Ford Offers Clemency to Draft Evaders

Ford Offers Clemency to Draft Evaders

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On September 16, 1974, President Gerald Ford signed a proclamation that would offer Vietnam War draft evaders the chance to earn clemency by performing alternative service for their country. In a speech to the American people, Ford defends his decision as one that's best for the nation.

>From Vietnam to New Orleans, he’s no stranger to catastrophe

Posted by dmacc502 on August 18, 2010

On the sea, it doesn’t matter that Kha Van Nguyen knows few phrases of English. On his 92-foot boat he is Captain Nguyen, a man who understands the subtle clues of the wind and water.

He doesn’t dwell on the backaches that remind him he’s no longer a young man. He dreams of discovering a huge school of shrimp so he can shout to his deckhands, Chien thang! Victory!

But on shore, the 61-year-old Nguyen is restless, ill at ease. That’s how he has felt since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April and oil began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, forcing him to dock his boat.

Like many Vietnamese who live along the Gulf Coast, Nguyen is no stranger to catastrophe. He survived the Vietnam War , fled his homeland and started life anew in New Orleans, only to see Hurricane Katrina in 2005 flood his house and destroy his boat.

With every turn, the ocean welcomed him back, allowed him to make his own rules and reinvent himself. But this time feels different.

The long-term effects of the oil spill remain unknown, even if the flow has been halted. And though some Vietnamese refugees transitioned to jobs on land, others always have made their living at sea, whether those waters lapped against the shores of Vietnam or Louisiana.

“For the majority of Vietnamese who chose this path in life, this is all we know how to do to survive,” Nguyen said in Vietnamese. “Outside this, we don’t have any other experience. The future looks very dark.”


An estimated one-third to a half of the fishermen in the gulf are Vietnamese, living in clusters from Palacios, Texas, to Gulf Shores, Ala.

If Orange County’s Little Saigon — with its restaurants, jewelry stores and doctor’s offices — conjures up images of the cosmopolitan former capital of Vietnam, Nguyen’s community in New Orleans is like Vung Tau, the rustic coastal village where he grew up.

Nguyen fondly calls this area lang , a word describing Vietnam’s rural parishes. About 5,000 Vietnamese live in the 2-square-mile area surrounding the Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church. On Saturdays, people hawk bitter melon, Thai basil and water spinach grown in their backyards at a neighborhood street market. Like villages in Vietnam, everyone seems to know everyone.

Nguyen learned to catch shrimp using bamboo traps in the murky waters along Vietnam’s southern coast from his father, who learned from his father. As a teenager, Nguyen studied how the moon shaped the waves that shaped the path of the shrimp.

After the 1975 fall of Saigon, Nguyen escaped by sea, captaining a fishing boat carrying his pregnant wife, young daughter and dozens of family members. An American vessel rescued the boat and brought the passengers to Guam.

The family made its way to a refugee camp in Arkansas — where a second child was born — and then to Port Arthur on the Texas coast, where Nguyen, then 26, began working as a janitor and truck driver for a lumber company.

“I didn’t feel it was my full potential,” he said. “I wanted to do something where I could fly, jump, yell, stretch myself.”

Nguyen found a gig as a deckhand for a shrimper, who was impressed with his knowledge of the sea. His wages were nearly 10 times what he made with the lumber company.

“I felt like I could choose my own future,” he said. “It didn’t matter that I didn’t know much English or that I didn’t go to school. The money would come. All I needed were my two hands.”

Nguyen moved his family to New Orleans after visiting an uncle there. He liked the swampy climate that was a reminder of Vietnam’s tropical heat and bought his first boat, a 30-footer, purchased with the help of donations from friends and family.

Nguyen loved watching the sun creep up on the face of the ocean. He found trawling shrimp in the gulf much easier than off Vung Tau, where fishermen relied on their memory of the position of three tall mountains instead of radar systems.


Word of the opportunities in the gulf spread among refugees, and, in time, thousands of Vietnamese fishermen and shrimpers — many who lived in the same fishing villages in Vietnam and whose fathers and grandfathers were also fishermen — moved to its bayous.

Nguyen spent most of this time at sea or with other Vietnamese fishermen. The life allowed him to raise nine children and help two of them buy houses, neat brick homes right next to his.

Nguyen relied on his eldest daughter to be the interpreter when he negotiated with shrimp vendors. Over the years, Anh, now 37, also helped her father with bookkeeping and picking up equipment.

“Growing up, I saw how hard this profession was for him,” she said. “But he has a passion for it. He talks about it all the time. He understands the sea. He feels it.”

So when the oil spill hit, Nguyen was one of thousands of Vietnamese fishermen who did not know where to turn. Many learned after the fact that BP had hired vessels to help scoop up or burn off oil. He found it difficult to understand company documents in English.

BP initially did not hire many Vietnamese translators to help with hiring or the filing of claims, but since then the company has conducted town halls and opened offices staffed with Vietnamese.

On a recent weekday, Nguyen and about 300 other Vietnamese attended a community meeting with BP officials and other agencies at a New Orleans Asian buffet restaurant.

Nguyen went around the room shaking hands with his fishing buddies. There was Khoa Nguyen, a crabber for 27 years, who worried that it could be years before shrimp and fish return to the contaminated gulf waters. There was Chinh Nguyen, a tuna fisher for 20 years, who is thinking of selling his boat but doesn’t know whether he can.

Experts disagree on the long-term effects on sea life from the crude and dispersants in the gulf, and many say the effect may not be known for years.

On an index card for the question-and-answer session, Nguyen wrote in Vietnamese: “If the situation continues for three to five to 10 years, what can we do for our future?”

An official’s answer was repeated in Vietnamese: If the $20-billion BP claims fund is used up, there is the possibility that more money would be committed. Continue filling out forms, she said, and keep abreast of developments.

Nguyen left the meeting unsatisfied. Yes, he could fill out forms, but when could he go back on the water? What if he can’t make as good a living anymore? He’d heard murmurs that Louisiana waters were slowly being opened for shrimping, but he figured it wasn’t a good bet to spend thousands of dollars getting his boat ready if the catch wasn’t guaranteed.

He returned home and finished reading a Vietnamese-language newspaper. He watched Vietnamese-language satellite TV with his wife in the living room, where he had installed shiny new tiles and decorated one wall with large statues of the Virgin Mary after Hurricane Katrina.

He’s been watching a lot of TV lately. There’s not much else to do. Over the winter, he’d already finished fixing the backyard fence and repairing the kitchen cabinets, anticipating he would be out shrimping this summer.

Now, he sometimes finds himself wishing grass grew faster so he could mow it again and have something to do.

As his friends have gotten older, Nguyen said, he saw many of them len bo , or climb onto shore, especially after Katrina. That is how Nguyen describes abandoning a career in the ocean. He suspects many more will now follow.

Nguyen wonders whether he should do the same. After more than three decades of reeling in heavy nets and hauling hundreds of pounds of shrimp, his muscles are weaker and the pain in his spine will not go away. He spends a few days a week at a chiropractor.

He misses his wife on trawling excursions, which can stretch for two weeks, and it’s been harder to turn a profit with the price of shrimp falling and the cost of fuel rising. Two sons work for him, and he worries that their future in the ocean seems less bright.

But good luck hasn’t followed him on land. Nine years ago, he invested in a Vietnamese market for his two eldest children to run, but it wasn’t profitable. After Katrina destroyed his boat, he became a part-time furniture salesman but didn’t enjoy working for someone else.

So, as he sits at home, he still dreams of being back on the water, of being Captain Nguyen.

Gerald R. Ford

interesting facts
In Ford's two and one half years as president, his greatest challenge was to deal with the country's severe recession. By late 1975 his cautious policies to limit spending and control inflation seemed to be bringing steady improvement to the economy.

"I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts. "

Gerald Rudolph Ford was born on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Neb., to Leslie Lynch King, a wool trader, and Dorothy Gardner King. He was named for his father. When the child was less than two years old, his parents were divorced. His mother took him to Grand Rapids, where her parents were living. In 1916 Mrs. King married Gerald R. Ford, who adopted her child and gave him his name. Three sons were born to the Fords--Thomas, Richard, and James. King also remarried and a son and two daughters were born to this marriage. They were named Leslie Henry, Marjorie, and Patricia. King died in 1941, and Mrs. Ford died in 1967, five years after her husband died.

On his mother's side, Ford traced his American ancestry to Ezra Chase, who was born in Massachusetts in 1717. The president's grandfather on the King side was Charles Henry King, a prosperous wool merchant whose business interests were in Wyoming.

Gerald Ford, Sr., who had a reputation for integrity, hard work, and community involvement, instilled his values in young Gerald. His mother taught him to be even-tempered. The depression years were not easy for the family. The stock market crash of 1929 almost wiped out Ford's paint and varnish company. As a high school student, Jerry Ford waited on tables and washed dishes at a restaurant to earn money.

At South High School, he won all-city and all-state honors in football. At the University of Michigan, Ford was a center on Michigan's undefeated championship football teams of 1932 and 1933. He was voted the team's most valuable player in 1934, and in 1935 he was selected as a College All-Star. When Ford graduated with a liberal arts degree in 1935, he refused offers from the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions to play professional football. He decided instead to coach football and boxing at Yale University. Ford coached at Yale from 1935 to 1940. In 1938 he began to take law courses, and he was in the top third of his class when he received his degree from Yale Law School in 1941.

A natural athlete, Ford kept up his interest in sports and fitness. Past the age of 60 he still liked to swim daily and he skied, golfed, and played tennis.

Ford was admitted to the bar in 1941 and practiced law for a short time before joining the United States Navy in April 1942. He served for 47 months, 18 of them as an aviation operations officer aboard the light aircraft carrier USS Monterey.

When his naval service ended, Ford had the rank of lieutenant commander. He returned to Grand Rapids and his law practice but he was interested in politics. His wartime experience made him think more about the role of the United States in the world.

Michigan's senior United States senator, Arthur Vandenberg of Grand Rapids, had forsaken his longtime isolationism to become an outstanding spokesman for internationalism. In 1948 he encouraged Ford to run against the isolationist Bartel Jonkman, of the Fifth Congressional District. Ford won the primary election by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. He went on to defeat his Democratic opponent with 74,191 votes against 46,972. In 12 subsequent elections, Ford carried his district with at least 60 percent of the vote.

The Grand Rapids Junior Chamber of Commerce gave Ford its Distinguished Service Award in 1948. In 1949 the United States Junior Chamber of commerce cited him as one of ten outstanding young Americans.

Through friends Ford met Elizabeth (Betty) Bloomer Warren, a fashion coordinator for a Grand Rapids department store. She was born in Chicago, Ill., April 8, 1918, but she lived most of her life in Grand Rapids. She had modeled clothes for a living and had studied dance in New York City for a time with Martha Graham. A five-year marriage had ended in divorce. She and Ford were married on Oct. 15, 1948. They had three sons and a daughter-- Michael Gerald, born 1950 John Gardner, born 1952 Steven Meigs, born 1956 and Susan Elizabeth, born 1957.

Ford often said that his ambition was to become speaker of the House but in 1973 it was unlikely that Republicans would soon be controlling the House. Ford was thinking about ending his political career in 1976 and returning, perhaps, to law practice but then came the call to the vice-presidency.

Gerald Ford was sworn in as 40th vice-president of the United States in the chamber of the House that he loved so well. A joint session of Congress was convened for the occasion. During his eight months in that post, Ford flew more than 100,000 miles and made more than 500 appearances to rally his party. The Republicans were in large part agonized, along with other Americans, by the scandals known collectively as Watergate. Former Nixon aides and associates were being indicted, tried, and sentenced to prison terms. Nixon was resisting subpoenas for evidence, and the House of Representatives was weighing impeachment. Ford supported Nixon, but he also urged him to cooperate with the special Watergate prosecutor.

In President Nixon's resignation speech, he said that the leadership of the country would be in good hands with Ford. On the following day, as Nixon's letter of resignation was delivered to the secretary of state, Ford became president. Shortly afterward, he took the oath of office administered by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger of the United States Supreme Court. Members of the Nixon Cabinet and congressional leaders attended the ceremony in the East Room of the White House, where Nixon had said farewell to friends and staff that morning.

In a brief address, President Ford called on the country to bind up the wounds of Watergate. "Our long national nightmare is over," he said. "Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men." He promised to follow his instincts of openness and candor. His voice broke as he said, "May our former president who brought peace to millions find it for himself."

As President, Ford tried to calm earlier controversies by granting former President Nixon a full pardon. His nominee for Vice President, former Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, was the second person to fill that office by appointment. Gradually, Ford selected a cabinet of his own.

Ford established his policies during his first year in office, despite opposition from a heavily Democratic Congress. His first goal was to curb inflation. Then, when recession became the Nation's most serious domestic problem, he shifted to measures aimed at stimulating the economy. But, still fearing inflation, Ford vetoed a number of non-military appropriations bills that would have further increased the already heavy budgetary deficit. During his first 14 months as President he vetoed 39 measures. His vetoes were usually sustained.

Ford continued as he had in his Congressional days to view himself as "a moderate in domestic affairs, a conservative in fiscal affairs, and a dyed-in-the-wool internationalist in foreign affairs." A major goal was to help business operate more freely by reducing taxes upon it and easing the controls exercised by regulatory agencies. "We. declared our independence 200 years ago, and we are not about to lose it now to paper shufflers and computers," he said.

In foreign affairs Ford acted vigorously to maintain U. S. power and prestige after the collapse of Cambodia and South Viet Nam. Preventing a new war in the Middle East remained a major objective by providing aid to both Israel and Egypt, the Ford Administration helped persuade the two countries to accept an interim truce agreement. Detente with the Soviet Union continued. President Ford and Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev set new limitations upon nuclear weapons.

President Ford won the Republican nomination for the Presidency in 1976, but lost the election to his Democratic opponent, former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia.

On Inauguration Day, President Carter began his speech: "For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land." A grateful people concurred.

cabinet and supreme court of ford

Ford assumes presidency after Nixon's resignation (1974).

Offers limited clemency to Vietnam draft evaders and deserters (1974).

full pardon to Nixon to explain action, becomes first sitting
president to testify before Congressional committee (1974).

Federal campaign-financing law to limit contributions passed (1974).

Remaining Americans airlifted out of Vietnam as war ends (1975).

United States merchant ship Mayaguez seized by Cambodia (1975).

United States-Soviet spacecraft link up (1975).

Two armed assassination attempts on president fail (1975).

1965 Voting Rights Act extended for seven years and expanded to cover language minorities (1975).

Federal loan program bails out New York City (1975).

Supreme Court upholds death penalty (1976).

United States celebrates bicentennial (1976).

Vice-President. Nelson A. Rockefeller (1974-77, appointed by the president).

Secretary of State. Henry Kissinger (1974-77).

Secretary of the Treasury. William E. Simon (1974-77).

Secretaries of Defense. James R. Schlesinger (1974) Donald H. Rumsfeld (1975-77).

Attorneys General. William B. Saxbe (1974-75) Edward H. Levi (1975-77).

Secretaries of the Interior. Rogers C.B. Morton (1974-75) Stanley K. Hathaway (1975) Thomas S. Kleppe (1975-77).

Secretaries of Agriculture. Earl L. Butz (1974-76) John A. Knebel (1976-77).

