The killing of top Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump last week sparked concerns about the possibility of World War III and renewed fears about the return of the draft. So many people visited the Selective Service website on Jan. 3, it crashed. The agency attributed the traffic increase to "the spread of misinformation," in a tweet.
By now you've probably fielded a question or 15 from your children asking if they'll be forced to pack up and go to war. Here's how you can answer their queries.
How does the U.S. draft work?
As of today, it technically doesn't work because there is no active draft.
"It would take an act of Congress signed into law by the president for the Selective Service Administration to go back in action and call people involuntarily to military service," Davis Winkie, a project archivist for the Veterans History Project at Atlanta History Center and a serving officer in North Carolina's Army National Guard tells USA TODAY.
Eric Fleury, assistant professor of Government and International Relations at Connecticut College, describes the Selective Service as simply a database for the government to keep a list of eligible males that they can draft to serve in the military should there be a need.
Enacting a draft is a congressional power, not a presidential one, Fleury explains. Should there be a need for people to serve in the military involuntarily, then that list will be used to start calling people to service.
Can the United States have a draft?
Theoretically, yes, but the possibility of that happening is slim.
Fleury says that by law, the government can require only that men register. The government would need to enact new legislation to actually put men in arms.
"I would also say that the likelihood of a draft is astronomically small," Fleury says. "It’s militarily impractical and politically toxic."
Winkie says a draft is meant to be activated in an extreme emergency and that even a full-scale war with Iran right now would probably not meet the necessary threshold to justify reactivating the draft.
"In this current geopolitical situation, there's almost zero chance unless somehow we end up in a large-scale ground war directly with Russia or China," Winkie speculates. That's because he says we currently have enough people in the military to serve should there be a war with Iran.
Do all 18-year-olds have to register for selective service?
Short answer: If you're male, yes. Men between the ages of 18 and 25 are legally required to register for the selective service.
This happens automatically in many states when men obtain their driver's licenses, says Winkie. Applying for college financial aid is another way to register.
The law says you have up until 30 days after you turn 18 to register, but there is a grace period that allows you to register up until the last day of your 25th year.
Failing to register may lead to fines, possible imprisonment and not being eligible for certain benefits.
Although Fleury said he's rarely heard of people getting fined or thrown in jail for not registering, the main thing people should worry about is financial aid and future career choices.
"It will cut you out of the market for student loans and make it harder, if not impossible, to get a job with the federal government or apply for an internship," Fleury says. "It's a more moderate system of penalties rather than a criminal procedure."
Who is exempt from selective service?
Men who are not between the ages of 18 and 26. That's about it.
If you are a permanent resident, regardless of citizenship status, you are expected to register for the selective service, says Winkie.
But just because you're registered does not mean you will automatically have to serve in the military if a draft is reinstated.
"If you have a physical or mental condition that keeps you from serving, that'll be decided after you're drafted," Winkie says. "Same goes for people who are dual nationals. If they decide they don't want to draft Iranian Americans for such a conflict, they'll determine that after they draft you."
Transgender people are prohibited from openly serving in the U.S. military, but trans women are still required to register for the draft because they were originally assigned a male at birth, says Winkie.
"If a trans woman is drafted, she'd appear for the medical examination and will likely not be inducted into military service," Winkie says.
When was the last U.S. draft?
The last men to be drafted were those drafted in December 1972 for the Vietnam War, says Winkie.
The current version of the draft was also used during World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It was also active in peace times between the latter two wars.
At what age can you no longer be drafted?
Once you're 26, you're exempt from being drafted ... kind of.
"There's historical precedent for extending that age," Winkie says before noting that in August 1918, during World War I, the age limit was amended to 45.
It's important to note that just because you're drafted doesn't mean you'll be immediately thrown onto the front lines of the battlefield.
"After someone is drafted, they can claim conscientious objector status, which is basically they say they have religious or moral convictions that do not allow them to serve in war," Winkie says.
He adds that in previous wars, claiming conscientious objector status allowed people to serve as medics or in other non-combat positions, and in extreme cases have made it so they didn't have to serve in the military at all.
Can women be drafted?
Since the law doesn't require women to register for selective service, they can't be drafted.
Fleury says that there could be changes to that in the future.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu