The search term "draft" surged online after the Pentagon confirmed the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike authorized by President Trump last week. "World War III" also started trending on Twitter. Plus, the website for the United States Selective Service, where American men need to register when they turn 18, crashed.
Interest and concern about the draft has become palpable.
However, a military draft has not been legal since 1973, when the U.S. Armed Forces moved to an all-voluntary military.
Debra Wada, vice chair of the National Commission of Military, National and Public Service said "part of the reason we see students getting concerned is there's a lot of misinformation on the Selective Service around the country."
Selective Service, a government agency, is not a draft but maintains a database of American men of draft-able age, were it to be reinstated. All men from 18-25 are required to register.
Although registering is the law, many do not grasp the prohibitive consequences were they to forgo registration, she said. Penalties for not registering include exclusion from some federal jobs and ineligibility for some student loans.
Wada said most males register "passively," through a driver's license registration or while filling out a federal student aid form, without understanding what they've entered.
But, bringing a draft back would require an act of Congress, as the Selective Service tweeted after many began searching for information.
Both the House and the Senate would need to pass legislation to alter the current status of the draft. During the War on Terror and Gulf War, political leaders chose to hold current servicemembers past their contract dates rather than fight to re-instate the draft.
Women are not involved in these discussions as they were exempt from the draft. In 1981, the Supreme Court said women were exempted from registering for the Selective Service as they were restricted from combat, but the Obama administration's 2015 decision to open up military specialties, including combat jobs, to women may make the 1981 case moot. A federal judge ruled an all-male draft was unconstitutional in 2019. If the draft is reinstated, women may make the cut this time around.
If Congress passes legislation and the president signs it into law, then the Selective Service System would start a lottery process. First, local boards would be set up and dates would be set, Wada said.
She said the frantic response to the news of escalation in the Middle East provides an opportunity to "educate young Americans" to understand how they registered and why the government is asking young men to register for a draft that doesn't currently run.