Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Have a Drink, Marine

A group of college presidents are going around the country getting a campaign to lower the legal drinking age to 18 started. Their contention is that it will decrease binge drinking. (Data suggests binge drinking falls off after age 21, but in my opinin that may well be because people burn out by then, not because being legal takes the incentive away.)

Myself, I'm for the idea in a mild sort of way. I was not a binge drinker in college by any standards, but I didn't take the drinking age all that seriously either. There was always someone on the hall over 21 willing to keep me stocked in port and brandy. (I didn't really get into beer until later -- mainly because I hated cheap American beer, and didn't run into anything else.) Lowering the drinking age and upping the penalties for DUI would make sense to me.

One of the lines that always seems to be mentioned is, "Why is it that at 18 you can be called on to die for your country, but you can't have a beer?"

As it turns out, however, the military has taken this under consideration. All branches of the military now allow servicemen to drink overseas so long as they are above the local drinking age. (They used to try to enforce the US drinking age.) And last year the Marines took one step further:
But the commandant’s changes go further than any other service’s policy, decriminalizing welcome-home beer for underage Marines returning from deployment and giving commanders the authority to hold an 18-and-up kegger on base upon a unit’s return from a war zone.

And there’s no need to hide a flask in your sock before the birthday ball, because the commandant has you covered there, too. As long as your unit holds its celebration on base, commanders can drop the drinking age to 18 in the U.S. under “special circumstances,” and even authorize the possession and consumption of alcohol by underage Marines in the barracks.

The new policy defines these circumstances as “those infrequent, non-routine military occasions when an entire unit, as a group, marks at a military installation a uniquely military occasion, such as the conclusion of arduous military duty or the anniversary of the establishment of a military service or organization.”
Good for them. I'm use the Marines can use a good drink once in a while. Not allowing a 19 or 20-year-old just back from a war zone a welcome-home beer would be downright disgraceful.

On a random historical note: Until mid-century, the British army and navy both included as part of the contractual pay owed to a soldier one drink of beer or hard liquor (usually rum) each day.


Anonymous said...

darwin wrote: "Not allowing a 19 or 20-year-old just back from a war zone a welcome-home beer would be downright disgraceful."

True. But telling soldiers that they have more privileges than citizens is also disgraceful.

A real quandary here - although it could be solved by lowering the drinking age to 18.


Darwin said...

True. But telling soldiers that they have more privileges than citizens is also disgraceful.

Actually, I'm not sure I'd necessarily see that as disgraceful. Soldiers give up a lot (including many of the personal freedoms that we enjoy) and I'm not sure why that shouldn't necessarily involve some benefits that the rest of us don't get.

However, I think in this case it just involves giving marines the benefits which the rest of us already have in our private homes. I had absolutely no difficulty getting someone to buy me alcohol when I was 19 and keeping it in my dorm room. I never got in trouble, because I didn't do stupid things like getting drunk or drinking in public. (And in most states it's fully legal for a under-age person to drink with a parent or guardian, in the home.) Young marines living in barracks are under the eye of authority all the time. So I'm not sure it really gives them an extra privilige so much as giving them a generally permitted thing in their own context.

MikeL said...

This topic has gotten a fair amount of play on the local talk radio stations I listen to on my drive home from work. I favor lowering the drinking age back to 18, as that is in all other respects the legal age of adulthood - and also as a result of my own experience.

I was an RA in a freshman dorm when New York State raised the drinking age from 18 to 19 (for some reason they didn't go straight to 21 - or maybe I remember it wrong). Prior to the change on Jan 1st, students would go out to bars, especially on Fri & Sat nights, drink a fair amount, come back to the dorm, and it would be a little loud for a while, but nothing serious. After the age was raised, drinking was driven from the bars to the dorms, kids got much drunker, things got much rowdier, and damage to the dorm skyrocketed. In my opinion, without having to pay on a per drink basis, coupled with not being in public, simply lead to much more consumption.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

My own preference would be to make 18 the age for everything (drinking, smoking, voting, driving, marriage, running for President, etc.), with the caveat that one could do such things at an earlier age with parental permission. Probably you would still have to have a minimum age of consent for sex and marriage that would apply even with parental permission. For things like voting, you could require people pass a written citizenship test ala what we require of naturalized citizens before they are able to vote.

Danimal said...

I was posted to Ft. Huachuca, Arizona for Army training. Ft. Huachuca is about 30 miles from Mexico, so the base commander allowed 18+ drinking on post to keep the young soldiers from going across the border on weekends.

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

Sad to say, we have a huge binge drinking problem with youth in New Zealand. The drinking age was lowered to 18 a few years ago, but it has certainly not helped alleviate the problem. Instead, younger and younger people now seem to have easier access to alcohol, and binge drinkers have just started younger. Doctors in Emergency departments are seeing some of the results, and are among those calling for the drinking age to be raised again. It is a sad situation.

Darwin said...


In a number of European countries (I ran into it personally in Austria) there are two drinking ages: a younger one at which you can purchase wine or beer at a store for consumption at home, and an older one at which you can buy a drink in a bar.

Reading your comment, it strikes me as plausible that doing the reverse would work well -- or at least be interesting to investigate.


Agreed on just about all points.

Indeed, if one is thinking outside the box, I'd say one of the biggest problems with the US is that just anyone can vote. It wouldn't strike me as wholly inappropriate (if I was sitting around with an Athenian stone cutter imagining how a state should work) to have "residents" and "citizens" with citizens voting and having other additional civic responsibilities, and some sort of barrier to entry to full citizenship to try to filter for people who at least care to think about such things seriously.

I don't see such a thing ever happening in the US though. Too many on both sides have too much invested in the availability of foolish voters.

CMinor said...

At the time the drinking age was raised, the purpose was not so much to prevent 18-20-year olds drinking as to make it more difficult for high schoolers to obtain alcohol. I think the success of the law needs to be viewed in terms of whether, in fact, fewer under-18's are being killed in car accidents, hauled into emergency rooms, picked up by the cops drunk, etc.--not whether fewer 18-20's are binge drinking. I think it was assumed they'd be able to obtain the stuff, anyway. I suppose they could try a lower drinking age with stiffer penalties for procurors; either way I recall enough drunkenness-related injury and fatality from my high school days that I'm not anxious to take a chance.

My own memory from college (I was under 21 but over 18 and thus grandfathered in at the time of the change) is that a heck of a lot of binge drinking went on before, and a heck of a lot went on after. So I don't think college kids are necessarily binging any more than they ever did. And access may be slightly less as campus-sponsored keggers are a thing of the past and double expressos are the strongest potable available at most campus watering holes. Kids may binge privately, but I bet they don't sit around the campus pub getting schnockered for all to see on a weekday afternoon.

On the other hand, I have no problem with our young servicemen and women being granted a little leeway under controlled conditions. They've earned it. Besides, in order to restrict drinking in a country in which the legal drinking age is 18, they'd have to confine them all to post.
(And believe me, the penalties for drunk driving while posted overseas are not pretty.)