Whenever our UPS driver drops off a package, he beeps his horn before he leaves his truck to bring the package to the door. Not after. Before. Two short beeps. Beep beep. He and I have a relationship. He knows that if I am home I will come to the door and we will have a brief conversation. The man cares. He knows what I’ve been through and he pays attention. In his own way, President Jimmy Carter did that as well with Vietnam War draft dodgers. Read on to find out how and why.
Many people do not know that the U.S. Constitution grants the President virtually unlimited power to grant pardons. Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 states: “The President…shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” By virtue of the Constitution, this power is one of the least limited of all the powers of the office of President. If the President wants to grant someone a pardon, the President can grant someone a pardon.
Just to be clear, a pardon is not the same thing as a reprieve. A reprieve is the commutation or lessening of a sentence already imposed that does not affect the legal guilt of a person. The person is still guilty as determined in a court of law. A pardon, however, completely wipes out the legal effects of a conviction. A pardon can be issued from the time an offense is committed, and can even be issued after the full sentence has been served. It cannot, however, be granted before an offense has been committed, which would give the President the power to waive the laws.
The power to pardon was granted, as it was being drafted and ratified, after Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, elected to the Continental Congress (1777-78), proposed that U.S. Presidents be granted the same power to pardon as British monarchs. There was debate, of course, but, in the end, it was approved. The point? As Alexander Hamilton, another “founding father” of the United States, wrote in The Federalist No. 74, the point was to grant the chief executive the power to mitigate the harsh justice of the criminal code with “the benign power of pardoning”.
It may surprise you to learn that virtually every U.S. President has exercised this power and that there have been approximately 20,000 pardons or clemencies issued during the 20th century alone. A petition is made and Presidents have to mindfully decide what to do. It is their power to wipe the slate clean, in a least one sense of the word, and they have to do so for their own good reasons. That means they have to pay attention to the details and weigh the merits of every case. They have to pay attention.
One of the most controversial of all presidential pardon was the one issued by President Jimmy Carter on January 21, 1977 to Vietnam War draft dodgers who escaped to Canada. And he issued it the day after his inauguration. In reflecting on his Presidency, he described that act as one of the most controversial things he ever did as President. But he knew where he stood. He was paying attention. And he acted accordingly.
He felt so strongly about the issue that he issued the pardon before he ever began to walk down toward the Oval Office. “I knew I was going to do it,” he noted in his memoirs. “A lot of people were families of those men who went to Canada and they wanted (their sons) to come back home. So I just issued a blanket pardon for them. I got some criticism, obviously, because a lot of folks thought the draft dodgers should be executed for treason and so forth.” But that was not the way of his mind.
His pardon was no small deal. An estimated 210,000 men were accused of draft violations during the Vietnam War, and about 25,000 of them were indicted. Many never registered for the draft at all. Tens of thousands of Americans left the country during the Vietnam War, most of them to Canada, although no one knows the exact number — Canadian officials didn’t ask immigrants about their draft status or keep records. Others fled to Mexico, or Sweden, or went underground in the United States. Some left after their draft numbers came up, some preempted the draft and left, and still others were students exempt from the draft but who left as a symbol of opposition to the war.
The pardon meant that the United States could not prosecute those who hadn’t registered or those who had unlawfully resisted the draft. However, the government did not pardon those who had deserted or been dishonorably discharged, or protesters who had engaged in any violence. Carter’s pardon was criticized from both directions. Many people, including veterans’ groups, were dismayed that draft dodgers wouldn’t be fully punished. Civil liberties groups wanted to see deserters given full reprieve.
Despite the pardon, thousands of draft dodgers remained in Canada. They went on to become architects, lawyers, musicians, professors, reporters, and even officials in the Canadian government. In the 1970s, a senior aide to Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau hired a draft dodger for a top cabinet position, and felt no need to mention that information to the Prime Minister. The aide said: “He was cleared by security, he had Canadian citizenship by then, and he had not committed any Canadian crime.”
One famous draft dodger was jazz musician Bill King. During the Vietnam War, he was living in New York and working as the music director for Janis Joplin’s band. Four days after getting married, his draft number was called. He reported for duty on a day of national anti-war protests, so when he showed up at Fort Dix in New Jersey, everyone was on high alert. Twice the military police pulled King over and hassled him for having too much facial hair. Those were different times as to what attributes would disqualify a person for military service.
Bill King was scheduled to leave on a 5 a.m. flight for Saigon, but the barracks on the base were full so that the police decided to let his wife spend the night with him in a separate building. King decided that night to leave for Canada. He and his wife were smuggled out of the base under blankets by a sympathetic young man, and from there they hitchhiked to Canada. King went on to work with many of the leading rock and jazz musicians of his day, publish the international magazine “The Jazz Report”, and serve as artistic director for the Toronto Beaches Jazz Festival.
All this hullabaloo during the Vietnam War had another constitutional ramification. When the Constitution was written, the government was granted the right to draft American men into the army at the age of 18, but they couldn’t vote until they were 21. For decades, this imbalance had been a rallying cry for those who supported lowering the voting age, but nothing much happened until the Vietnam era, when anti-war marches were filled with the slogan: “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote!” In 1971, as a result of these marches and protests and with a clear recognition of this imbalance, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution lowered the voting age to 18.
Mindfulness requires that we pay attention to such things, both big and little. Whether it’s the honking of a caring and compassionate UPS driver or the actions of a U.S. President, mindfulness requires that we pay attention both to what is going on in our environment and to our own values. From there, it is up to us to act accordingly.
Coaching Inquiries: What is going on in your environment? What things do you notice that support your values? What things contradict your values? How could you pay more attention to those things so as to feel the support and to stand your ground? In what ways would such mindfulness make you proud to be alive?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Every now and then I read some of your work. I think about all you have been through since your event in life, and the things it is teaching you, and all of us. I wish I had a lot of time to tell you all that has occurred since you were coaching me some 10+ years ago. But here it is in a nutshell:
My wife works in the Air Force and, as far as war goes, even though I am a similar mindset as you, and even though what our country has engaged in is not just at all in my mind, and even though I now understand more more about the ways and reasons wars have come about – ways that simply make me sick – I stand with my wife and go where she goes.
I have matured, put things in perspective and simply do what I can to share the good, and push aside the bad. It is a daily discipline. I hope others do the same. Thanks, again, for your writing and work.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, joy, and health.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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