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Have Americans Grown Too Soft?

Who Will Defend the U.S. in Case of War?

A new poll from Echelon Insights shows the alarming result that 72% of American voters would not be willing to volunteer to fight for their country if the U.S. faced a major conflict. Twenty-one percent said they are willing to volunteer. These results are staggering and raise so many questions, which is the purpose of this blog.

Given the ongoing war in the Middle East, increased presence of Iranian-backed proxy groups, and the possibility that Putin will invade other countries after Ukraine, the likelihood of the U.S. being drawn into a global conflict has risen sharply in 2023. Adding to the problem is that Americans’ confidence in the U.S. military is its lowest in 26 years.

Defending Our Country

Another poll from the Daily Mail shows that while 64% of Americans were willing to die defending the country in the event of an invasion, 30% of Americans ages 18-29 (i.e., Gen Z) would rather surrender than die fighting for the U.S. This is an important result because those in the Gen Z category will comprise a significant portion of our fighting force going forward.

These figures come from all branches of the armed forces that have struggled to meet their recruitment targets in recent years. In 2023, the Army and Air Force fell short of their respective goals by around 10,000 recruits, while the Navy was under 6,000. Since 1987, the number of active-duty personnel has fallen by 39%.

There are many factors contributing to the military’s recruitment issues, including adapting its message to a younger generation who live their life on social media. They are so absorbed in these forms of communication that leaving their tablets at home and going to fight for their country is not on their list of priorities.

Lack of Physical Fitness

On December 26, 1960, Sports Illustrated published “The Soft American” by John F. Kennedy, in which the president-elect outlined his concern over the deteriorating physical condition of Americans, arguing for the importance of fitness in developing the potential of the “whole man” and the future health of the country, and detailed a plan to make fitness a focus during his administration. JFK lived up to his word, promoting a life of “vig-ah” in general and the “50-Mile March” challenge using the President’s Council on Physical Fitness to encourage the nation’s schools to adopt a fitness curriculum.

JFK was spot on when he identified physical fitness as a problem with youth in the U.S., a problem that has only gotten worse over time in part because of the number of hours spent on the Internet, the lack of physical fitness classes in K-12, and eating of junk food.

Six tests of muscular strength and flexibility were given to children from the U.S., Austria, Italy and Switzerland. Of those tested, 57.9% of Americans failed one or more of these tests, while only 8.7% of the European youngsters failed.

Career Choice

There are other reasons why American kids lag so far behind those in other countries with respect to their willingness to fight for their country, if it came to that. In a Harris Poll of 3,000 kids, they were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, presenting them with five options: vlogger/YouTuber, teacher, professional athlete, musician, and astronaut.

In both the U.S. and United Kingdom, vlogger/YouTubber was the most popular choice (30%), and astronaut was least popular (11%). In China, the trend was reversed, with more than half the respondents selecting astronauts (56%). There may be various reasons for this disconnect but I think it is merely a manifestation that American kids lack the pride in our country and are lazy. Exercise

An article from the online group Elite Daily surveyed Gen Y/millennials (born 1981-1996; 27-42 years old) shows the following results for why they are so soft.

  1. We are used to being spoon fed everything.
  2. We seek recognition for the dumbest things.
  3. They expect to work 9 to 5 and become successful.
  4. We get offended when someone criticizes us with the intention of helping us improve as human beings.
  5. We feel a sense of entitlement, as if the world owes us something for being alive.
  6. We always look for the easy way out.
  7. Gen-Y is easily flustered by the obstacles we face.
  8. We reward stupidity.
  9. Time out is our punishment whereas older generations got beatings.
  10. We live in an era that is too politically correct.

What Can Be Done?

The following recommendations have been given to deal with the problem.

  • Establish a White House Committee on Health and Fitness to formulate and carry out a program to improve the physical condition of the nation.
  • The physical fitness of our youth should be made a direct responsibility of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
  • The governor of each state will be invited to Fitness Congress, which will examine physical fitness during the preceding year and make recommendations for improvements.
  • 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 U.S.

These recommendations are unlikely to have any discernible effect on the problem. As I have previously blogged about, the work ethic of the younger generations is on life support. That is why social media activities are the number one choice of American kids for a career compared to astronaut, which is their last choice.  

I hate to be a skeptic, but I don’t think anything will change to reverse the downward trends discussed in this blog. The four recommendations above probably will never be implemented. Why? Because Congress has the habit of “kicking the can down the road.” We see this in our immigration policies and gun control legislation.

If you are reading this and a member of one or the other groups: Gen Z: Born 1997-2012 (11-26 years old) or Gen Alpha: Born early 2010s-2025 (0-about 10 years old), you need to back away from your laptop, at least one hour each day, and do something physical. The future of our country may hang in the balance.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on January 3, 2024. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on LinkedIn at: