At the intersection of fat-shaming and war-mongering comes a bizarre public health campaign: an effort by retired generals and admirals to ban sugary sodas and snacks from public schools. The kids today, say the former brass, are too fat to fight for their country. Welcome to the sum of all libertarian fears: a Nanny State that packs an M4 rifle.
Those officers, part of a group called “Mission: Readiness,” argue in a new report called “Still Too Fat to Fight” that unhealthy snacks, particularly in schools, endanger national security. “No other major country’s military forces face the challenges of weight gain confronting America’s armed forces,” they fret. (Well, except for the Chinese, but whatever.)
“It’s clear to us that our military readiness could be put in jeopardy given the fact that nearly 75 percent of young Americans are unable to serve in uniform,” write two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff involved with “Mission: Readiness,” retired Army Gens. Hugh Shelton and John Shalikashvili.
There’s a legitimate readiness issue here. In 2009, the military found that 75 percent of American 17- to 24-year-olds would be declared unfit to serve, for reasons involving obesity. Mission: Readiness estimates that something like 7 million military-aged youth are too fat for the military. Beyond that, Americans have an obesity problem in general, no matter how people act offended when Michelle Obama encourages kids to eat healthily.
But it’s less of a readiness issue than it was in the past. In 2009, there were over 100,000 troops in Iraq and would soon be that many more in Afghanistan. Now, the Army and Marine Corps are slowly leaving Afghanistan and shedding themselves of approximately 100,000 soldiers and marines. Recruitment and retention in the services are once again high, although the all-volunteer force is certainly strained. And, real talk: Lots of jobs in the military require little physical prowess. Can’t do 20 pushups in a minute? There’s a headquarters-st
Still, it’s hard not to be cynical about this effort. Much as patriotism is the last bastion of scoundrels, national security is the last bastion of heavy-handed government rationales for social engineering. The military will not fail to protect the country because the lunchroom at P.S. 114 in Canarsie lets kids wash down their personal pizzas with chocolate milk. Will Mission: Readiness next advocate for greater public-school funding, since dumb recruits are greater military liabilities than fat ones — and, for that matter, because healthier school meals are more expensive? Public health ought to be debated on its own merits, rather than shoehorned into a jingoistic framework of military jeopardy.
Besides, if all else fails, we have robots — slender, deadly, efficient robots — to protect us.