A President Ready to PardonNews at Home
tags: military history, pardons, Trump
Harlow Giles Unger is the award-winning author of 27 books, including a dozen biographies of the Founding Fathers. His most recent book is Thomas Paine and the Clarion Call for American Independence.
Although critics contend Mr. Trump’s pardons may undermine military discipline, he is not the first President to issue controversial pardons. President Abraham Lincoln routinely pardoned more than 1,500 Union soldiers convicted of desertion. “If almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair legs,” the President chuckled, “how can he help their running away with him?” In one case, Lincoln accompanied his order to release a deserter with the command, “Let him fight instead.”
Not to be outdone, President Andrew Johnson granted full pardons on Christmas day, 1868, to all Confederate troops who fought against the Union in the American Civil War.
A century later, President John F. Kennedy prevented the Army from punishing a soldier for insulting the President, while President Richard M. Nixon commuted the life sentence of 1st Lt. William Calley for leading the Mai Lai massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese citizens in 1968.
And on his first day in office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter infuriated millions of Americans by granting unconditional pardons to hundreds of thousands of men who had evaded the draft during the Vietnam War while hundreds of thousands of less privileged had fought, bled, and died gone in battle.
So President Trump was far from first to issue controversial military pardons. Indeed, the most recent pardon was his third since taking office. Previously, he had pardoned two army officers of murder, and set off a storm of criticism undermining the Uniform Code of Military Conduct.
Such criticism, however, may be based more on politics than military science. With 1.3 million members of the military living in a strictly controlled hierarchy in 150 countries, the likelihood of a single presidential pardon provoking a widespread disciplinary breakdown, let alone mutiny, is beyond remote.
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