A ‘Diabetic Peace’ and the Militarization of Obesity


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So it’s come to this… God, we’re pathetic.

Two former chairmen of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff have now stated that US obesity constitutes a national security crisis, and that dietary changes are a matter of military necessity. This scares me in so many ways, I am not even sure where to start. But it’s also darkly hysterical…

1. If you needed confirmation that the US is sliding into decline, here you go. Last year, on return to the US after a long break, I remember being stunned at just how fat so many Americans were. I asked, “How can you lead when half your people struggle to get off the sofa?” That was meant partially in jest, but it turns out the Chiefs agree with me. How creepy is that? If you want to see US exceptionalism, maybe it’s in the fact that we are fattest hegemon in the history of the great powers! Hah! But maybe if we can open up more MacDonald’s in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China), we can enjoy a global DIABETIC PEACE in place of a Democratic Peace. When we’re all as big as this woman, why worry about war?

2. Militarizing issues is not a healthy way for democracies to grapple with social problems. It suggests that a our political system is so broken that even something as serious as 40% obesity in the US (with 70% total overweight) can’t spur meaningful political action by the elected civilian leadership. Instead we need militarization to add a sheen of both crisis – the US Right especially will listen whenever the officer corps says something – and legitimacy – our politicians may be impossibly idiotic, but our military is still a respected institution. Think about the signals that that sends about fixing other big problems in America’s future, like debt reduction, financial reform, immigration reform, our response to Asia’s rise? Do all these problems need to be militarized before we will move on them? Must it always be a man in uniform who kicks us into action and shames politicians into compromise?

3. It is not good at all for liberalism and democracy that the military creep into increasing areas of domestic life, like diet and nutrition. This is not really the military’s fault. Although Rumsfeld was a genuine empire-builder, Gates has tried hard to reduce the sprawl. But frequently deficient public and private actors want to dump problems on the military, because it seems so efficient and commands such respect. Consider that Bush said after Katrina that the military will be used more in national disasters and that BP wants to buck the oil spill clean-up to the military. Do we want military-style regimentation of these sorts of non-military issues? Do we really want generals telling parents about food choices? But…

4. Are we really this lame and sallow and lazy, that we need our generals to tell us to control ourselves in this most basic manner of adulthood? And you wonder why rising Asia thinks Americans are ridiculous and childish. We can’t control our budget, we can’t even control our diet. Embarrassing…

16 thoughts on “A ‘Diabetic Peace’ and the Militarization of Obesity

  1. Generally, I would push back by saying that the service branches are not immune to the same interest group pressure the rest of American society has to withstand. It’s heart might be in the right place – next to the spot where bribery begins – but do soldiers really need food courts and McDonald’s. I’m more than a bit miffed when civilian expats drool about base privileges allowing them to eat Taco Bell.

    I’m not immune to this, I admit. The Army started a breakfast habit – omelets – which I can’t shake. Bribing soldiers with a choice of fillings every morning seems petty, but now I judge my days by what kind of eggs I get. KATUSAs received mess hall privileges when ROK soldiers had to endure a boring menu in ROK mess hallls. Even special KATUSA dining halls – where I used to eat and learned to love many Korean foods – were more spartan than the American mess halls.

    Also, it’s not as if there isn’t incentive to exercise, but perhaps the wrong ones. For passing a PT test, a soldier could forego training with his/her unit until the next test. Few soldiers got the privilege for more than the period of a test. Army PT might be tedious and brutal – running in formation is doubly bad – but it at least kept first and foremost in our heads unit cohesion and the fact, that performance was key. I actually miss now some of the imaginative drills many sergeants devised to help us pass our tests. Incentives and training never cease to be important.

    Simply put, when things break down in the Army, it’s usually because of the NCO corps. But, now, I’d say it’s the same poison contaminating society – the private sector nosing its way into sectors where it doesn’t belong having captured regulators and bribed through lobbyists.

  2. Posting that picture was even ballsier than posting pictures of Mohammed.

    Attacks against servicemen after Vietnam were so over-the-top and unfair that we’ve overreacted in the opposite direction, and now service members are sainted and the military is idolized. As a fully paid member of the military industrial complex, idolization of the military lines our pockets. it’s how America does industrial policy and jobs programs. And, yes, it is creepy and dangerous and imbalances our economy.

