Air Force AMU Army Branch Editor's Pick Military Original

Why the U.S. Will Not Re-Institute the Military Draft

Featured image: U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned to the East Africa Response Force (EARF), 101st Airborne Division, board a C-130J Super Hercules, assigned to the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, on January 5, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Hernandez)

By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor of In Military, InCyberDefense and In Space News. Veteran, U.S. Army & U.S. Air Force.

On Friday, January 2, the White House announced “At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.”

Almost immediately and throughout the weekend, #WW3Draft became the top trending item on Twitter. In addition, searches for “World War 3” and “World War 3 draft” spiked on Google Search. Thousands of young men who were required to register with the Selective Service System to qualify for federal financial student aid, took to Twitter to explain (with memes) how they would dodge the draft if universal conscription returned.

Get started on your Homeland Security Degree at American Military University.

One Twitter user even boasted and posted that he had blocked the account of the United States Army, with the (faulty) reasoning that: “They can’t draft you if they can’t see you.”

Interest in and fear of the possibility of a new draft was so high that it apparently crashed the website for the Selective Service System:

The Selective Service System maintains a list of eligible Americans ages 18 to 25 who would be called upon if Congress re-instituted the draft, and the President approved it. Only men are required to register for the draft. However, in 2015 the Pentagon opened all combat jobs to women. Recently, there has been increasing pressure to require women to register for the draft as well.

It is worth noting that 27 states and two U.S. territories have driver’s license legislation which automatically registers men with the Selective Service System when they receive or renew their driver’s license.

Today’s All-Volunteer Force

America’s reaction to the Vietnam War gave birth to the all-volunteer force in 1973 and killed the draft. Today’s all-volunteer force is shockingly small. There are approximately 1.34 million active-duty personnel, who represent only about 0.4% of the population.

The idea of an all-volunteer force has the overwhelming support of most Americans and military leaders, but it has had some severe consequences.

Since the end of the draft 47 years ago, our leaders have sent the men and women of the military into conflict 134 separate times. In the 40 years prior to the end of the draft, when the responsibility of national defense was shared by all Americans, our leaders sent our troops into harm’s way only 24 times, including during World War II.

I am in no way advocating a return of the draft; I’m simply acknowledging that the typical sentiment from congressional leaders now seems to be, “Well, they volunteered to fight. They knew what they were signing up for.” According to Dr. Mike Haynie, military veteran and Executive Director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families: “The all-volunteer force makes it much too easy for us to leverage military conflict as an instrument of public policy.”

Why the Draft (Probably) Won’t Return Any Time Soon – Even in War

First, most Americans simply aren’t eligible for military service. The Pentagon estimated in a 2017 report that about 75% of people in the United States ages 17 to 24 are ineligible for military service by being medically obese, having a criminal record, or not having a high school education. This eliminates over 24 million of the 34 million people of eligible age to serve in the armed forces.

In addition, all five branches of the U.S. military have become increasingly selective in recent years, reducing the number of waivers for misdemeanors and felonies, especially in the Air Force and Marine Corps, and increasing the physical fitness requirements.

The military must make sure that all the individuals joining are in optimal physical health for reasons of safety. The exhaustive list of potential medical issues that could prevent someone from being drafted include thousands of conditions, everything from bad dental work to minor skin issues.

Also, public support for the draft has only continued to decline since the program ended in 1973. A CBS News poll conducted in 2006 found that 76% of Americans opposed drafting Americans to serve in the Iraq War. It is unlikely that Congress would pass such a measure today and even more unlikely that the President would sign it.

A Future of Smaller, More Frequent Conflicts

Dating back to the Civil War, the draft is an archaic and last resort option that will likely never be used again short of total global war. The world’s increasing propensity for smaller, more frequent regional conflicts all but ensures that military conscription, at least in the United States, is resigned to the dust bin of history.

As for today’s 18- to 25-year olds worried about being drafted and sent to Iran or Iraq, you can probably rest easy. After all, if you get drafted, who would create all the memes? Twitter would turn into a pretty empty place.

Your country needs you at home, behind the keyboard. It’s the patriotic thing to do.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

Wes O'Donnell

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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