Over the past 243 years, the United States of America has asked a hell of a lot of the young men and women who wear the uniform. It does not matter whether that was asking a Marine to kick in a door on the streets of Fallujah or asking a Civil War soldier to stand shoulder to shoulder while the enemy fires a volley in their direction like a twisted game of red rover, the military asks us to do some crazy stuff that goes against every basic survival instinct we have as humans. Perhaps the most tragic fact is that we disproportionately ask this of young men and women between the ages of 18 and 21. The United States has just made it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase or use tobacco and the military did not get an exemption. In full disclosure, I do not smoke or use tobacco apart from the occasional glorious scenes you see above. That’s myself and Corporal Curry enjoying a cigar at 29 Palms prior to deploying to Iraq in 2003. Yes, I’m 2003 Iraq old. For you younger veterans, there was this guy named Saddam and he did some bad things and we thought he had some bad stuff, so went and did some bad things to him. That’s the reason you young whipper snappers are in Iraq today. While I did not smoke or use tobacco, many of my fellow Marines under the age of 21 did and I’m here to appeal to our government on their behalf. Please Mr. President and Congress, exempt the military from the minimum age to purchase and use tobacco.
The Glory of Youth
On Memorial Day in 1945, General Lucian Truscott was scheduled to speak to a group of dignitaries at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Italy. The cemetery was full of men that Truscott was leading through combat just months earlier. He stunned the crowd when he got up to speak by turning his back to the dignitaries and began addressing his fallen men. He apologized to his men for the presence here and noted that while everyone says a leader is not responsible when their men get killed in war, every true leader knows in his heart that this is not altogether true.
He went on to tell them that he would not speak about the glory of dying in combat as he didn’t see much glory in getting killed if you were in your late teens or early twenties. He then promised that if he ran into any old men who thought death in battle was glorious, he would straighten them out because that was the least he could do. Apart from the occasional cigar, I did not use tobacco in the military but I saw how important it was to those who did. Whether that was paying $20 bucks for a can of Skoal in the field or pouring money into weak Haji cigarettes from the local market, it was kind of a big deal. Certainly, the long-term health effects are damaging, but when your government potentially puts an early expiration date on the one life you have to live, I say smoke em if you’ve got them.
The Absurdity of Prohibition
The reality of the matter is that young men and women will continue to smoke in the military. All that has been added is a prohibition that will likely get good Marines in trouble when someone sees fit. Underage Marines drink alcohol. They always have and they always will. However, I can understand the age prohibition on alcohol just a bit. Alcohol bad decisions go together like peanut butter and jelly. The consequences are immediate and typically unforgiving. Yet, how absurd would it be if the justification for the ban was cirrhosis of the liver in your 50’s and 60’s? Cigarettes can cause great harm, but not so much to a young man in his late teens and early 20’s. How many lives under the age of 21 did GWOT take? How many men who died in the jungles of Vietnam found simple pleasures in a good smoke.
I’m of the opinion that if you are going to ask a young man to give his life at such a young age, our government ought to let that man live his brief life as he sees fit. If a cigarette helps calm your nerves between one kicked in door to the other, so be it. Our government cannot claim they are looking out for your future when, with a simple order, they can ask you to give up that very future. For the government not to offer this exemption only convinces me that our current leaders do not fully understand the sacrifice that they are asking of those in uniform. If they truly knew what they were truly asking of them, the government would buy the damn cigarettes and a shot of whiskey for the kids themselves. Otherwise they would leave them alone. What reasonable person would ask what has been asked of us and deny us the ability to smoke a cigarette? That’s why this prohibition was squeezed into a necessary spending bill, because on its own it has no merit.
An Open Letter to President Trump
Now it is no secret that despite being a conservative libertarian-ish guy, I’m not the biggest fan of you Mr. President. I’m not your biggest detractor, but not the biggest fan. Mr. President your are indeed very popular within military circles. However high your popularity is in the military, you will always fall behind three other people. That’s right, you are in 4th place and for a competitive guy like yourself that should offer you some motivation to act. After all, that kid below may be drinking coffee, but I’m thinking he’s earned the right to smoke if he wanted.
In third place is Chesty Puller, because good night Chesty wherever you are. In second place is James Mattis. I know this one strikes close to home, but I think it is still true. In first place, the most popular man in the military is the S.O.B. who still has cigarettes or dip in the field or on deployment. Mr. President, you can become that man and become the hero of cigarettes bums in all uniforms. You, Mr. President, are going to send men and women into harm’s way. You, Mr. President, can let them enjoy their life as they see fit until it comes to an early and inglorious end. Be a hero Mr. President, and let the youthful military bum a cigarette. It may be their last and you will now become number 1.