Thursday, May 10, 2012

21 Years

In the United States, there has been the debate about what the legal drinking age should be.  Nearly always accompanying this debate is the military.  The usual question is, or is similar to, “Should the men under 21 be allowed to drink alcohol if they can die for their country?”  Around the Vietnam War era, the drinking age was actually lowered to 18, thought to be so that military personnel serving in the war would be allowed to drink if they wanted to.  In 1984, this all changed.  The government passed a bill, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which changed the legal drinking age up to 21.  This was pushed through Congress by organization like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).

My issue with this is why was it only the drinking age? One of the main points to raise the drinking age was that 18 year olds were not mature enough to handle the responsibility of alcohol and then not get behind the wheel.  Does this same thing apply to the military, college, or anything else that becomes legal at 18?  Are you responsible enough to pick the leaders of this country, your own college, or buy tobacco products?  Almost no one at 18 will pick their own college. They will have help from their parents, guidance counselors, teachers, and other people they know.  Some will look to their parents for who they should choose in the elections.  If you can’t even pick the college you want to go to on your own at 18, why is it a good idea to be able to send yourself off to die for your country in a war that you may not even understand?

These same points are being raised now by people who think that the drinking age should be lowered to 18.  You can vote, pay taxes, and die for your country, but you can’t drink alcohol.  As poster VA Dutch nicely put,

Seriously, I believe that 21 for alcohol and 18 for everything else is foolish & inconsistent. It also creates a situation where a military man could enlist at 18, go into combat overseas and come back home at 19 years of age - yet he is not "man enough" in the eyes of some to enjoy a cold beer.
But, as some would argue, it would be foolish to lower the drinking age back to 18, for the same reason it was raised in 1984: 18 year olds are deemed not responsible or mature enough to handle their alcohol.  I agree with this for most 18 year olds.  Sure, there are some 18 year olds that I have met that are more mature than someone who is 25, but that is usually a special case.  For the masses, this is definitely not true.  But this argument comes with my main point.  If someone is not responsible to stay out from behind the wheel after some alcohol at 18, why are they responsible enough to drive a multi-ton tank with a gun powerful enough to level a building in one shot? I don’t believe so.  An active duty service member should have to be 21 so that they have a few years out of high school to be able to learn life skills and be able to truly weigh out if they belong in the military.
Aside from the military and the irresponsibility of 18 year old, other arguments include: 

  • the access to the alcohol
    • Against: The higher drinking age will reduce access.
    • For: If someone wants to drink, they will find a way to get it.
  • the number of drunk driving incidents
    • Against: The number of drunk driving accidents lowered from people between the ages of 18 and 20 when the drinking age was raised in 1984.
    • For: The number of drunk drivers around 21-25 age group would lower because they would have the extra experience under their belt.  Also, in countries where the age is lower, there are stricter laws for drinking and driving.
  • alcohol being a "forbidden fruit" to teenagers (The forbidden fruit "syndrome" is a reference to the biblical Adam and Eve where they were forbidden from eating the fruit of a certain tree.  A snake tricked them into eating the forbidden fruit because he made it so tempting that they insisted on eating it.)
    • Against: the "forbidden fruit" theory has never been proven correct medically.
    • For: Most teenagers only want to drink because it is seen as a "forbidden fruit" and they want to disobey the law and their parents.
  • alcoholism and alcohol abuse
    • Against: Teenagers would develop alcoholism earlier and would be more prone to alcohol abuse, especially today.
    • For: In countries with a lower legal drinking age, there is less report of alcohol abuse.
  • health and safety concerns.
    • Against: The brain isn't fully developed until around age 24.  With the age where it is now, there is less damage to the developing brain (Wallace,1).  Also, there will be less drunk people prone to get behind the wheel after a night out.
    • For: Some alcohol actually has benefits to your health, like wine.  Also, people will be less likely to be drinking underground if it is legal for them to go to a bar and have a few beers, which would be safer.
One argument against lowering the drinking age from CI3Iike
This is the main problem in the drinking age issue.  Most people do not agree with all of one side of the argument (see my highlighted opinions/picture above).  
For this reason, I believe that the drinking age should remain the same, but that the military combat age should be raised to 21 for some of the same reasons as above.  A person's brain is not fully developed until the middle of their twenties in most cases.  What makes people think at age 18 that a person can go into basic training and within a year be over in another country fighting for our freedom and possibly dying for it and be  more responsible than someone in the united states wanting to enjoy a drink with friends? Answer: They aren't.  Sure they have some more knowledge about a military lifestyle that is much more strict than the lifestyle of the average 19 year old American, but that has next to nothing to do with their maturity level in my opinion.

As David Furritus put:

"If someone is old enough to die for their country, then they should be old enough to drink"

This phrase is almost correct except that it's backwards. The whole idea behind the drinking age being Twenty-one instead of eighteen is because the general consensus is that those under twenty-one have not achieved the level of maturity to respect the effects of alcohol on their bodies. Yet, for some reason it is believed that these same individuals will somehow have enough respect for a weapon to use it responsibly.

These men are the protectors of their nation. Any problems? I think so.

Back when the established age to join the military was 18, men at that age were already expected to have a chosen career and possibly even already working in that career.  Today, we are much more relaxed in that stance. Most people at 18 have no idea what they are going to do for the rest of their lives.  Here I am, over halfway to 20 and still can't even decide what I want to do with my life.  I do know that military is not right for me though.

My father spent twenty years in navy, working in the nuclear power section and as the fire chief of air craft carriers.  I have heard countless stories from his days on navy ships and on shore leave in foreign countries.  One story in particular that always resounds in my head is the one from a shore leave somewhere in the Mediterranean.  There was a man on the ship that had a little too much to drink.  By a little, I mean more alcohol in your system than you should be able to tolerate.  Long story short, had vomited and defecated all over the birthing area (living quarters) and the bathroom.  My father does not remember exactly how old this man was, but he does know that this guy was fairly new and that he was much younger than he was (about 32).  These are the type of men that's sworn duty is to protect our freedom.

Although I disagree with an 18 year old being able to be thrown into a combat situation, there are plenty of non-combat jobs here in the United States that could be done.  Many people go into ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) when they are in college.  This is a great program in my opinion, even though I may disagree with some of their methods.  This gives 18 and 19 year olds to have a taste of what the military is like.  If it was like this for all recruitment methods, I believe there would be a decrease in the amount of early drop outs from the military as well as a lower amount of suicides committed by active duty or recently active duty members. 

If someone at 18 years of age is not mature enough to handle alcohol, how are they mature enough to control a gun?  Alcohol is a drug, a depressant, and in large quantities deadly.  A gun at almost any capacity is deadly.  These ages in America make absolutely no sense whatsoever.  These are the types of laws and regulations that sometimes make me ashamed to call myself an American.

Works Cited

Wallace, Amy E, Atticus Wallace, and William B Weeks. "The U.S. Military As A Natural Experiment: Changes In Drinking Age, Military Environment, And Later Alcohol Treatment Episodes Among Veterans." Military Medicine 173.7 (2008): 619-625. MEDLINE with Full Text. Web. 16 May 2012.