National Guard and Draft Dodgers

As it happens, 21 January is simultaneously the anniversary of the birth of the (organized) National Guard (in 1903), and of Carter’s draft amnesty (1977).  Coincidence, surely.

The Dick Act, as the enabling legislation is popularly known, recast the many state-formed National Guard units into a national image, creating a means to join the Guards into the Regular Army in the event of an emergency.  For decades Army reformers had tried different formulas to get the state’s units to look less like social clubs (which they were) and more like adjuncts to the Regulars (which they were supposed to be).  The war with Spain in 1898 was the last time the state-organized units (the militias which were not part of the Guard “movement”) were called up, and the halting disasters that followed could be directly attributed to the state’s lack of funding and organization for their militias.

The earliest “National Guard” units were formed more or less spontaneously in the early 19th century.  They were separate from the militias (if you really want a glimpse of insanity, take up American militia organization) and at least a third of them were not funded by their states, but by the members themselves or by private benefactors.  Many were units only in name, possessing no equipment nor even standardized uniforms.  The one thing they had in common was that the units that bore the title “National Guard” were pledged to national service wherever Congress might send them.  This is also what distinguished them from many state militias.

By WWI, the Guards had be thoroughly reorganized.  The experience on the Mexican frontier had shown the weaknesses of the Guards, and how completely they had to be remade.  By the Armistice, the Guards were what we see today: Federally organized and funded units lent to the states in between wars.

The Carter amnesty was the fulfillment of a campaign promise, and is seen by some as “healing a wound” left over from the Vietnam conflict.  There was an unknown number of draft evaders (thought by some to be about 200,000) and a much smaller number of deserters (about 70,000) that were covered under the amnesty, but even fewer of these took advantage of the amnesty to return to…something other than what they had been doing for over a decade.

Though well-intentioned (like many things Carter did in office), it was nearly four years after the draft ended, and long after law enforcement and the military had been enforcing the draft and actively pursuing deserters.

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