Generals Against Obesity?
Some retired military officers have formed something called Mission: Readiness to highlight the impact of our unfit youth on national security.
A group of retired military officers says high-calorie school lunches are threatening national security.
A study by the group Mission: Readiness finds that school lunches are making American kids so fat that fewer of them can meet the military’s physical fitness standards. That, in turn, is putting recruitment in jeopardy.
A report from the group, being released Tuesday, says that 27 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 are too overweight to join the military.
One of the officers, retired Navy Rear Admiral James Barnett Jr., says many young Americans are simply too fat to fight.
The officers are pushing for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill that aims to make the nation’s school lunches healthier.
I’m dubious of the study, since the Army put out the identical statistics three years ago. (See: Most Youth Ineligible for Army.) But, whatever, it’s doubtless true that our kids are out of shape and that this has some tangential impact on the military.
But Bernard Finel argues that the “fetishization of military service” exemplified here is problematic.
We consider our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines not just patriotic citizens, but paragons of virtue.They are portrayed as selfless, brave, brilliant, kind.They are, in short, in popular imagination our best and our brightest.
The status of the military has become so elevated that advocates of all stripes now use military “validators” to promote their positions on virtually every public policy issue. Retired general officers are actively recruited to lend their prestige to campaigns to spread awareness of global warming, the need for better public diplomacy, initiatives to improve schools, efforts to combat prostitution, and so on. In the often cynical world of issue advocacy, one of the first steps in any campaign is now to get some brass on board.
But look, this isn’t healthy — no pun intended. Do we really want/need retired military officers stepping in to lobby on school lunches? I mean, if we’re only going to trust the military, then let’s just scrap democracy and go right to military rule. Or if we’re not, let’s stop pretending that we need a group of retired flag officers to give credibility to each and every policy issue.
Oh, and by the way, ever seen what they feed kids at boot camp? Talk about high calorie. Ooof.
Bernard and I are in broad agreement that our society defers too much to the military. You see it in policymakers up to the president hiding behind flag officers to support their policy preferences, the Chickenhawk debate, and all manner of other instances. I’ve written about the topic many times over the years (see, for example, “Rumsfeld Blames Generals for Troop Strength,” “Petraeus Fetishism,” “Congress and Military Service“).
It’s a natural phenomenon, really. We’ve had an all-volunteer force since 1973, meaning most adult men in this country have managed to avoid not only going to war but military service of any sort. Because of that, there’s not only a sense of guilt and sheepish unwillingness to challenge the views of those who have “earned the right” to talk about the issues but also an overinflated sense of the heroism of ordinary service.
That said, however, I’m not sure why retired officers shouldn’t be allowed to speak out on the issues like anyone else. To the extent that they’re viewed as credible role models on an issue, they’re excellent spokesmen. And, heck, if kids are willing to listen to Michelle Obama on the problems of obesity, why wouldn’t they listen to a very fit war hero twenty years her senior?
I’m more conflicted on retired generals speaking out on war policy, since they are often portrayed as speaking for those on active duty who can’t. But, as I noted extensively when this was a hot issue a few years back (see: “Serving Military Officers and the Rumsfeld Debate,” “Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld Resignation,” “Revolt of the Generals?,” and “Prosecuting Retired Generals,”) there’s not much that one can do about it.