I was talking to a fellow academic economist today who is also a strong critic of military conscription. He had read my post in which I discussed my disagreement with the late W. Allen Wallis about amnesty for draft dodgers. He asked a question that might naturally occur to other readers of my post: Was Wallis a critic of the draft on narrow economic grounds alone or was he also a critic on moral grounds? I answered that it was the latter. I wrote about the depth of his opposition to the draft here and here.

Why, then, my friend asked, did Wallis think draft dodgers should not be granted amnesty? I told him that Wallis and I had discussed that. I called Wallis at his office from my office phone on the campus of the University of Rochester. Here, to the best of my memory, is our conversation over the phone in December 1976.

DRH: Hi, Allen. I’m calling because you’re the most influential Republican I know and you’re also a strong opponent of the draft. It looks as if Jimmy Carter will grant amnesty shortly after he takes office. I think it would be a coup if President Ford steals a march on Carter and does so before he leaves office. That would help the Republicans with young people and hopefully most other people would forget about it before the next election. [I was naive on this last point.]

Wallis: But you’re assuming that I favor amnesty. I don’t.

DRH: Why?

Wallis: Because those people who dodged the draft caused someone else to be drafted. So they’re responsible in part for other innocent people being drafted.

DRH: I don’t agree. The government was doing the drafting. It’s the government that was responsible.

Wallis: But without their draft dodging, those other innocent people would not have been hurt.

DRH: True, but let me give you an analogy. You’re driving along on the Thruway. [That was I-90, which was just south of Rochester.] An 18-wheeler crosses the median and is coming right at you. You know that if you don’t dodge it, it will mow you down and kill you. You also know that if you do dodge it, it will mow down the guy in the car driving in the lane beside you and kill him. Are you responsible for his death? Should you purposely not dodge it because you’re causing him to die?

Wallis [pausing and then chuckling]: I’m not sure. I’ll think about it.