Recent social media fervor about an impending “World War III” has warranted a refresher course in civics and military history.
After a U.S. airstrike killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani Jan. 3, about 33,800 Twitter users began raising questions about a potential military draft. In fact, Google searches for the term “FAFSA draft” reached peak popularity Jan. 4, according to Google Trends.
College students in particular, who may have been required to register for the Selective Service System — which may be used in the event of a draft — when filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, are wondering whether their status as federal aid recipients puts them at immediate risk of being drafted.
The short answer is no. Involuntary conscription ended in 1973 and can only be reinstated if approved by Congress and signed by the president, something John Mueller, adjunct professor of political science at Ohio State, said is neither likely nor preferable.
“The United States does have a very large military, volunteer military, and can handle, I think, almost any imaginable contingency without having to use a draft,” Mueller, a senior research scientist at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, said. “It generally prefers volunteers to draftees because they’re there because they want to be there as opposed to being forced to be there.”
To Mueller, a military made by force opens the door to disillusioned and ineffective soldiers. And he sees the current U.S. armed forces — whose active personnel, according to the Department of Defense’s 2019 Agency Financial Report, totals roughly 1.3 million — as sufficient to navigate foreseeable conflicts without utilizing the Selective Service System.
“You’d much rather have people who are there because they want to do it. Some are going to wash out, and some are not going to be very good, and some are going to become disillusioned, but nonetheless, it’s not people who are forced against their will, pulled out of college or high school,” Mueller said.
As opposed to a draft, the Selective Service System is an emergency database of potential troops to be called to serve in times of war. Men aged 18-25 are required to register with the system by the Military Selective Service Act. According to the Selective Service System’s website, only the depletion of volunteer troops — including the Reserve Components of the Armed Forces — would warrant a draft reinstatement.
According to the website, to facilitate compliance with the Military Selective Service Act, federal and state agencies have made Selective Service registration a requirement for male students seeking financial aid, which is why when men file the FAFSA, they must answer a question regarding their registration status and can opt to automatically register upon submission of their application.
Additionally, in order to qualify for Ohio State’s in-state tuition, Ohio residents otherwise required to register with the Selective Service must do so. University spokesperson Ben Johnson referred The Lantern to a statement from the University Registrar outlining the requirement.
“Students who are required to register with the United States Selective Service and have not done so are not eligible for state of Ohio’s tuition subsidy,” the University Registrar website states.
Still, some students, such as Josh Leopold, a first-year in music composition at Ohio State’s Lima campus, feel the Selective Service System enlistment requirement for financial aid — and the Selective Service System in general — is not explained clearly when students file the FAFSA.
“I’m not quite sure what the difference between the Selective Service and the draft is,” Leopold said. Leopold, a transgender woman who was required to register with the Selective Service because of her sex assigned at birth, said no one explained the implications of Selective Service registration for her financial aid.
Students can check their Selective Service registration status by going to https://www.sss.gov/Registration/Check-a-Registration/Verification-Form.