This Day in History

On Jan. 21, 1977, President Jimmy Carter awarded unconditional pardon to all Americans who dodged the draft, and escaped mandatory military service in the Vietnam War.

Approximately, 100,000 American men escaped to foreign countries during the 1960s and 1970s in order to avoid compulsory military service. Ninety percent of these "draft dodgers" fled to Canada. Initially, there was quite a bit of controversy on how to treat these Americans by Canadian immigration officials, but later Canada welcomed them with open arms as immigrants. Some people, however, managed to escape the draft while never leaving the United States.

Canada Welcomed Military Deserters as Well

There were also approximately 1,000 known deserters who escaped the military after they had become soldiers, going A.W.O.L. (Absent Without Official Leave). Many of these "deserters" also escaped to Canada. Canadian officials had the ability to prosecute them, but in the vast majority of cases, they left them alone. Canadian border guards were also instructed to turn the other cheek and not ask incoming Americans too many questions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government prosecuted draft dodgers, accusing 209,517 men of breaking draft laws. Still, approximately 360,000 men were never charged.

During his campaign for presidency, Jimmy Carter promised that he would use his presidential authority to pardon draft dodgers if elected, and he did. Today is the 39th anniversary of that momentous occasion.

Did American Draft Dodgers Help Shape Canadian Politics?

Many of the escaping Americans came back home, but approximately 50,000 stayed in Canada. Some say that these alternative-minded American immigrants helped shift Canadian politics more to the left over the years through their participation in Canadian arts and academia.

Carter's wide-sweeping pardon of American "draft dodgers" was very controversial. Many veterans' groups criticized Carter for unfairly letting lawbreakers off the hook without any punishment. Meanwhile, civil rights advocates said that Carter's pardon was not enough, and should have also included military deserters, who had been dishonorably discharged.