Late in the evening on Jan. 2, as Americans contemplated a return to work after the New Year holiday, shocking news began to ricochet across the internet: The United States had conducted a deadly drone strike on Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, one of that country's most esteemed military officers. Suddenly, the U.S. appeared to be on a war footing with a sovereign nation, one with nuclear aspirations.
As whispers of a possible World War III gained viral speed, something unexpected happened: The nation's attention turned to a small federal institution that has been little more than a historical footnote since the end of the Vietnam War. Google search traffic for "the draft" reached its highest levels since at least 2004; the U.S. Selective Service System's website, which officials say was undergoing maintenance at the time, slowed nearly to a halt as panicked visitors flooded in. In the days that followed, the U.S. Army was forced to issue an announcement combating a malicious hoax. No, officials said: We will not conscript you and order you off to basic training via text message.