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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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18-year-olds too young for drinking or military

By Alicia Williams

U leaders and the higher education community will have the unique opportunity of participating in the Amethyst Initiative Debate: Rethinking the Drinking Age, which calls for a discussion of the pros and cons of alcohol consumption policies, on Dec. 12.

The debate will be a live Webinar event with 500 participants. Co-presenters will be John McCardell, president emeritus and history professor at Middlebury College and the founder and director of Choose Responsibility, and Brett Sokolow, founder and president of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management.

Even though many college students might be stoked about the idea of legal drinking, a July 2007 Gallup poll found 77 percent of Americans would not support a federal law reducing the drinking age to 18.

So far, the biggest and most compelling argument for the change is the enlistment age for the military compared to the drinking age. American youth are allowed to put their lives at risk because at 18 our government deems them adults with the rational capacity to make adult decisions, yet this very same government will not let them consume alcohol at the same age.

The minimum legal drinking age has been thoroughly researched. In “Effects of Minimum Drinking Age Laws: Review and Analyses of the Literature from 1960 to 2000,” Alexander Wagenaar and Traci Toomey from the division of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota reviewed the MLDA policy and its effectiveness by studying all peer-reviewed literature published during those 40 years.

They concluded that the evidence showed a higher drinking age lowered alcohol consumption and reduced the number of automobile accidents. Their response to the “old enough to go to war” argument is that many rights are obtained at different ages, including driving, hunting, voting, smoking and serving in the military.

“The minimum age of initiation is based on the specific behavior involved and must take into account the dangers and benefits of that behavior at a given age,” Wagenaar and Toomey said. “The age-21 policy for alcohol takes into account the fact that underage drinking is related to numerous serious problems, including injuries and deaths resulting from car crashes, suicide, homicide, assault, drowning and recreational injuries.”

I would hope the age 18 (or 17 with parental consent) policy for enlisting in the military has also taken into account the serious injuries, both mental and physical, as well as the deaths that can result from going to war.

Don’t get me wrong. I oppose drinking at any age. But I also oppose allowing youth to go to war. If, as a society, we are saying 17- and 18-year-olds are considered to be adult enough to hold a weapon, old enough to be taught how to kill another human being and how to prevent being killed, old enough to risk their own lives and the lives of fellow military personnel8212;then society is saying they are adult enough to drink alcohol. Society can’t have its cake and eat it too.

Instead of a debate about lowering the drinking age, we should be having a debate on raising the enlistment age. It’s time we recognized the governmental misuse of America’s most valuable commodity8212;our children.

Unfortunately, the government considers these young adults as its “premium” labor force. A December 2004 publication of the Population Reference Bureau on America’s Military Population reported more than half of the enlisted men and women in the armed forces were below the age of 25. Marines boast the youngest service, with almost 60 percent below age 25. Comparatively, only 15 percent of the civilian labor force was comprised of people below the age of 25.

The military is a breeding ground for underage drinking. A 2005 Department of Defense survey of health-related behaviors among military personnel found that 62 percent of underage military members drank at least once a year and 21 percent reported heavy use of alcohol.

When the U participates in the Amethyst Initiative Debate, Dec. 12, and hears the argument “I can go to war, but I can’t drink,” they need to stand up and say, “Yes, you’re right. You shouldn’t be allowed to go to war.” Government shouldn’t have the right to blur the distinction of adulthood. If all evidence shows adulthood isn’t reached until the age of 21, youth shouldn’t be allowed to enlist.

[email protected]

Alicia Williams

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