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Published:September 20th, 2005 15:05 EST
'Quick! Tell Uncle Sam - that man's just a boy!'

'Quick! Tell Uncle Sam - that man's just a boy!'

By Alex Alex

"If I can die for my country, why can`t I enjoy a cold beer?"; a question posed by many young persons in the military.

These young men and women have heavy demands placed on them, demands that must be faced with adult responsibility. Yet one basic adult privilege is not given to any such military personnel below the age of 21 " the right to consume alcohol.

Vietnam inspired in people a belief that if a young man was old enough to be drafted into military duty, then he should be old enough to have a beer. Consequently, in the 1970s, some states lowered the legal minimum drinking age to 18, until the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984.

Changing state law affects regular citizens too, and studies keep showing time and again the links between drunk-driving and under-age drinking. But, as it stands, all Americans between 18 and 21 are in a limbo between childhood and adulthood, with rites of passage coming at different times. So the real issue seems to be whether the military should have its own minimum age laws, if the entire nation should have that minimum lowered, or if the path to adulthood for a young American should remain stunted.

"Drinking in the military only leads to trouble", says one U.S. Air Force Chaplain. "Lowering the age would only make it worse." He goes on to say that he disagrees with the military having special laws to accommodate drinking alcohol. "Military people should hold to the same laws as everyone else."

That is an opinion shared by one U.S. Navy Commander, who says that all military personnel stationed in the U.S. must "abide by law of state; [Military persons] should not get special dispensation."

Between these two military men, both in their forties, it is agreed that being in the military should not be a reason to have separate, privileged laws, which leads to the proposition that all Americans should have drinking rights at age 18.

Studies have shown that the human brain is still developing at age 18; until adulthood, the brain is unable to re-grow destroyed brain cells. Intentional brain-damage by alcohol is not something that military persons should strive for, being potentially responsible for many human lives.

Which begs the question " if there`s such concern for safety, and even development, before age 21 when it comes to alcohol, why are young people under that age allowed to risk their lives by enlisting in the armed forces at all?

Sociology professor David J. Hanson, Ph.D., of the State University of New York, states that military personnel under 21 years old are treated as adults, and given "great responsibility, including the command of others, the operation of complex and dangerous weapons, and the ability to make split-second decisions." He, like many others, believes that when faced with such responsibilities as an adult, young people in the military should be granted full adult rights, that extends to drinking rights.

But if it`s true that alcohol can cause irreversible damage in the younger brain, then for the safety of the military person, drinking should not be a privilege given to those under 21. When deployed to a war front, there is no drinking allowed at all, which, incidentally, has seen a dramatic drop in discipline problems. But when on standby on U.S. soil, people in the military must adhere to state and federal drinking laws. Military responsibility can make the difference between boy and man, or girl and woman; but drinking before true physical adulthood is the difference between a fully developed brain with all its cognitive ability unimpaired by alcohol, and a permanent hangover.