Secretaries of Commerce. Frederick B. Dent (1974-75) Rogers C.B. Morton (1975) Elliot L. Richardson (1975-77).

Secretaries of Labor. Peter J. Brennan (1974-75) John T. Dunlop (1975-76) W.J. Usery, Jr. (1976-77).

Secretaries of Health, Education, and Welfare. Caspar W. Weinberger (1974-75) F. David Matthews (1975-77).

Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development. James T. Lynn (1974-75) Carla A. Hills (1975-77).

Secretaries of Transportation. Claude S. Brinegar (1974-75) William T. Coleman, Jr. (1975-77).

Gerald Ford and forgiveness

There aren't many political obituaries that begin with a transcendent act of forgiveness, as former President Gerald Ford's did. It's not usually a crowd-pleaser, as Ford discovered in September of 1974. That's when Ford pardoned a disgraced Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed as president.

Americans weren't in a forgiving mood then. One of Ford's aides later wrote that the president was shocked by the incensed public reaction to the pardon. That one act likely ended Ford's hopes to be elected president in his own right in 1976.

Ford had 32 years to think about it. And so have we all.

This is treacherous terrain, and not just for politicians. Vengeance is the emotion of the moment, the one that burns brightly and demands action.

Forgiveness is much harder, even if the biblical texts and self-help books urge it. It doesn't come naturally to many, particularly if the transgression is as egregious as a president who knowingly and flagrantly broke the law.

Nor did Ford help matters with the odd timing of the pardon, an unexpected announcement on a Sunday morning. (This page was alarmed enough to declare that the surprise announcement "left a sour smell all too reminiscent of Mr. Nixon's handling of Watergate.")

Ford said he pardoned Nixon about a month after Nixon's resignation to help the nation move beyond the Watergate scandal. He said Nixon had suffered enough humiliation. But Ford suddenly found himself transformed from the likable Everyman who still made his own breakfast in the White House to a central figure in a sinister conspiracy theory over the possibility of a secret pardon deal.

Even three decades later, it's easy to recall the intense outrage many felt that Nixon had skated free of criminal prosecution.

But time wears away the sharp edges and brings perspective.

And what remains is this: Ford's instinct to forgive and move on was correct, just as he was right to offer a clemency program for Vietnam-era draft evaders and deserters that required them to do public service.

The pardon spared Nixon, but it also spared the country. There was no secret deal. Just Ford's unerring impulse.

Polls show that the majority of Americans now agree with Ford's pardon decision. In 2001, he won a John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for making that tough decision. In his acceptance speech, he said he was "profoundly grateful" for the recognition.

In the first flash of anger, forgiveness can seem impossible, even somehow inhuman. But remember the reaction of the Amish community in Pennsylvania when a gunman killed several girls in a schoolhouse earlier this year? They not only spoke of forgiveness. They invited the gunman's widow to a victim's funeral and set up a college fund for the gunman's three children.

That wouldn't be everyone's choice. Maybe not even most. But it's something to marvel at--even celebrate--because it is so hard.


PURPOSE: To provide information which will be needed to respond to inquiries concerning the Presidential pardon or a Clemency Discharge for Vietnam-era draft evaders and military deserters.

CITATIONS: A proclamation issued by President Gerald R. Ford on September 16, 1974, announcing a "Program for the Return of Vietnam Era Draft Evaders and Military Deserters."

PERTINENT HISTORY: This program Policy Directive reflects a Presidential order establishing a Clemency Program to enable citizens who were convicted of violations of the Military Selective Service Act or the Uniform Code of Military Justice in the Vietnam era to resume a normal life within their community and country. The Clemency Discharge which is issued under the Clemency Program is a neutral discharge, issued neither under "honorable conditions" nor under "other than honorable conditions." Such a discharge does not entitle an individual recipient to veterans' benefits although application therefor is not precluded.

A Presidential pardon indicates all government offices and officials the President's intent that they do not consider pardoned offenses in deciding questions involving rights of the pardon recipient, thus removing most legal disabilities of an offense. It also restores Federal civil rights which have been lost because of a conviction, for example, the right to vote and hold Federal office.

