Thousands of young people across the United States have taken to Twitter over the last two weeks to express their fear of being drafted into the U.S. military. Though their worries are unfounded, the Twitter frenzy raises questions about the future of military conscription in the United States and the ideal model for military service.
These Twitter users and many young Americans’ anxiety over forced military service stems from a lack of understanding of the differences between Selective Service System and the draft.
The panic began when threats of retaliation by Iran for the death of Qasem Soleimani on Jan. 3 incited panic over the possibility of war, with #WordWarIII trending on Twitter. Young people across the United States tweeted at the selective service’s Twitter, @SSS_gov, emoting their dread of forced military service to defend their country against Iran.
Under the false impression that the FAFSA requirement for men to sign up for selective service to receive financial aid meant imminent conscription, Twitter user @mostlywashedup tweeted on Jan. 3, “I laughed at the world war 3 memes until I realized I’m registered for the draft because of the FAFSA” to which @MoisesR691 responded, “I didn’t even get money from FAFSA so I’m basically doing it for free.”
These tweets reveal a lack of understanding of the function of the selective service as opposed to the draft. Although all members of the selective service could potentially be drafted, both the president and Congress would have to authorize the conscription — more commonly known as the draft — which has not happened since 1973.
Selective Service System Director Don Benton outlined the current role of the selective service in an interview with C‑SPAN. “We don’t have an active draft component,” Benton said. “We just register now. We are prepared… The selective service is for unforeseen emergencies.”
According to its website, the Military Selective Service Act of 1948 created the Selective Service System to facilitate the “filling [of] wartime manpower needs smoothly and rapidly.” The immediate cause of the adoption of the selective service program, however, was the Cold War. The looming threat of war with the Soviet Union made it essential for the United States to have a system in place to secure manpower quickly and efficiently if necessary.
Even after the Cold War, however, the merits of having potential servicemen on standby became quickly apparent, and the system was adopted indefinitely. Since it does not currently suffer a dearth of manpower, the United States military is an entirely volunteer force.
The most common complaint made on Twitter in response to the situation was that the draft discriminated against male college students. In order for male college hopefuls to apply for financial assistance through FAFSA, they must register for selective service.
College students shouldn’t start calling their deans to drop out just yet. Those who make this claim fail to realize that any male over the age of eighteen must register for the draft within the first thirty days after his eighteenth birthday. Any violators of this law may be prosecuted and be forced to pay a fine of up to $250,000 and/or spend five years in prison. Since there is no priority order for the selective service as draft selection is based on a random lottery number and birth year, college students are no more likely to be selected for the draft than a civilian.
College kids risk getting drafted either way. They might as well stay in school.
The second point of contention in the Twitter frenzy was the exemption of women from the military draft. YouTube beauty guru James Charles is still under fire for tweeting pictures of himself dressed as a woman, captioned, “me when the government comes knocking on my door for the draft.” His tweet went viral immediately, as many called his post anti-woman and questioned why women were not part of the draft.
Though not a new issue, the topic of whether women should be included in the draft has become a hot-button topic in recent years. In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled against including women in the draft in Rostker v. Goldberg on the grounds that women were not eligible to serve in combat positions and were therefore unnecessary for crisis wartime situations.
Representing the majority opinion, Justice William Rehnquist wrote, “[t]he existence of the combat restrictions clearly indicates the basis for Congress’ decision to exempt women from registration. The purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops. Since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft, and therefore decided not to register them.”
This ban was lifted in 2013, and women have been serving in these roles for the last seven years. With this barrier eliminated, Congress commissioned a blue-ribbon panel of experts in the field which has spent the last three years revisiting the idea of entering women into the selective service. This panel will present its report to Benton and subsequently Congress in March.
There are a couple different models that a mixed-gender draft could take. The best form, however, would be to draft women into non-combat positions and create all-female platoons for women who choose to serve on the frontlines.
By drafting women into non-combat situations, objections about women’s physical capabilities on the battlefield would be eliminated. Like any other large-scale organization, the military requires personnel to handle transportation, accounting, analytics, and many other support roles. Women who object to being placed in combat positions can still serve their country in crucial ways.
Historically, all-female units have rendered remarkable results. The exploits of the all-female Russian Women’s Battalion of Death during World War I are a colorful and compelling example of this.
Additionally, separate platoons for female and male soldiers would help solve the problem of sexual assault within the military. A 2018 joint report by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps revealed that 1 in 8 women in the United States armed services experiences sexual assault. Ninety-six percent of the offenders are male. Separating genders would go a long way in preventing assault and promoting a stronger sisterhood and brotherhood among members of the armed forces.
College students shouldn’t trade in their Oxfords in for combat boots yet. Though there may be some changes on the horizon regarding the selective service, it will likely not be a draft.
Carly Fisher is a sophomore studying philosophy.