On Jan. 3, 2020, the US Pentagon ordered a drone strike near Baghdad International Airport, killing Iranian major general Quasem Soleimani.
Considered the second most powerful man in Iran, his death killing shocked leaders across the world, most of whom called for immediate de-escalation as the Iranian government vowed retaliation for the killing. Within hours of the strike, Twitter was awash with war memes and World War III was trending.
It was one of the rare moments where everyone on Twitter seemed to all be tweeting about the same thing, though takes were vastly different. Some denounced the Trump administration’s unilateral military action made without Congressional approval, some called it a justified killing of a terrorist while others wondered how this would affect Iranian civilians, with many speculated the Pentagon’s actions would to further conflict.
As tensions between the two countries were high, many believed that a draft was about to happen, that seemed rather unlikely to me was that the U.S would start drafting people into the military. Although jokingly memed by many, there were some who truly speculated that it may be possible.
Reading those different takes, my own opinion was that a draft was highly unlikely. But as I wasn’t an expert on the subject, I decided to see what some UM professors thought about the likelihood of draft.
Considering I wasn’t well versed on the history of the draft, I went on a search for a history lesson that brought me to UM’s own Dr. Jim Day, a professor of history at the University. Day currently holds the program’s first endowed professorship–the Michael J. Grainger Professorship in Modern History. Day is also a WestPoint graduate and served 16 years in the U.S. Army.
The draft, also known as conscription, was used during the Civil War, WWI, WWII and the Vietnam War. All males were required to register for the draft through the Selective Service program at age 18, and are given draft code. This code identifies whether an individual was combat capable or not. They could then be conscripted into the army depending on the needs of the military.
The purpose of the draft is to secure sufficient manpower during wartime. However, throughout the years draft procedures have changed.
Studies found that because there was a college exemption, affluent men were able to go to college and avoid the draft, while poor people and black people, unable to afford college, were disproportionately conscripted. To make the draft more fair, it turned to a lottery-based system in the later days of the Vietnam War.
Though President Reagan reinstituted the draft, the army converted to an all-volunteer force during the Nixon Administration in the early 1970s. While still around, the draft has not been used again since the Vietnam War.
Day does not believe that a draft is likely in this day and age.
“Our society is used to the all-volunteer force, and we haven’t had any wars recently on the scale of World War II that required nation-wide mobilization,” Day stated.
Apart from the draft being generally believed as being unnecessary and obsolete, Dr. Carl Doerfler, a professor of political science at UM, believes that the all-volunteer army is superior to a draft based one. From a morale standpoint a volunteer army is better than one where people are forced into military service.
The ever-growing technical aspect of war in this day and age is another reason the draft is unlikely, according to Doerfler.
“It’s not 200 years ago where you’re sending wave after wave of guys into the fray,” he stated. “The military is different these days.”
Doerfler remarked that though unlikely, if the U.S were to conscript soldiers in this age, many generals believe people might be more critical of the military moves the country makes. The same way anti-war protests happened during the Vietnam War, people whose children would be forced into service would be more likely to question U.S operations in different countries.
When you take into consideration for instance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many American’s couldn’t say without a shadow of a doubt why there is still a U.S presence in the Middle East. For some people who don’t have children in the military, they may be completely oblivious to the fact that these conflicts are still occurring or what they’re about.
There is speculation that moving back to a draft would make people more politically aware of these conflicts, and more likely to speak against these wars and military operations that don’t quite make sense.
“It looks like we choose to remove dictators from regions where there are a lot of resources a lot of the time,” he said. “For some reason, you know, if a dictator is in a country that is not as resource rich, well then, they can maintain their sovereignty and we won’t interfere with that.”
As long as the U.S. has a working volunteer army capable of meeting the military’s needs, it is unlikely that the draft will be utilized. So, for now, unless things change drastically, draft memes are just memes.