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05-04-03, 04:03 PM
The Inheritors of Tribulation and Triumph

Commentary by Thomas D. Segel

May 4, 2003

There is no significant collection of famous quotes attributed to Herbert Hoover. However, when he spoke of young people and of war, his words were profound. “Older men declare war”, he said. “But it is youth that must fight and die. And it is youth that must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow, and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war.”

We have now all served as witness to the tribulation, sorrow and triumph of which our late president spoke. We have watched the best and the bravest of our country journey into the center of hostility… fight raging sand storms…see pain and death inflicted upon their own…and see similar fates befall an enemy. Through everything, the young people who make up our armed forces have performed with determination, dignity, courage…and above all, humanity. Those youth wearing dirty faces and bulky, but even dirtier protective clothing touched the hearts of every American. They did so while taking their places as future leaders in this nation.

While these observations are being made, we must also recognize another very important fact. Only about 300,000 men and women from a nation of more than 280 million people were there to take up arms as a volunteer force for freedom.

For most people in this country, the zeal for liberty has waned. For most of our youth, that zeal never existed. This is vividly apparent when we view the voting participation of our citizens.

In a nation where every person should fight vigorously for the right to vote, only 70% of eligible voters have bothered to register. What is even more deplorable… of this group, only 50% of eligible voters bother to cast their ballots in presidential elections. When we view the results of primary elections, the percentage of eligible voters drops to 25%.

Those young men and women who went off to war were at the heart of the voting rights legislation of 1972. The changes in law gave citizens age 18 and above the right to vote. Most of the justification for that change in voting age was wrapped in rhetoric about young people who were risking their lives in Vietnam and were being sent there by a country which said they were old enough to fight and perhaps die for their country, but were still to young to make important decisions in the voting booths of America.

Since those hurtful and divisive days of Vietnam, there has been little to inspire or motivate our youth to become involved in citizen responsibilities.

Our educational system does little to nothing when in comes to instilling national loyalty, patriotism or even the understanding of civil responsibility. Gone from most school cirrocumuli are subjects such as civics, current events and even meaningful national history. Revisionist educators have turned textbooks into politically correct commentary on liberal social issues. In many cases the revisionists have even removed mention of important historical figures. Most shameful of all, the majority of public schools only require one semester of state government, one semester of national government and one semester of economics in a twelve year program of studies.

Is there any question as to why the youth of America are ignorant of their own national history and government? Does this educational distortion not explain why since 1972 the youth vote has dropped from its original position at 14% to less than 8% of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24?

Young people who have taken on the responsibility of marriage have also accepted the responsibility of voting in greater numbers. Since 1972 that group’s participation has only dropped 4%.

The record of the unmarried young people is much worse. They have dropped in participation another 14% from their initial voting percentage, which was a low and uninspired beginning.

A total of 300,000 heroes are not huge in a nation, which is reaching for a total population of 300 million. Still it may be enough men and women of fortitude to provide an example for those countless youth that have still not learned they too have a responsibility to their nation. That responsibility should be met by engaging themselves in the process of being good citizens…and it should also involve them learning the issues of governance and selecting America’s future course of national development through the ballot box.

Part of the tribulation our young warriors inherited is a nation of apathetic peers. Part of the sorrow they inherited is seeing how those who were chosen to be educators who prepare the young for citizenry have betrayed our youth. Part of their triumph will be to see an end to revisionism and their peers in a renaissance of patriotism.


Thomas D. Segel, a retired Marine journalist, served 26 years in a variety of assignments, including the war in Korea and two tours of duty in Vietnam. He is a twice-wounded former combat correspondent who holds eight personal decorations for valor and meritorious service. Winner of the Thomas Jefferson Award for journalistic excellence, he is also author of several books, including “Men in Space”, which was placed on both the national high school and junior high school library lists. Segel received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas – Pan American and his graduate degree from Vanderbilt University. During his years as an educator he taught Government and Economics. He is a past National President of the United States Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association. Readers may contact Segel at feedback@washingtondispatch.com.