The Soft(er) American: From JFK’s 1960 Article to Today’s Reality

If your long-term goal was to destroy a nation or civilization, you could work to constantly grow stronger and more powerful yourself, or you could discreetly contribute to the weakening of the nation you wish to destroy.

America has its enemies, and you could easily argue that we’re more vulnerable today than ever before. The rising power of other nations coupled with the weakening of our own puts the United States in a precarious position.

As a nation founded by the people, for the people, it’s long past time “the people” take ownership of our country and its culture.

It all starts with a concerted effort to build strength, first as an individual, then as a community, and eventually, as a nation.

Before America becomes great again, it needs to find strength again. Before the country finds strength, it’s people must attain it first.

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The Soft American

President-elect John F. Kennedy saw the threat of our physical softness in the 1960s. Sports Illustrated published his article, The Soft American, on December 26, 1960.

As he stated in the article:

But the harsh fact of the matter is that there is also an increasingly large number of young Americans who are neglecting their bodies—whose physical fitness is not what it should be—who are getting soft. And such softness on the part of individual citizens can help to strip and destroy the vitality of a nation.

For the physical vigor of our citizens is one of America’s most precious resources. If we waste and neglect this resource, if we allow it to dwindle and grow soft then we will destroy much of our ability to meet the great and vital challenges which confront our people. We will be unable to realize our full potential as a nation.

President-elect John F. Kennedy, Dec 26. 1960

I’m certain that when he wrote about The Soft American, he couldn’t have imagined how soft Americans would become in the decades that followed, and how that softness wouldn’t describe us only physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

I’m sure he’d be even more alarmed today if he were to see how much the government has contributed to that softness.

As Kennedy reached the conclusion of his article, he wrote the following:

But no matter how vigorous the leadership of government, we can fully restore the physical soundness of our nation only if every American is willing to assume responsibility for his own fitness and the fitness of his children. We do not live in a regimented society where men are forced to live their lives in the interest of the state. We are, all of us, as free to direct the activities of our bodies as we are to pursue the objects of our thought. But if we are to retain this freedom, for ourselves and for generations to come, then we must also be willing to work for the physical toughness on which the courage and intelligence and skill of man so largely depend.

How prophetic! He knew that the government could not and should not control Americans (as they’re trying to hard to do today), and that our ability to maintain the freedoms we enjoy was dependent on our willingness to do the work to maintain physical health and fitness.

He also knew, as research has continued to show, that your ability to think and reason depends on your physical fitness.

Though he didn’t explicitly say it in his article, he seemed to know that as America grew progressively physically soft, it would become progressively soft emotionally and mentally as well.

Beginning more than 2,500 years ago, from all quarters of the Greek world men thronged every four years to the sacred grove of Olympia, under the shadow of Mount Cronus, to compete in the most famous athletic contests of history—the Olympian games.

During the contest a sacred truce was observed among all the states of Greece as the best athletes of the Western world competed in boxing and foot races, wrestling and chariot races for the wreath of wild olive which was the prize of victory. When the winners returned to their home cities to lay the Olympian crown in the chief temples they were greeted as heroes and received rich rewards. For the Greeks prized physical excellence and athletic skills among man’s greatest goals and among the prime foundations of a vigorous state.

Thus the same civilizations which produced some of our highest achievements of philosophy and drama, government and art, also gave us a belief in the importance of physical soundness which has become a part of Western tradition; from the mens sana in corpore sano of the Romans to the British belief that the playing fields of Eaton brought victory on the battlefields of Europe. This knowledge, the knowledge that the physical well-being of the citizen is an important foundation for the vigor and vitality of all the activities of the nation, is as old as Western civilization itself. But it is a knowledge which today, in American, we are in danger of forgetting.

The first indication of a decline in the physical strength and ability of young Americans became apparent among United States soldiers in the early stages of the Korean War. The second came when figures were released showing that almost one out of every two young American was being rejected by Selective Service as mentally, morally or physically unfit. But the most startling demonstration of the general physical decline of American youth came when Dr. Hans Kraus and Dr. Sonja Weber revealed the results of 15 years of research centering in the Posture Clinic of New York’s Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital—results of physical fitness tests given to 4,264 children in this country and 2,870 children in Austria, Italy and Switzerland.

