Should U.S. Citizens Join the Military? The Side Effects of War on Soldiers, Families, and Societies

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There will be no fighting in a better future. People should live in peaceful societies where people of various races, values, and faiths are tolerated without prejudice or malice. People are free to express themselves without fear of being censored. People should be themselves without fear of being judged.

That, though, is not the world we live in today. There is racism, bigotry, and conflict, and we need the military to defend our country against external threats. Every year, brave men and women volunteer and are sent to risky locations in the hopes of eliminating militant forces and hopefully putting an end to the fighting. In fact, for about half a century, between 1950 and 2000, a total of 118.8 million billets were handed out. This means that an average of 2.33 million military personnel were on active duty during those five decades (Kane 1).

Of these brave soldiers, tens of thousands die while in service. During the Korean War, 5.72 million soldiers were serving, more than 103 thousand were wounded and almost 34 thousand died during battle, not to mention the almost 3 thousand who died of other causes. Meanwhile, during the Vietnam War, 8.74 million soldiers were serving, more than 300 thousand were wounded and more than 47 thousand died during battle. Another 11 thousand died of other causes (DeBruyne & Leland 3).

As we all know now, the Korean and Vietnam Wars have ended and are now part of the history, but that doesn’t mean that conflicts have ceased to exist in other parts of the world.

For instance, American troops are currently in the Middle East to aid in the Syrian Civil War. Kurdish forces, ISIS, the Assad regime, and other groups have caused violence and chaos in the country since 2011. This conflict has led more than 4.81 million Syrians to leave the country and seek refuge in other nations (CNN 1). Late last year, former Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said that two hundred more troops would be sent to Syria in addition to the three hundred Special Operations forces already working there (Schmitt 1).

War doesn’t seem to end, which means that more U.S. citizens will join the fight against terrorism and violence. Aside from casualties, war has other negative effects on soldiers and their families, as well as the society, as proven by years of research and studies by different concerned bodies (Pizzaro et al.; James & Countryman; Gelpi & Mueller). If these wars are not happening on U.S. soil, why then should U.S. citizens join the military? Is it necessary for the country to mediate in these conflicts? What gains does the country get from deploying U.S. citizens to these war areas?

Effect of War on Soldiers and Families

The most damaging effect of war is psychological, which can then manifest itself in the physical health of veterans. A study by Pizzaro et al. discovered that trauma from war can cause more unique ailments and lead to higher mortality risks, especially for soldiers who joined the military at a younger age (198).

Moreover, war has damaging effects to the family and children left by soldiers while on duty. James and Countryman discovered that the absence of a parent or parents because of deployment causes an increase in behavioral problems in their children. These behavioral problems include “problems in sleeping, higher stress levels and anxiety, declining grades, an increase in maladaptive child behaviors, and increased rates of child maltreatment.” Children between three to five years old are at a greater risk of feveloping a behavioral problem, while children between five to twelve years old are also more susceptible to developing psychosocial morbidity. Prolonged reintegration, especially for older girls, after a parent returns home from service is also a problem for military families. Depressive symptoms also persist in children with parents in the military (17).

The Cost of War

Aside from casualties and negative effects on children and families, the cost of war is enormous. Daggett estimated the costs of major wars that the United States participated in. For instance, the country spent 30 billion dollars from 1950 to 1953 during the Korean War and 111 billion dollars from 1965 to 1975 during the Vietnam War. More recently, the government spent 715 billion dollars from 2003 to 2010 in Iraq and 297 billion dollars from 2001 to 2010 in Afghanistan and other operations in the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, etcetera. In total, the United States spent 1,046 billion dollars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other operations from 2001 to 2010 after the 9/11 attack. (2-3).

Why Participate in War?

To answer this question, Donelly argued that:

…whether we like it or not, the United States is the guarantor of a global security architecture that was established in the aftermath of World War II but has not been sufficiently redefined since the end of the Cold War (24).

Being a guarantor, the spread of war and terrorism in other parts of the world will reflect as a failure in the part of the United States. Even in the best case scenario, wherein this type of conflict will not damage the international equilibrium in the long-run, the country’s reputation will still suffer if officials decide to pull out soldiers and to stop its participation in the war. Of course, the worst case scenario is that the conflict will find its way to the home base, and citizens of the United States will directly suffer as a result. The U.S. military’s participation can therefore be taken as a step towards preventing such event from happening.


So should the United States participate in war?

As Higgs said, no matter what the benefits of war are, it still will not:

…justify the costs being borne… The costs are real and huge—hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of dead and wounded so far just for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention again the grave injuries to civil and economic liberties here at home (626).

It seems like the costs of war far outweigh its benefits.

But then again, if there’s a chance to finally bring peace to every nation in this beautiful world, shouldn’t the military at least try to do whatever they can to achieve it?


Daggett, Stephen. “Costs of Major U.S. Wars.” CRS Report, Congressional Research Service, 2010.

DeBruyne, Nese & Anne Leland. “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics.” CRS Report, Congressional Research Service, 2015.

Donnelly, Thomas. “Syria and American Strategy.” Strategika: Conflicts of the Past as Lessons for the Present, issue 1, 2013, pp. 24-27.

Higgs, Robert. “Benefits and Costs of the U.S. Government’s War Making.” The Independent Review, vol. IX, no. 4, 2005, pp. 623-627.

James, Trenton & Jacqueline Countryman. “Psychiatric Effects of Military Deployment on Children and Families: The Use of Play Therapy for Assessment and Treatment.” Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, vol. 9, no. 2, 2012, pp. 16-20.

Kane, Tim. “Global U.S. Troop Deployment, 1950-2003.” A Report of the Heritage Center for Data Analysis, The Heritage Foundation, 2004.

Pizzaro, Judith, et al. “Physical and Mental Health Costs of Traumatic War Experiences Among Civil War Veterans.” Archives of General Psychiatry, vol. 63, no. 2, pp. 193-200.

Schmitt, Eric. “U.S. to Send 200 More Troops to Syria in ISIS Fight.” The New York Times, 10 Dec. 2016, Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.

“Syrian Civil War Fast Facts.” CNN, 18 Feb. 2017, Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.

December 21, 2022

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