Quite naturally, the assassination of Iran's Qassem Soleimani by a U.S. drone strike and that country's retaliatory missile attacks on Iraqi military bases that house American troops is fueling fears about the possibility of war and all that violent conflicts entail. For young people, that means concern about the prospect of a revived military draft for the first time since the Vietnam War.
As unlikely as a revived draft seems after decades of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan by an all-volunteer military, there's no doubt that many policymakers are eager to revive conscription in some form, and a new conflict could give them an excuse to force people into government service. That means it's a good time for those potentially on the receiving end of a draft notice to give some thought to how they might respond or resist.
A potential draft is definitely on many people's minds. Immediately after Soleimani's death, the Selective Service website crashed under the press of traffic from people concerned that a draft was imminent. With typical government efficiency, it remained only intermittently available days later.
"Due to the spread of misinformation, our website is experiencing high traffic volumes at this time," Selective Service tweeted. "If you are attempting to register or verify registration, please check back later today as we are working to resolve this issue. We appreciate your patience."
To the extent that they care, the conscription bureaucrats can thank both legitimate fears and trolls issuing bogus draft notices via phone calls and text messages for the sudden surge of interest. Or maybe the proper word is "disinterest," since it's unlikely that most of the Selective Service's online visitors are eager to sign up in anticipation of a draft real or imagined.
"Only 30% of Likely U.S. Voters think the United States should have a military draft," according to a 2019 survey by Rasmussen Reports. "Fifty-six percent (56%) see no need for a draft."
Even more telling, 31 percent of male millennials told YouGov pollsters they would "try to avoid being conscripted into the armed forces" while only 23 percent said they wouldn't try to avoid a draft.
An even greater percentage of men in the post-millennial Gen Z said they would try to avoid conscription, but their representation in the survey was too small to be considered representative.
Specifics of the current face-off in the Middle East are unlikely to budge those percentages. Americans considering U.S. intervention in Iraq a mistake have consistently outnumbered those favoring it since 2006, according to Gallup. And 53 percent of Americans tell Reuters/Ipsos pollsters that they disapprove of President Trump's handling of Iran in the wake of Soleimani's assassination.
That's not the stuff of which eager conscript armies are made. Should a draft be reinstated, officials are likely to find that a whole lot of their intended cannon fodder would "try to avoid being conscripted into the armed forces."
This may come as a bit of a disappointment to politicians and pundits who have taken to floating the idea of mandatory national service for tasks both military and civilian. Last summer, The New York Times spotlighted a new round of "debates about whether mandatory national service is undemocratic or whether it's the path toward a stronger sense of solidarity among Americans."
Democratic presidential wannabe Pete Buttigieg dreams of his countrymen shoved into "standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other Americans for a greater purpose" as a means of building "social cohesion." John Delaney, another White House aspirant, wants conscripts serving in a variety of government-designated tasks "to give back to their country" (give what back he doesn't specify).
Some social scientists perversely imagine that extending government control over people's lives will empower the public to exert more control over that government. Among them is Rutgers University's Jennifer Mittelstadt, who suggests that a new generation of unwilling soldiers will somehow reduce military adventurism even though the Vietnam-era U.S. military suffered over 420,000 deserters as the war dragged out for years despite the opposition of so many conscripts.
In fact, access to more bodies to send into combat whether or not they're willing is exactly why retired Army Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich favors restoring the draft. "Numbers are not the problem," he says of the potential recruits under a system of coercion. "It's about who we access and how we use the law."
That said, the immediate prospects for a revival of conscription seem pretty small. In recent years, the U.S. has maintained a far-flung presence around the world while waging seemingly endless war in Iraq and Afghanistan with a volunteer military. And the potential conscripts are not only overwhelmingly opposed to the idea, they're also eligible to vote.
But young people are flooding the Selective Service website and falling for bogus draft text messages for a reason. They know that many among the powers-that-be view them as resources to be seized and deployed at the whim of government officials. They've seen and heard repeated calls for extracting forced labor from them, at the cost of time they'll never get back, or even of their lives.
And, after all, even in the absence of actual conscription, young men are still required to register with Selective Service. That's a requirement that exists only to provide the means for government officials to reinstate a draft of some sort should they ever choose to do so.
Now a new conflict looms with Iran. It threatens a war that may well give officials a new excuse to implement their dreams of forced service.
Taking policymakers at their word when they propose various conscription schemes and strenuously resisting any attempt to implement them may be the best means of minimizing the risk of a renewed draft.