In the summer of 1863, the Union army began forming all-black regiments to fight in the Civil War. Many black leaders were ecstatic that their people could take a greater role in a war that was being fought in large part for their freedom. They also felt that if they proved themselves worthy in battle, people would be more inclined to respect them and their inalienable rights. Frederick Douglass, who played a key role in recruiting black troops, said that “He who fights the battles of America may claim America as his country – and have that claim respected.”
We would all like to think that Douglass’ statement is true, but those who have fought for this country have often been among its most oppressed inhabitants. Black men fought valiantly in the Civil War, but when it was all over a system of segregation and de facto slavery still existed for decades to come. Black men fought for America in the two World Wars, but it was not until the 1960’s that the country they fought and died for made any serious effort to recognize their rights and respect their sacrifice.
Like the black man, the young man has fought this country’s battles only to face oppression and ridicule when he returns. During the Vietnam War, Americans became aware of this injustice and lowered the voting age to eighteen. But how many soldiers must have died in Iraq and Afghanistan without ever having the opportunity to vote for the people who sent them there? Injustice remains and more must be done. If Americans really “supported the troops,” the voting and drinking ages would be lowered or abolished.
The Minimum Legal Drinking Age, an ineffective and authoritarian piece of federal blackmail, stands as a colossal insult to all young people, but particularly to young people in the Armed Services. It is revolting to think that we are asking people to fight a war, and at the same time we are telling them that they are too stupid and irresponsible to consume a beverage.
Recently, Maine Representative Jim Splaine introduced a bill that will lower the drinking age to eighteen for people in the military. Rep. Splaine, who was once among Maine’s principal proponents of the MLDA, says that while he believes the drinking age should be lowered outright, his bill is aimed at those in the Military because he feels it is particularly unconscionable to criminalize drinking for young people in the Military.
Representative Splaine’s comments could not possibly posses more truth. While Military service should never be a prerequisite for liberty, there is a repulsive irony attached to the notion that we deny rights and liberties to those people who are supposedly making the ultimate sacrifice to defend them.
If we continue to oppress our young people, they will soon wake up and realize what is going on. One day young people will decide that they are not willing to wait. One day the youth of this nation will realize that ageism is a long standing evil, even though it might not personally apply to them much longer. Sooner or later American youth are bound to rise up in far greater numbers than they have in the past and demand that the government honor their birthrights. When that day comes, our soldiers will come to the harsh realization that they are fighting for a country that holds them in contempt and treats them as second class citizens. One wonders what will become of the ageists – the Hamiltons, the Oddos, and the Pirros, when young people stop fighting for the rights of their elders rights and begin fighting for their own.