Patriotic? Not if you don’t vote

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Poll workers bring in the votes during August’s Primary Election. The General Election is Tuesday. 

A high price has been paid for the basic right

Column By Walt Mares

“Old enough to die, old enough to vote.”

It was a slogan often used during the Vietnam War. Young men, many of whom were well under 21, could fight and die in the jungles of Southeast Asia, but could not vote. It was not until July 1, 1971, that the U.S. Congress passed the 26th Amendment allowing 18-year-olds to have a say-so in one of the most important rights Americans have.

Voting is, or should be, regarded as one of the most important of Americans’ many freedoms. Indeed, many of us who came of age in the mid-1960s to the early-1970s were at the very least puzzled about being required to serve in the military but not being able to vote. After all, turning 18 meant that a fellow was eligible for the draft, but those under 21 had no say in whom our leaders would be, whether it was on the local, state or federal level.

The draft? For many, it loomed like a dark specter. For those too young to remember, the draft meant being inducted into the military, (women were not drafted) regardless of whether a person did or did not want to serve. Simply put, it was a matter of the local draft or Selective Service board saying, “Uncle Sam wants your hide and there is not a darn thing you can do about it. You are ours, like it or not.”

Most draftees, with some exceptions, were inducted into the Army. That increased the possibility of someone coming to know what constant downpours of rain, heat, and someone trying to kill you were all about.

There were options to being drafted, such as heading for Canada, going to jail, performing certain types of church service or having rich and influential relatives. Some joined the National Guard or Air Guard. Unlike today, as has been the case with Iraq and Afghanistan, very few guard units were called up for service in Vietnam. In fact, there was a period when young men dashed to join the Guard, knowing chances were pretty slim of ever setting foot in “the ‘Nam.” Many were turned away because of the glut of those hoping to avoid spending at least a year in the Asian jungles.

Then and even now, the idea of someone being sent against his will, or volunteering, to fight and die for his country without having the right to vote seems almost unbelievable. Believe it, because that was the way it was for many of us, including those who were never shipped to Vietnam or those who were there but never saw combat.

For a great many who served during the Vietnam Era, the idea of not having to be 21 to vote was not only well-received, it was seen as a duty, an obligation as an American citizen. Voting was and still is an act of patriotism.

Most who served during that time are now at least in their early- or mid- 60s. That means those who are in their late 50s or younger have never had to concern themselves with being drafted. The draft ended in 1973.

Perhaps not having to deal with, or worry about, the draft has contributed to the attitude that not registering to vote and not voting is no big deal. To many of those, wearing a ball cap or having a bumper sticker with a flag on it is suffices as an act or display of patriotism. It is not.

They may not be aware, or not care, that voting is one of the most important rights that we Americans enjoy. They may not be aware, nor care that their right to vote has been paid for by the blood that has been shed and the lives sacrificed by Americans in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

To many of us, not making or taking the time to vote is at the very least, unpatriotic. We think foremost of those who are 18 to 20 years of age, the so-called Millenials. Have you voted yet?

Editor’s note: Early voting shows a large increase in ballots cast by young voters, who have more than tripled their rate of participation from the last midterm election in 2014. However, despite the increase and though they are one of the largest groups of eligible voters, the estimated ballots cast by those 18-29 has accounted for just 7.5 percent of the more than 1.1 million ballots that have already been cast.