We all make mistakes. Sometimes we all make mistakes together. And when we all make mistakes sometimes punishing us isn’t worth the time, effort and money. Depending on the severity of the crime, it might be more efficient to just give us all a mulligan and call the whole thing off.
The U.S.Department of Defense is familiar with this sort of calculus. Between Selective Service (aka “The Draft”) with civilians and the crimes unique to military personnel, problems with the application of laws involving the military are bound to happen. Sometimes they happened en masse. In those instances, the government has decided it would be better not to prosecute or the law became unenforceable because so many people committed the crime. It’s rare, but it happened. Here are five times where we were forgiven our trespasses:
1. Adultery (by the masses)
The list of email addresses released by hacktivists The Impact Group included thousands of .mil addresses. This means military members actually used their military email accounts to sign up for Ashley Madison, a site designed to facilitate adultery, which is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), punishable by a year in confinement and a dishonorable discharge.
Among these were 250 addresses from various aircraft carriers, addresses from every destroyer and amphibious assault ship in the Navy, 1,665 navy.mil and 809 usmc.mil addresses, 54 af.mil addresses, and 46 uscg.mil addresses. The Army was the most impressive, with 6,788 army.mil addresses signed up. At first, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said DoD would investigate but the Pentagon has since decided not to, since there would be no proof of actual adultery and simply signing up for a website isn’t a crime.
After 18 years, the policy governing homosexuality in the U.S. military known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was repealed. In response to the repeal, the Army issued a statement saying simply “the law is repealed” and reminded soldiers to treat each other fairly.
The thing is being gay is not in itself a crime under the UCMJ, but the way homosexuals have sex is, under Article 125. Homosexuals were simply given an “Other than Honorable” discharge. With more than 66,000 gay and lesbian men and women in uniform, trying to control the way they have sex becomes problematic after a while. Now with the DADT repeal, former service members are allowed to reenlist, but their cases will not be given priority. Officials have so far failed to address how all of this affects Article 125 of the UCMJ.
3. Dodging the draft
On January 21, 1977, newly-elected President Jimmy Carter granted a full pardon to hundreds of thousands of American men who evaded the Vietnam War draft by fleeing the country or not registering. Carter campaigned on this promise in an effort to help heal the country from the cultural rift the war created.
Most fled to Canada, where they were eventually welcomed as immigrants. Exempt from the pardon were deserters from the U.S. Army who met their obligation and then fled. 50,000 Americans became Canadian during the draft, facing prosecution if they returned home.
4. Seceding from the Union
In the most egregious example of getting away with flaunting the rules (to put it mildly), in 1872 Congress passed a bill signed by then-President Ulysses S. Grant which restored voting rights and the right to hold public office to all but 500 members of the Southern Confederacy during the Civil War.
The original act restricting the rights of former Confederates was passed in 1866. The act covered more than 150,000 former Confederate troops. The 500 who were still restricted were among the top leadership of the Confederacy.
5. Illegal Immigration
This one hasn’t happened yet but the discussion is very serious. The current version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contains a controversial plan to allow illegal immigrants with deportation deferments to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces. U.S. military veterans currently serving in the House of Representatives offer bipartisan public support for the provision.
The NDAA as is faces significant challenges in the entire Congress. Last year, Representatives Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a Desert Storm veteran and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq War veteran entered a similar bill, called the ENLIST Act, which would have had the same provisions but it was quickly sidelined.