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Uncle Sam’s just not that into you

By Brendan Maher

Uncle Sam, figure of American propaganda during World War II. (Source: US Embassy)

On Jan. 3, 2020, the United States military carried out a drone strike near the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. This strike took place at approximately 1 a.m. local time, and resulted in the death of 10 people, including the Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani.

Soleimani, known in the West as “The Shadow Commander” was believed to be the second most powerful person in Iran, second only to the theocratic head-of-state, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

While some Iranian officials made comments alluding to retaliation and “fierce revenge,” the likelihood of war with Iran is very slim. There are simple and complex motivations for both the U.S. and Iran to avoid escalation, as well as next to no benefit for engaging in general warfare with each other.

Still, with a deliberate strike on a top Iranian military official, many people, especially the youth of America, have weighed the possibility of war in their minds. It was only hours after the strike that platforms like Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Reddit were flooded with memes and jokes about the possibility of “World War 3.”

Many of the posts made in response to the strike expressed the absurdity of a generation of people who grew up playing games like Call of Duty and Fortnite going to war. Others expressed what sort of Wile E. Coyote-style tactics Millennials would bring to the battlefield. However, some of the voices on these platforms came from a place of real fear. For military-age males, the possibility of war has an especially concerning element, known as “the draft.”

"There are simple and complex motivations for both the U.S. and Iran to avoid escalation, as well as next to no benefit for engaging in general warfare with each other."

At the end of every American male’s high school career is a reminder to register for the draft; if they fail to do so, they may be denied Federal Student Aid. Even outside of wartime, the agency which conducts the draft, called the United States Selective Service System, maintains a list of all males residing in the United States between the ages of 18 and 26.

But not only are the odds of general warfare slim in this modern era with Iran or any nation, the chances of a draft being reinstated are a separate and even less likely issue.

One strategy that is replacing war and making it increasingly less likely is economic sanctions. In the right circumstances, economic sanctions are far less costly and more effective than military intervention. The public of the offensive country rarely objects to placing sanctions and a dragging economy places pressure on the regime of the targeted country.

Before draft legislation would even be considered in Congress, all volunteer auxiliary service branches such as the ROTC and National Guard would be impressed into active-duty service as well.

While a draft can, and has, been instated without a formal declaration of war by the United States Congress, congressional and presidential approval are still needed to declare a draft. This helps form another one of the many layers of unlikelihood when it comes to the draft’s return. Legislating a draft would require the President and House of Representatives to formally vote and permanently attach their names to this wildly unpopular decision.

In the rare event that a crisis so great occurs that more members of the military are needed than the volunteer services can provide, and congressional and presidential approval of draft legislation is given, the draft would undergo the following process:

On Dec. 1, 2969, U.S. Congressman Alexander Pirnie, R-N.Y., selected Sept. 14 as the No. 1 draft number. (Source: Selective Service System)
  • The Selective Service Agency plans for a lottery, with public and the media encouraged to attend.

  • The draftees are selected by a totally random system using two large air mix drums with dated and numbered balls.

  • The first drum contains 365 balls that represent each day of the year. For example, one of the balls will read “July06.”

  • The second drum contains the numbers 1 to 365 (366 if leap years are included), which determine the order the birthdays will be prioritized. For example, if July06 and the number 25 are selected, then men born on July 6 will be called to service only after calling those with birthdays attached to the numbers 1 through 24.

  • The first-round of the draft only applies to men who turn 20 on the calendar year of the draft. If more are needed, those aged 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25 would be picked in that order. If more men are still needed, those who are turning 19 would be eligible to be picked.

  • Registrants with low lottery numbers are ordered to report for moral, mental, and physical evaluations. Once notified they are fit for duty, they will have 10 days to file for exemption, postponement, or deferment.

  • Local and appeal boards then process these filings. Local boards are made-up of volunteers.

  • The Selective Service Agency is required to deliver registrants to the military within 193 days of the crisis’ onset.

The Selective Service System is a complex institution with a long and varied history. In the past, those with enough money or status could pay their way out of the draft. Young men pursuing a college degree would receive automatic deferment.

Modern-day utilization of the draft is different, though, as it was changed during the Nixon administration due to dwindling public opinion of the Vietnam War.

The draft is now totally random; no matter who your parents are, or how much money you may have, you are still required to register for the draft. It is a felony to fail to register with the Selective Service Agency before the age of 26 and could result in a fine of $250,000 or a five-year prison term, or both.

But it is unlikely that a draft will be seen again in American history. The highly unpopular nature of the program motivates politicians to steer clear from situations that might cause a need for a draft. Additionally, the ever-changing way that conflicts are settled as the digital age marches on ensures that the need for huge amounts of manpower to settle a crisis is shrinking fast.


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