The findings showed that despite our unparalleled standard of living, despite our good food and our many playgrounds, despite our emphasis on school athletics, American youth lagged far behind Europeans in physical fitness. Six tests for muscular strength and flexibility were given; 57.9% of the American children failed one or more of these tests, while only 8.7% of the European youngsters failed.

A Consistent Decline

Especially disheartening were the results of the five strength tests: 35.7% of American children failed one or more of these, while only 1.1% of the Europeans failed, and among Austrian and Swiss youth the rate of failure was as low as .5%.

As a result of the alarming Kraus-Weber findings President Eisenhower created a Council on Youth Fitness at the Cabinet level and appointed a Citizens Advisory Committee on the Fitness of American Youth, composed of prominent citizens interested in fitness. Over the past five years the physical fitness of American youth has been discussed in forums, by committees and in leading publications. A 10-point program for physical fitness has been publicized and promoted. Our schools have been urged to give increased attention to the physical well-being of their students. Yet there has been no noticeable improvement. Physical fitness tests conducted last year in Britain and Japan showed that the youth of those countries were considerably more fit than our own children. And the annual physical fitness tests for freshman at Yale University show a consistent decline in the prowess of young American; 51& of the class of 1951 passed the tests, 43% of the class of 1956 passed, and only 38%, a little more than a third, of the class of 1960 succeeded, in passing the not overly rigorous examination.

Of course, physical tests are not infallible. They can distort the true health picture. There are undoubtedly many American youths and adults whose physical fitness matches and exceeds the best of other lands.

But the harsh fact of the matter is that there is also an increasingly large number of young Americans who are neglecting their bodies—whose physical fitness is not what it should be—who are getting soft. And such softness on the part of individual citizens can help to strip and destroy the vitality of a nation.

For the physical vigor of our citizens is one of America’s most precious resources. If we waste and neglect this resource, if we allow it to dwindle and grow soft then we will destroy much of our ability to meet the great and vital challenges which confront our people. We will be unable to realize our full potential as a nation.

Throughout our history we have been challenged to armed conflict by nations which sought to destroy our independence or threatened our freedom. The young men of America have risen to those occasions, giving themselves freely to the rigors and hardships of warfare. But the stamina and strength which the defense of liberty requires are not the product of a few weeks’ basic training or a month’s conditioning. These only come from bodies which have been conditioned by a lifetime of participation in sports and interest in physical activity. Our struggles against aggressors throughout our history have been won on the playgrounds and corner lots and fields of America.

Thus, in a very real and immediate sense, our growing softness, our increasing lack of physical fitness, is a menace to our security.

However, we do not, like the ancient Spartans, wish to train the bodies of our youth to make them more effective warriors. It is our profound hope and expectation that Americans will never again have to expend their strength in armed conflict.

But physical fitness is as vital to the activities of peace as to those of war, especially when our success in those activities may well determine the future of freedom in the years to come. We face in the Soviet Union a powerful and implacable adversary determined to show the world that only the Communist system possesses the vigor and determination necessary to satisfy awakening aspirations for progress and the elimination of poverty and want. To meet the challenge of this enemy will require determination and will and effort on the part of all American. Only if our citizens are physically fit will they be fully capable of such an effort.

For physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. The relationship between the soundness of the body and the activities of the mind is subtle and complex. Much is not yet understood. But we do know what the Greeks knew: that intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong; that hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies.

In this sense, physical fitness is the basis of all the activities of our society. And if our bodies grow soft and inactive, if we fail to encourage physical development and prowess, we will undermine our capacity for thought, for work and for the use of those skills vital to an expanding and complex America.

Thus the physical fitness of our citizens is a vital prerequisite to America’s realization of its full potential as a nation, and to the opportunity of each individual citizen to make full and fruitful use of his capacities.

It is ironic that at a time when the magnitude of our dangers makes the physical fitness of our citizens a matter of increasing importance, it takes greater effort and determination than ever before to build the strength of our bodies. The age of leisure and abundance can destroy vigor and muscle tone as effortlessly as it can gain time. Today human activity, the labor of the human body, is rapidly being engineered out of working life. By the 1970’s, according to many economists, the man who works with his hands will be almost extinct.

