’t want to go to war but sometimes you just gotta.

  • Brandon

    I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to go to war

  • Melody Ortiz

    I dont have any one in my family that has served the army. i honestly think many people are against war but it would have to be really hard to hide and run away from being drafted. Also did not know it was a huge issue with dodging the draft.