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Back in 1970, Senator Edward Kennedy and others argued that it was wrong that young Americans who did not have the right to vote should be drafted into military service and likely duty in Vietnam. At that time, the minimum voting age in the United States was 21. However, men were being drafted as young as 18. For this reason, Senator Kennedy sought to have the minimum voting age lowered to 18. He was successful. As of July 1, 1971, 18-year-olds were granted the right to vote.
I think this was a disservice to teens. Instead of arguing to get 18-year-olds the right to vote as compensation for being sent to Vietnam, Senator Kennedy should have been arguing to RAISE the age for being drafted to 21.
Why? For the same reason that the minimum drinking age is set at 21. We do not believe that youths under 21 have the sophistication, maturity, and judgment to handle alcohol responsibly.
This same caution should be applied to the decision to engage in military service, which offers risks no less severe than that of alcohol-related injury and scandal.
Ask any drill sergeant whom they would prefer to train. Those under the age of 21, or those 21 and older? You’ll get the same answer every time. The fact that teenagers are more impressionable and more tractable makes them ideal recruits. The fact that their critical thinking skills are less developed makes them malleable, easy to influence, easy to control. The fact that teenagers, especially males, cannot conceptualize the future makes them reckless and, for lack of a better word, brave.
Instead of exploiting this condition, we should be compensating for it.
Yes, it was common for 14 and 15 year old children to be found on Civil War battlefields. Not children that were conscripted against their will, but children that went willingly and happily. This is the nature of youth.
It is precisely because of the incomplete mental development of teens that we should make efforts to protect them from themselves with regard to military service, much as we attempt to do with our drinking laws.
Back in 1970, Senator Kennedy got it wrong. He should have been arguing not to lower the voting age to 18, but to raise the minimum age of enlistment to 21.
Giving teens the right to vote as compensation for sending them to the battlefield is not an honorable concession.
It’s time to get it right. 21 to fight!
“Experience has shown that older recruits who can meet the physical demands of Army service generally make excellent Soldiers. They are mature, motivated, loyal and patriotic, and bring with them a wealth of skills and experience to our Army.” Col. Donald Bartholomew, U.S. Army Recruiting Command Assistant Chief of Staff, G5, 2011