POLICY DIRECTIVE STATEMENT: Since the above provisions relate only to Vietnam-era offenses, they have no bearing on World War II gratuitous wage credits on which the character of the discharge has a bearing. Moreover, the 1972 Social Security Amendments provide that members of the uniformed service will receive credit for noncontributory deemed military wages in the amount of $300 per quarter for any calendar quarter after December 1956 in which they receive basic pay in any amount for active military service including active duty and active duty for training. Section 229(a) of the Social Security Act authorizes noncontributory deemed military wages to be credited, in addition to the amount of basic pay, for active duty and active duty for training after 1956.

Since the character of the discharge has no bearing on the creditability of military service under these provisions, entitlement or eligibility to retirement and survivors insurance, and disability insurance would in no way be affected by either the Presidential pardon or the Clemency Discharge. (The creditability of military service does not directly affect supplemental security income benefits in any event.)

New Vietnam Clemency Proposal Emulates Carter's

Two errors in The Washington Post's account last Sunday of a report on amnesty for Vietnam-era offenders distorted the report's import. Lawrence Baskir and William Strauss, who wrote the report under the sponsorship of Notre Dame University, recommended that all draft and other non-violent offenders should be pardoned, and that all military deserters and other offenders should be given general discharges except for about 35,000 borderline cases that could be reviewed individually. The program thereby offers general discharges to about 200,000 offenders who - under the pardon outlined by President-elect Jimmy Carter during his campaign - would only have their cases reviewed on an individual basis. It is not known whether Carter has altered his thinking on the pardon, which he is to announce in his first week in office. The Post account also was incorrect in challenging the completeness of the report's list of amnesties in U.S. history.

With President Ford and President-elect Jimmy Carter each considering providing some form of pardon for Vietnam era offenders, a report issued yesterday urged a program similar to the one Carter outlined during his campaign.

The report was written by two of the top staff officials from Ford's Clemency Board.

Civilians convicted of dodging the draft should be pardoned and those charged with draft offenses should have their charges dismissed, Lawrence M. Baskir and William A. Strauss write in their report, "Reconciliation After Vietnam."

Deserters and men with undesirable discharges would be eligible to have their cases reviewed and qualify for general discharges instead, under the 150-page report's program.

Carter made the same distinction in his campaign, promising a blanket pardon for draft evaders and case-by-case consideration for deserters. He has not made public his views on men with bad discharges, which render many of them unemployable.

Carter's adviser, Charles Kirbo, was given a draft of the report.

The amnesty movement believes all those suffering for offenses related to the Vietnam war should be pardoned.

Leaders of the amnesty movement argue that the distinction between draft offensers and those who served before getting into trouble is also inevitably, a distinction between classes and races.

Draft resisters, as a group, are white, well educated, and affluent.

The Rev. Barry Lynn of the United Church of Christ has been a leading proponent of total, unconditional amnesty.

Lynn pointed out yesterday that the Baskir-Strauss report notes in one place that a general discharge, like other less-than-honorable discharges, is crippling to a man's chances of finding a job. Yet the report says general discharges should be the relief offered those with undesirable discharges and recommends that men already holding general discharges should get no relief.

Lynn cited a 1968 court decision that found: "Since the vast majority of discharges from the armed forces are honorable, the issuance of any other type of discharges stigmatizes the ex-serviceman. It robs him of his good name and it injures his economic and social potential as a member of the general community."

The report, which was supported by Notre Dame University, its president, the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, and a grant from the Ford Foundation, avoids any judgment on the rightness or wrongness of the Vietnam war.

It argues that using amnesty as a symbol to express a view of the war is to overlook the fact that "Vietnam-era offenders are real people with real problems."

Lynn countered: "The need for amnesty is intimately related to the whole discredited Vietnam war and the abuse of the military discharge system that took the place during that war."

