Could the strike on an Iranian general trigger a draft? The Selective Service, explained.
By KAYLA EPSTEIN | The Washington Post | Published: January 5, 2020
In the hours since the Trump administration announced that the high-ranking Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani had been killed in a U.S. airstrike, Americans wondered: Does this mean war?
And for young people, there was a follow-up: Would I have to go?
The impact of President Donald Trump's decision to order a strike against Soleimani has yet to be seen, it has turned up the heat on America's already tense relationship with Iran, a country the president has portrayed as one of America's most dangerous adversaries. Google searches for terms such as "conscription", "Selective Service" and "Iran" spiked, according to Trends data, as youthful social media users on platforms like TikTok and Instagram dealt with this collective political anxiety the best way they knew how: by spinning out endless memes about getting drafted in a hypothetical, but seemingly imminent, World War III.
On Friday, the website for the Selective Service, a federal agency tasked with maintaining a database of adult men who could be called upon should a crisis require a draft, experienced technical difficulties as people flooded the site.
The draft was suspended in 1973 because of intense public and political opposition to the Vietnam War, and Congress and the president would have to pass legislation to bring it back, should an emergency call for it. But America still keeps a database of all young men who could be called upon should the draft ever return.
Every year, millions of young, adult men are required by law to register with the Selective Service, "a relatively low-cost insurance policy for our nation," as the agency puts it.
If you're a male residing in the United States between ages 18 and 25, you are required by law to register for the Selective Service. The mandate applies whether you're a U.S. citizen, immigrant, or undocumented immigrant. Women are not currently required to register, and signing up for the Selective Service does not enlist a person in the military.
Failure to register for the Selective Service could lead to criminal penalties, and an inability to qualify for federal student loans and federal jobs.
But would the latest escalation with Iran lead to a conflict so intense that the long-dormant draft would be instated, as the United States did during the Civil War, World War II, Korean War and, most famously, the Vietnam War?
Probably not, said said Patricia Sullivan, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who researchers military policy.
"I think there is almost no chance at all that the draft will be reinstated," Sullivan told The Washington Post. "With Iran, there's almost no chance that we're getting into the kind of ground-war scenario that large numbers of ground troops would be needed and we would implement the draft."
Sullivan added that the military is now so professionalized, and the cost of training each solider so high, that it would not necessarily make sense to add a surge of new recruits that may not be qualified.
The people who had the most reason to be concerned about an escalation with Iran were the military forces already in the Middle East region, Sullivan said, not civilians who might be conscripted in a hypothetical draft.