MSRC News Details

MSRC's David Rudd in the Room for Debate

MSRC Member and scientific director of the National Center for Veterans Studies, David Rudd, shared his opinion on the topic of "Would military conscription help alleviate the stress of combat?" in the New York Times' Room for Debate.

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, fewer Americans serve in the military than at any time in modern history. During World War II approximately 9 percent of Americans served. That number shrank to less than 2 percent during Korea and Vietnam, and less than 1 percent during the Gulf War. In this post 9/11 era, it’s remarkable that less than one half of one percent of Americans serve. It’s also historic that such a large combat role is played by those in the National Guard and Reserves.

The Pew data also revealed that the general public and veterans agree about one critical point: most Americans don’t understand military life, including the unique stressors of repeated deployments and exposure to combat, the related sacrifices and the inevitable consequences.

I don’t know if a draft or a new national service program is the solution nor do I necessarily believe that fewer deployments would result in fewer incidents of, say, post-traumatic stress disorder. But I do know that it’s unreasonable and unrealistic to have such a tiny percentage of the general population carry the burden of military service, and repeated deployments can compound medical, social and psychological problems.

As a veteran and a psychologist studying and treating psychological injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan, repeated exposure to combat has consequences, often serious, sometimes tragic. A relatively small fighting force in a prolonged war can force commanders to redeploy soldiers who show warning signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, as appears to be the case with Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

Perhaps most important, though, leaders across both parties in Washington with little exposure to military life can result in unrealistic expectations and policies that leave commanders with little if any choice but to continue to stretch an increasingly vulnerable fighting force, with tragic consequences.

Read more in the Room for Debate