What Would Happen if the Drinking Age Were Raised in the Military? Research Paper

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Military Drinking Age

What would happen if the drinking age were raised in the military?

George Will once said, "Sensible politics begins with epistemological modesty about what one can know about a complicated society" (2011).

One can certainly argue that sensible journalism begins in much the same way. The writer, the researcher, the journalist, must acknowledge that there are certain limits to what he/she can about his/her subject matter or to the extent to which he/she can answer certain inquires relating to the nature of the human condition.

More candidly put, knowing about something has as much to do with knowing what one doesn't know about that something as it does with knowing what one knows about that something. Interesting, I may be inadvertently channeling former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (2011).

I learned this lesson, or more accurately put, re-learned this lesson, when I asked myself the question, "What would happen if the drinking age were raised in the military?"

See, I thought I knew what would happen. Or I thought I could predict what would happen, and then I realized I don't actually know what would happened, and there's really, as it turns out, no way to know without actually raising the drinking age in the military and studying the results.

With that said, one can rationally speculate as to what would happen if the drinking age were raised in the military if one were to examine historical precedents, the existing body of research that exists on drinking ages and behavior, the culture of the U.S. armed forces and a bunch of other factors relating to that central question. And all of this will be discussed in due time.

But first a more preliminary question needs to be asked and subsequently answered. That is, what is the current policy on drinking in the U.S. military? Put another way, what is the drinking age for active U.S. soldiers?

This, despite its matter-of-fact quality, is not an easy question to answer.

See, there's an ongoing debate in the U.S. military about the drinking age of a solider. It's a debate that has been occurring for some time, really since the Vietnam War when soldiers were, for the first time, asked (and in the case of draftees: told) to fight for their country without the right to imbibe, legally, if they were under the age of 21.

During this period of time, a number of baby boomers protested the idea that one could at 18 years of age fight and die for his country, but could not legally drink a beer. The public outcry on this issue compelled 29 states to lower their respective drinking age below 21 (Ogilvie, 2011).

Also, a key point in the equation back then was the fact that the states decided what their respective drinking age should be, not the federal government.

It wasn't until Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 that the federal government got involved. This new Act, which was passed at the behest of Mother's Against Drunk Driving (MADD), required that all states up their legal drinking age to 21 by 1988 or face a ten percent reduction in annual federal highway apportionment (Bonn, 1980).

For many states, the cost of keeping autonomy over its drinking age wasn't worth the loss in federal funding. Soon, all 50 states got on board with the 21 standard.

As for the U.S. military, federal law (United States Code, Title 10, Section 2683) was such that it required the military installations and bases to conform to the laws of the state in which it is located in, which would naturally be 21 due to the enactment of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 84 (law.cornell.edu).

DoD Instruction 1015.10 states, "the minimum drinking age on a DoD installation located in a State (including the District of Columbia) shall be consistent with the age established by the law of that State as the State minimum drinking age" (law.cornell.edu).

However, there are exceptions, for example if the military base is located within 50 miles of Canada or Mexico, then the base commander may adopt a policy that permits base personnel to drink a lower drinking age than the state in which it is located in (law.cornell.edu).

Also, for bases on foreign soil, DoD policy states that, "the minimum drinking age on a DoD installation located outside the United States shall be 18 years of age. Higher minimum drinking age will be based on international treaties and agreements and on the local situation as determined by the local installation commander (law.cornell.edu)."

Okay, so back to the initial preliminary question, what is the drinking age for active U.S. soldiers?

Answer: it depends on where that soldier is located, but in general, 21 in the States, 18 abroad (unless a commander decides otherwise).

So, my initial thesis question of "what would happen if the drinking age were raised in the military?" is a bit shortsighted. That is because there is no unilateral standardization with respect to a minimum drinking age that cuts across the entire military. There are contingencies based upon geographic location and the discretion of various base commanders. Therefore, my initial thesis question has to be further qualified and/or adjusted to take into account the military's unique policy with respect to the drinking age.

A better question would be, "what if the drinking age in the military was raised to 24 (or some other arbitrary number higher than 21) and that this was the standard across all military institutions both in the U.S. And abroad, no exceptions?"

Well, one can start to answer this question by pointing to the obvious. That is, there would be public outrage.

People who believe that the current policy is unfair to our soldiers would be even more incensed by a military minimum drinking age of 24. Already, there are people hoping to reform the current DoD policy on the drinking age, people like Rep. Bob Lynn (R-AK) who introduced a bill that would allow troops stationed in Alaska to drink alcohol under the legal drinking age of 21 (Clark, 2011).

"It's outrageous that a member of our military can be subjected to the horrors of war but can't legally have a beer or smoke a cigarette," Lynn wrote in his blog over the summer when he introduced the bill. "Any soldier who braves military combat and risks their life for our country should be treated like an adult -- in every sense of the word" (Clark, 2011). It can be assumed that there would be plenty more people embracing Lynn's argument were the military drinking age to be raised to 24.

While that's an obvious point, there are other, less obvious points to be made. For example, if the drinking age were raised to 24, would that reduce the number of alcohol related traffic accidents?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 21-year-old minimum-drinking-age laws have reduced alcohol traffic fatalities by 13% and have saved an estimated 27,677 lives since 1975. And in 2009, an estimated 623 lives were saved by minimum-drinking-age laws (2001).

Of course, statistics like these are limiting because they do not account for what percent of those lives saved are military men and women. And, as far as I could tell throughout my research, there was no information pertaining to the number of alcohol-related traffic accidents caused by military personnel.

So, to make an assumption as to how these statistics would change if the military drinking age were raised would be unbearably presumptuous. So, I'll refrain from doing so and just admit that it's something that one would like to know, but can't actually know given the dearth of relevant data.

The last point to make is with respect to suicides in the military. According to a policy brief, "Losing the Battle: The Challenge of Military Suicide," from analysts at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), suicide is a serious problem in the United States.

The study states, "Although only 1% of Americans have served in the military, former service members represent 20% of suicides in the United States" (Harrell & Bergless, 2011). The obvious question is, does alcohol contribute to this alarming phenomenon?

Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Gen. Peter Chiarelli argues that it does. He told the Christian Science Monitor in an interview that, "Suicide in most cases is a spontaneous event that is often fueled by drugs and alcohol" (Mulrine, 2011).

The next question is would raising the drinking age help to reduce the suicide rate amongst soldiers?

Well, unfortunately, as with the car statistics, there's little that can be gleaned from the available information. As Gen. Chairelli admitted, "Finding correlations and causes for suicide to lower the rate among troops has proven to be the most difficult [challenge] in my 40 years in the military" (Mulrine, 2011).

That is to say, while keeping suicidal troops away from drugs and alcohol is a good idea, there's… [END OF PREVIEW]

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What Would Happen if the Drinking Age Were Raised in the Military?.  (2012, January 16).  Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/happen-drinking-age-raised-military/1272866

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"What Would Happen if the Drinking Age Were Raised in the Military?."  Essaytown.com.  January 16, 2012.  Accessed February 20, 2019.