The Soft American. That was the title of an article forwarded to me by my friend Professor Tom Fahey. The author of the article was president-elect John F. Kennedy. What he wrote over half a century ago hits home now more than ever.
…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 America, we are in danger of forgetting.
..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.
It applies to our readers in the rest of the developed world just as well. JFK continued:
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…
If our citizens were drafted today to wage an all-out infantry war, I would put my money on my septuagenarian father and father-in-law, veterans of the Soviet Army and the US Marine Corps respectively, over most twenty-year-olds when it comes to mental toughness and the ability to haul a heavy kit. My dad deadlifts 405 pounds without a belt and my father-in-law never misses a day of kettlebell swings.
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.
A memo to our youth. Don’t depend on somebody else to be strong. Have pride. Look up to the Old West pioneers whose rugged individualist spirit made America great.
…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 yet 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.
It is the StrongFirst vision that today’s young adults who are members of our brotherhood and sisterhood of strength will raise the next “great generation.” Their kids will play rough and grow up strong, ready to pursue and defend the American (or Hungarian, or Italian) dream.