- After the Pentagon confirmed it had launched an airstrike that killed a top Iranian general, young Americans started worrying about being drafted into a potential new conflict, making “World War 3” a top Twitter trend.
- The United States has conscripted service members in five conflicts. After the Vietnam War, the draft was eliminated in 1973 and the military became totally volunteer-based.
- Even if the United States gets into a war with Iran as the result of the recent strike, it’s both politically and practically improbably for the draft to be revived.
- Because popular support for military conscription is so low, legislation to re-establish a draft would be very unlikely to pass either the House of Representatives or the Senate.
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After the Pentagon confirmed it had launched an airstrike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, young Americans began worrying about the possibility of being drafted in a potential war stemming from the strike.
Almost immediately, searches for “World War 3” and “World War 3 draft” spiked on Google Search and became trending topics on Twitter, sparking copious memes of people imagining how they avoid being drafted into the military. It even sparked a parody account, @urfaveisdrafted, which has rapidly gained thousands of followers.
While the US military relies entirely on a volunteer corps, all American men aged 18-25 are mandated to be registered with the Selective Service Administration, which maintains the list of Americans who would be called upon to serve if Congress instituted a draft.
Registering for the Selective Service is a requirement to receive federal student loans and access to other federal programs, qualify for federal employment, and in many states, obtain a driver’s license.
On Friday, the SSA tweeted out that they were “conducting business as usual” in response to their website crashing due to people searching for information about the draft and verifying their registration.
—Selective Service (@SSS_gov) January 3, 2020
What is the draft?
The US officially first officially used mandated military conscription during the Civil War, where both the Union and Confederate armies drafted soldiers to fight.
Since then, the United States has conscripted service members into the military in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and most recently, the Vietnam War. In 1973, the draft was eliminated and the military became volunteer-based.
In previous times of conscription, men registered for the Selective Service would enter into a draft lottery based on their date of birth, and those selected through the lottery would enter into military service after passing a physical and psychological examination.
In the wake of the Iran strike, many people wondered if using federal aid programs, including student loans and Pell grants, increased the likelihood of being drafted.
FAFSA, the office in the Department of Education which administers federal aid, clarified that receiving student loans doesn’t make someone more or less likely to be hypothetically drafted.
—Federal Student Aid (@FAFSA) January 3, 2020
Could the United States bring back the draft?
Even if the United States gets into a war with Iran as the result of the recent strike, it’s both politically and practically improbably for the draft to be revived.
As the Selective Service and FASFA both pointed out, Congress would need to pass legislation then signed into law by the president authorizing a military draft for any new conflict.
Because popular support for military conscription is so low, legislation to re-establish a draft would be very unlikely to pass either the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives or the Republican-controlled Senate.
Kathleen Weldon of Cornell University’s Roper Center, which conducts and tracks public opinion polling, wrote in the Huffington Post in 2017 that public support for a draft has only fallen since the end of the Vietnam War.
As Weldon noted, a CBS News poll conducted in 2006 found that 76% of Americans opposed drafting Americans to serve in the Iraq War, with just 20% supporting such a measure. A CNN/ORC poll conducted 11 years later in 2017 similarly gauged just 20% support for a return to conscription.
While some Democratic politicians have argued in favor of incentivizing or requiring young Americans to non-military domestic national service programs, virtually no one politician on either side of the aisle have advocated bringing back the military draft.
Furthermore, an effort to administer a draft today would run up some significant bureaucratic and administrative hurdles with possibly little payoff.
The Pentagon estimated in a 2017 report that about 71% of people in the United States aged 17 to 24 are ineligible for military service due to either being medically obese, having a criminal record, or not having earned a high school diploma or GED.
Taking into account the additional people who would apply for deferments or couldn’t serve for other medical reasons, the poll of military-eligible people could be quite small.
But even though the draft is unlikely to return anytime soon, all men between the ages of 18 and 25 are still required to be registered with the SSA.