Many of the routine physical activities which earlier Americans took for granted are no longer part of our daily life. A single look at the packed parking lot of the average high school will tell us what has happened to the traditional hike to school that helped to build young bodies. The television set, the movies and the myriad conveniences and distractions of modern life all lure our young people away from the strenuous physical activity that is the basis of fitness in youth and in later life.

Now is the Time

Of course, modern advances and increasing leisure can add greatly to the comfort and enjoyment of life. But they must not be confused with indolence, with, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “slothful-ease,” with an increasing deterioration of our physical strength. For the strength of our youth and the fitness of our adults are among our most important assets, and this growing decline is a matter of urgent concern to thoughtful Americans.

This is a national problem, and requires national action. President Eisenhower helped show the way through his own interest and by calling national attention to our deteriorating standards of physical fitness. Now it is time for the United States to move forward with a national program to improve the fitness of all Americans.

First: We must establish a White House /Committee on Health and Fitness to formulate and carry out a program to improve the physical condition of the nation. This committee will include the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and the Secretary of the Interior. The executive order creating this committee will clearly state its purpose, and coordinate its activities with the many federal programs which bear a direct relation to the problem of physical fitness.

Second: The physical fitness of our youth should be made a direct responsibility of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. This department should conduct—through its Office of Education and the National Institutes of Health—research into the development of a physical fitness program for the nation’s public schools. The results of this research shall be made freely available to all who are interested. In addition, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare should use all its existing facilities to attach the lack of youth fitness as a major health problem.

Third: The governor of each state will be invited to attend the annual National Youth Fitness Congress. This congress will examine the progress which has been made in physical fitness during the preceding year, exchange suggestions for improving existing programs and provide an opportunity to encourage the states to implement the physical fitness program drawn up by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Our states are anxious to participate in such programs, to make sure that their youth have the opportunity for full development of their bodies as well as their minds.

Fourth: The President and all departments of government must make it clearly understood that the promotion of sports participation and physical fitness is a basic and continuing policy of the United States. By providing such leadership, by keeping physical fitness in the forefront of the nation’s concerns, the federal government can make a substantial contribution toward improving the health and vigor of our citizens.

But no matter how vigorous the leadership of government, we can fully restore the physical soundness of our nation only if every American is willing to assume responsibility for his own fitness and the fitness of his children. We do not live in a regimented society where men are forced to live their lives in the interest of the state. We are, all of us, as free to direct the activities of our bodies as we are to pursue the objects of our thought. But if we are to retain this freedom, for ourselves and for generations to come, then we must also be willing to work for the physical toughness on which the courage and intelligence and skill of man so largely depend.

All of us must consider our own responsibilities for the physical vigor of our children and of the young men and women of our community. We do not want our children to become a generation of spectators. Rather, we want each of them to be a participant in the vigorous life.

The Physically Soft American

Like many of you reading this, I remember the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. I didn’t score real well. Not surprising being that my nickname was CP (Chubby & Porky). I watched classmates smoke me on pull-ups and almost lap me on the one-mile run.

If that were to happen today, many parents would keep their kids from showing up for the test, wanting to avoid them feeling like they’re not fit enough. The reality was, I wasn’t fit enough. More kids than ever aren’t fit enough.

But, instead of having them face that reality, the Presidential Physical Fitness Test is no more. It was eliminated between the Clinton and Obama eras. Maybe they thought it was better to have overweight kids think they’re healthy. I’m glad that wasn’t the case when I was a kid.

The same theme has taken over adulthood, where any suggestion that being overweight or obese increases your risk of disease and death is classified as “fat shaming.” I’m sure some will suggest this blog post is fat-shaming too. If so, I’ll be in good company. In 2017, Vice published an article suggesting JFK’s Sports Illustrated article above was fat-shaming too.

In an effort to protect people’s feelings, we avoid facing the facts. If you’re overweight or obese, you significantly increase your risk of disease and death. In almost every case, you have the opportunity to do something about it, too. It might require more effort and a connection with the right doctor for some people, but a healthy and fit body isn’t out of reach for anyone. That’s a fact.

The Virus and Our Vulnerability

Early on in the COVID Circus, it became apparent that overweight or obese people, or those with diabetes or heart disease were among the most vulnerable. That’s a significant portion of the population.