The Baskir-Strauss report, however, offers much more sweeping relief than did Ford's 1974 clemency program.

The authors make several, somewhat contradictory, references to the Ford program on which they also worked. At one point they write that "its overall effect was negligible." At another, they rank it "among the most generous pardon or amnesty programs of any American President."

Their list of amnesties in an appendix does not include the most sweeping - President Andrew Johnson's Oct. 17, 1865, blanker amnesty to all Union Army deserters and draft evaders.

Hesburgh, in a foreword, and the authors also refer to the Ford program as a first step. About 21,800 people applied to that program.

Baskir and Strauss write that the program they now recommend could benefit more than 500,00 people.

By far the largest groups of beneficiaries (based on figures used by groups advocating total amnesty) would be the men with bad discharges and about 250,000 who committed the offense of never registering for the draft.

It is generally agreed that those in the latter category stand little risk of being prosecuted in today's climate.

It is still not known what Carter or Ford will announce this month. But the step from the Ford clemency program to the program recommended by Baskir and Strauss indicates there may be as many steps short of total Vietnam amnesty as there seemed to be during the Nixon administration short of total withdrawal from Vietnam.

Gerald Ford’s Clemency Board: Revisited and Reassessed

Intended mainly as a vehicle for rehabilitating draft evaders after the Vietnam War, the Presidential Clemency Board (“PCB”) was largely an orphan of the Ford presidency. Created in the wake of the Nixon pardon as an unpopular compromise between those who opposed any sort of clemency and those who urged a general amnesty, the PCB was plagued by attacks from both the right and the left, internal dissent, and numerous administrative difficulties. Little has been written about the PCB in the four decades since it concluded its work, and those historians who have evaluated it have reached the conclusion that it was largely unsuccessful. Using recently-available records and notes of Ford’s advisors and PCB participants, this thesis will demonstrate that while the PCB did little to accomplish its stated goal of “healing the nation” and was boycotted by the draft evaders who were its primary intended beneficiaries, it was nonetheless a bureaucratic achievement of some note and an incidental success for its least important beneficiaries, common soldiers who had been cast aside by American society.

Background: Draft Evasion

Conscription was used by the United States in the Civil War and World War I. In 1940, Congress introduced America&rsquos first peacetime draft. In 1948, Congress passed a new Selective Service Act that made all men age 18-26 eligible for the draft the draft was employed every year between 1948 and 1973.

Draft order was originally determined by age the oldest men would be drafted first. This was changed in 1969, during the height of the Vietnam War, to a draft lottery that established the order by a random selection of birthdates.

According to the Selective Service System, 1.8 million men were drafted into the military between August 1964 and February 1973, though only a portion actually saw combat action in Vietnam.

Nearly 210,000 men were charged with evading the draft, while hundreds of thousands suspected dodgers were never officially charged. Many men managed to avoid service through legal means. They could receive deferments as students or conscientious objectors, enter the National Guard, Coast Guard or other military institutions that were not likely to deploy troops to Vietnam, or be excused from service due to health reasons or homosexuality.

Others used strictly illegal means, such as burning draft cards, refusing to appear for induction or forging documents. Between 30,000 and 50,000 fled the country, according to the Oxford Companion to American Military History.

As the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular, draft evasion became more common. Writing in the Guardian in 1966, Richard Scott reported, &ldquoWhile attempts to escape the call-up or draft have been made on a small scale in all wars the extent and deviousness of the present draft-dodging is unparalleled and it is today socially acceptable as it never was in the past.&rdquo

President Nixon abolished the draft in 1973. Young men must still register with the Selective Service System in case the draft is reinstated, but it is unlikely that it will be in the foreseeable future.

Amnesty Plan Ends With Few Signed Up

WASHINGTON, March 31 —President Ford's conditional clemency program for military deserters and draft evaders during the Vietnam war ended today after a controversial six months.

