In Defense of Amnesty

In Defense of Amnesty

For America the war in Vietnam has ended, but exile continues for those who refused to participate in the war. The fate of the 75,000 to 125,000 men in exile will be determined, in part, by the outcome of the public debate over amnesty. Amnesty would restore their freedom to live in America by setting aside the punishment for their political offenses. A conservative president insists, however, that draft resisters and deserters pay the price for their lawlessness. And conservative thinkers such as Ernest van den Haag charge that amnesty would undermine the law-making and law-enforcement powers of the state. Van den Haag warns that democracy itself is endangered by the amnesty campaign.

Critical to such conservative attempts to discredit the movement for amnesty is the argument that lawbreaking must always be punished. If the conservative notices the difference between common crimes and political offenses, he is likely to dismiss it as irrelevant. All illegal acts, it is contended, must be punished. I will argue that the assumptions behind this position are largely groundless, the warnings exaggerated, and the political posture too legalistic and, consequently, insensitive to values other than punishment.

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Lima