What was the solution presented by both presidential administrations? Mask up and stay away from other people until there’s a vaccine. Oh, and now that there’s a vaccine, mask up and stay away from other people, especially if their among the filthy souls who remain unvaccinated.

Trump still boasts of his Operation Warp Speed project to get the experimental vaccines in the arms of Americans. It took less than a year to accomplish. You know what else takes less than a year to accomplish?

Going from obese or overweight to healthy and fit. It also takes less than a year to dramatically decrease the effects of heart disease. Though it takes more effort and time than getting a jab in the arm, getting fit and healthy provides far more benefit than the vaccine. Not just in terms of personal health, but also in terms of productivity, satisfaction in life, and as Kenney pointed out long ago, the example we set for future generations:

All of us must consider our own responsibilities for the physical vigor of our children and of the young men and women of our community. We do not want our children to become a generation of spectators. Rather, we want each of them to be a participant in the vigorous life.

John F. Kennedy

Unfortunately, unless a national-level leader has the candor and courage to lead like Kennedy did, we’re headed for a future more like that in the movie Wall-E than that of an exceptional America.

Considering the reality of COVID alone, we know two relevant things about the virus and its infection:

  1. COVID-19 is a blood vessel disease.
  2. The virus attacks fat cells. The more fat you have, the greater your risk of infection.

Fortunately, effective treatments exist so the death toll is nowhere near what was once projected. But if we were all fit and healthy, the death toll would be a fraction of what it is. Hopefully many will see this as a warning sign of what could happen with a future virus, and do something about it.

They’ll need to think for themselves, though, as our government hasn’t said a word about getting American’s to drop weight and get their health under control. Instead, victimhood culture continues to teach Americans that there’s nothing wrong with being unfit and unhealthy, and that anyone who says otherwise is an oppressor to the obese.

Read also: Why our risk of COVID-19 is our responsibility, not someone else’s.

Soft and Weak, But Comfortable

Many have learned to choose comfort and convenience whenever possible. Often, it isn’t even a choice because we’re so conditioned to choose the easy path that we walk down it before realizing there was even an alternative one.

Kennedy wasn’t the first to see what would happen to a nation that sought comfort and ease, and that hid from difficult things. Theodore Roosevelt warned of a life of ease more than 60 years before Kennedy, when he delivered his speech, The Strenuous Life.

He concluded his speech with the following:

I preach to you, then, my countrymen, that our country calls not for the life of ease but for the life of strenuous endeavor. The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to uphold righteousness by deed and by word; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the strife is justified, for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1899

His words, no doubt, were shaped by others from years, or centuries, before. You could go back to the time of ancient Greece, where the culture knew that physical fitness and mental abilities went hand-in-hand.

And yet, here we are in 2022, living in an American culture built upon hard work, discipline, and mental and physical prowess, doing everything possible to avoid hard work, discipline, and the efforts required to maintain peak physical and mental health.

As a result, America is more vulnerable than ever.

The Mentally Soft American

Growing up, I remember my dad changing channels when commercials would come on. We’d be watching something like China Beach and the moment a commercial came on, we’d be watching something else. We’d all grumble a bit, but he usually got it switched back before the show came back on.

Today, fewer people watch scheduled shows on cable. Instead, we watch most stuff on demand. But our habit of channel changing is more alive than ever.

While a show is on the television, we can shift between a blog post like this to a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Gettr, Gab, or Telegram app. Or, maybe you watch a YouTube video on your phone while watching a show on your television.

I noticed something alarming early on. Whenever I jumped from one media source to another, one of the first messages I often saw was one reminding me of the threat of COVID-19. I have no idea how many marketing messages we’re exposed to every day. I’m sure the number is staggering. But what would be even more terrifying is to see what percentage of those messages were about fearing COVID over these past couple of years.

Even today, fear-mongering messages of Omicron are all over the place, even though the symptoms of this variant exactly match the symptoms of the common cold.

For example, The U.S. Sun published an article on December 21, titled The First 8 Symptoms of Omicron You Must Never Ignore. Sounds terrifying, huh? What are the eight symptoms?

  1. Scratchy throat
  2. Runny nose
  3. Fatigue
  4. Sneezing
  5. Lower back pain
  6. Headache
  7. Night sweats
  8. Muscle aches

They’re literally the symptoms of a common cold. What better way to keep Americans from coming together over the holidays than to make them afraid of the common cold? And many people fell for this! Why? Because they’re mentally soft.

Soft Minds, Obedient Masses

The most dangerous person in a state-run society is the person who thinks for himself or herself. Your ability to reason is what sets you apart from other animals, and other humans who act like sheep.

A fully-functioning mind can see through the propaganda doled out by the talking heads on cable “news.” A soft American’s mind takes their words as truth, not even noticing how hypocritical, inconsistent, or idiotic they may be.

A strong-minded person won’t let the opinions of friends or the peer pressure of family members cajole them into acting in ways inconsistent with their beliefs. A soft-minded American gives in, and each time, gives up a little of himself or herself.

A sound-mind helps you see the next steps in the left-wing agendas before they play out. You’re not surprised when the President’s solution to a vaccine that isn’t working is to get another shot. And then another. And then another while taking another drug that acts strangely similar to vilified Ivermectin while costing hundreds of times more money.

The big problem is, when you think for yourself, you end up using more mental and physical energy than you do by going along with the media-driven narrative. It causes more stress. It makes you feel like an outsider. It might result in lost friendships.

And that’s even more problematic now that we’re emotionally soft Americans too.

The Emotionally Soft American

We’re teaching our grandson to ski this year. As he and I rode the ski lift, I talked about the importance of staying aware of everyone around you while skiing down the hill.

I explained that people in front will turn in unexpected ways. Some will fall right in front of you. Others will stand still in the very spot you’re headed towards. I then explained that if he hits them, it will always be his fault. A skier must always remain in control of himself or herself because no matter what happens down the hill, it’s his or her responsibility to avoid hitting others.

That’s not the nature of today’s victimhood culture, where both kids and adults are taught that the fault almost always lies outside themselves. To avoid uncomfortable feelings like guilt, shame, or embarrassment, they’re taught to find fault outside themselves whenever possible.

In schools or corporate offices today, if one person feels offended by another, they can quickly create a victimhood culture catastrophe for the school or the company.

Given that risks and stressors are natural, unavoidable parts of life, parents and teachers should be helping kids develop their innate abilities to grow and learn from such experiences. There’s an old saying: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.” But these days, we seem to be doing precisely the opposite: we’re trying to clear away anything that might upset children, not realizing that in doing so, we’re repeating the peanut-allergy mistake. If we protect children from various classes of potentially upsetting experiences, we make it far more likely that those children will be unable to cope with such events when they leave our protective umbrella.

Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind

A strong sense of personal responsibility is the antithesis to victimhood culture.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find examples of personal responsibility in the world today. Instead, people blame.

Vaccinated people blame the unvaccinated for their COVID-19 infections. Adults blame their parents for their lack of success or satisfaction in life. Employees blame their bosses for getting passed up on promotions instead of looking at their own level of contribution to the company.

And the government does all it can to exaggerate far-fetched tails that serve only to divide people while making criminals victims and law-abiding citizens the real criminals.

The Soft American accepts these lies as truths as long as they’re not personally caught up in the middle of them.

What America Needs: Strong Americans

I often tell clients that strength training is the best personal development program you can invest in. And it’s probably the most cost-effective, too.

Consider what it’s called: Resistance training. Strength training. Weight training.

Each of these names implies an expectation that you face something hard, overcome it, and then face something harder.

This type of training runs completely counter to today’s culture. Instead of facing hard things, we’re taught to hide from them. Instead of struggling to overcome, we’re taught to pass the struggles onto others. Instead of putting in the effort, we’re taught to do what’s easy, even if it isn’t effective.

A Soft America will be one that succumbs to the next major disease, manmade or not, or will be one that cannot defend against the forces of evil, whether that comes from broad or from within our own borders.

As a new year begins, I implore you to make this year your year to get strong. Forget about fitting into skinny jeans or feeling good all the time.

Do what it takes to get stronger, first physically, and then the mental and emotional strength will start to take shape as well.

As the saying goes, “Good times make weak men. Weak men make bad times. Bad times make strong men. Strong men make good times.”

You don’t need to look like an athlete of ancient Greece, but if you start training right, you might soon be surprised by how much you feel like one. And when you feel strong, you help others to feel the same. When you get strong, everything else seems so much more simple, including the concept of thinking for yourself.

Read also: When will common-sense Americans get in the game?