Only a fraction of those eligible for relief under the program have applied for it. Of those who have completed the application process and been given the terms for clemency, a large number are not accepting the conditions. Of those who have accepted them, only one‐third are working in alternative service jobs.

As the program ended, only about 22,500 of 126,900 eligible to apply had signed up.

Former Senator Charles E. Goodell of New York, the chairman of the Presidential Clemency Board, said he considered the program “reasonably successful.” However, he said that he would have liked to have seen the program extended but that the President had said that was not possible.

Nevertheless, Mr. Goodell said that he had asked Mr. Ford to expand the board from nine to 18 members to speed the processing of applications on hand.

“I am not prepared to say the program has been a suc‐ cess,” said Vernon F. Jordan Jr. executive director of the National Urban League. Mr. Jordan is a member of the board, one of the three sections of the project.

“It has been a success for those who took advantage of it,” he said. “But in terms of benefit to the country, it could only be called a success if it reached 50 per cent of the people it was set up to serve.”

Last September, shortly after he took office, President Ford announced his program of conditional amnesty, which he said he hoped would allow draft evaders and war resisters to “work their way back” to full citizenship.

The program was split into three segments for the categories of people to be served: 110,000 persons who were convicted of military desertion or draft evasion could apply to the Presidential Clemency Board, negotiate terms of clemency and receive a Presidential pardon and a clemency discharge after a period of alternative service.

The 4,400 persons charged with civilian draft evasion could get in touch with their local United States Attorney and negotiate pending charges in return for alternative service.

The 12,500 military personnel charted with being absent without official leave or desertion could accept a dishonorable discharge and leave the military, or if they wanted a clemency discharge, they could obtain one by applying for alternative service.

Applications for the various programs were to be accepted up, to last Jan. 31, and all would be processed by September.

All clemency work has to be completed by that time, according to Mr. Goodell, because the undertaking is being financed by money from an “unanticipated needs fund.” Any such program that runs longer than a year must go to Congress for a spending authorization, he said.

But by the end of January, only about 1 per cent of those eligible to participate had applied. The board asked for and received a one‐month extension.

It spent that month on an extensive public relations campaign, and applications went up sharply. It asked for and received a second extension The President said it would be the final one.

In the first wave of cases completed last December, 45 men were referred to the Selective Service System, which must find alternative service civilian jobs for the men. Only 18 of the 45 ever registered for service, indicating that most in this group were not accepting the terms of their clemency.

About 5,300 of the 12,500 men charged with military crimes have been given undesirable discharges. Of these, 4,150 signed up for alternative service. Then 651 declined to participate and have been terminated, ending their chances for clemency.

Of those under Justice Department jurisdiction, 603 of 4,400 eligibles have negotiated terms for alternative service, and most are registered with Selective Service, working or waiting for work.

Several explanations have been offered to explain the low level of participation in most of the programs.

“Those who were eligible for the clemency program do not, for the most part, have any faith in the Government's sense of fairness and justice,” Mr. Jordan said. ‐

Some of those suspicions have been reinforced by the rules governing alternative service.

At the beginning of the program, the regulations required. that state selective Service directors place men In approved jobs within 30 days of the day they enroll at local Selective Service offices. If no job could be found, the applicant's alternative service time began at that 30‐day point.

The declining economy has made jobs scarce. One hundred and forty men of 1,355 placed have been laid off. In January, Selective Service changed the regulation to state that alternative service time does not start until the person is actually employed.

Most of those under Justice Department jurisdiction have left the country, “and a good’ number have made themselves another life and feel they don't want to trade it,” said Kevinl T. Maroney, Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division.

Henry Schwaizchild, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Project Amnesty, has another assessment he calls the program “a consumer fraud.” ‘

He said that men who had received administrative undesirable discharges did not need a Presidential pardon because they had never been convicted of a crime.

Mr. Jordan, however, said this was not true. He said it often made the difference between a man's being able to join a union and get a job or being forever excluded.

Watch the video: President Gerald Ford - Address on Energy Policy


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