Selective Service System Director Don Benton said the SSS does not have an active draft com­ponent. I Wiki­media Commons

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.