  3. The reason why the Military determined that obesity was a potential National US national security threat was SIMPLY because something like 60 percent of new recruits couldn’t pass the initial physical at MEPS (that is before they go to boot-camp). Nothing more. No need to read anything into it. In fact this is very old news. We were discussing this around here I think back in January.

    The Generals aren’t telling Americans how to raise their kids. All that they are trying to convey to US Society is that hey,”where are decent shaped recruits going to come from if we have to fight all of these wars?”

    Now at Marine Corps Boot Camp. Over weight recruits who were waivered to join the Corps are put in special platoons where at the fat is burned off them before they are allowed to begin recruit training. One of my fellow recruits, as a matter of fact, had been in the overweight program from months before he joined my platoon. USMC recruit training last for a little over three months. This recruit had been on Parris Island for like almost a eight months. However at the end of training, he could run three miles in like 20 minutes like the rest of us.

    Anyway, this Memorial Day I will be paying a visit to our wounded Warriors at Bethesda. It will be a tough visit and I must prepare myself for it. I admired those Warriors.. No bravado. They did their job and they have asked for nothing in return but respect.

  4. It never ceases to amaze me how civilians interpret military culture. Most of the misunderstanding comes from the movies.

    For example, before I saw Avatar I had heard all of these negative things about the movie. I also read about politicians arguing that the movie was anti-USMC. Then I and read an interview with James Cameron in which he stated that his brother was a US Marine and that he had nothing but respect for the Corps. I then decided to give Avatar a try.

    Cameron does indeed understand the Corps. The two main characters, both US Marines play the duality of the Corps. The Yeng and Yang of the Corps. Fascinating.

    I now own a copy of Avatar.

  5. So Dr. Bob, there is NO militarization of obesity. The generals are trying to inform the general public and our elected leaders that it is getting harder and harder for them to find qualified recruits. Nothing more.

  6. Sorry, repost from above with corrections. Too many gramatical errors in the previous.

    The reason why the Military determined that obesity was a potential National US national security threat was SIMPLY because something like 60 percent of new recruits couldn’t pass the initial physical at MEPS (that is before they go to boot-camp). Nothing more. No need to read anything into it. In fact this is very old news. We were discussing this around here I think back in January.

    The Generals aren’t telling Americans how to raise their kids. All that they are trying to convey to US Society is that hey,”where are decent shaped recruits going to come from if we have to fight all of these wars?”

    Now at Marine Corps Boot Camp. Over weight recruits who were waivered to join the Corps are put in special platoons where the fat is burned off them before they are allowed to begin recruit training. One of my fellow recruits, as a matter of fact, had been in the overweight program for months before he joined my platoon. USMC recruit training lasts for a little over three months. This recruit had been on Parris Island for like almost a eight months. However, at the end of the training, he could run three miles in like 20 minutes like the rest of us.

    Anyway, this Memorial Day I will be paying a visit to our wounded Warriors at Bethesda. It will be a tough visit and I must prepare myself for it. I admire those Warriors. No bravado. They did their job and they have asked for nothing in return but respect.

  7. PS: On Avatar, I could care less about the “white male” bashing theme. “White Males” are apologizing for everything these days so it is par for the course.

    Also, Dr. Bob, sorry to change subjects but I read that China is contemplating shielding North Korea from attack. Your RABBIT is mighty juicy.

  8. Can’t help but think of the British in WWI when they realised that some 40% of their recruit pool was medically unfit for any kind of military service. Not a comfortable place to find oneself in, I imagine.

  9. According to the Beeb, China’s position is shifting slightly – they are saying they won’t protect whoever’s behind the attack…but they won’t say (yet) who they think it is.

    Bob – if China is so ambitious, why are they so reluctant to get visibly involved in things like this? They frequently take the position of not wanting to be involved in regional disputes. That seems counterintuitive.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/asia_pacific/10181527.stm

  10. Pingback: Why the West Should Relax About China | The Diplomat

  11. Pingback: Why the West Should Relax About China | pundit from another planet

  12. Pingback: My September Diplomat Essay: Relax – Chinese Hegemony in Asia is Unlikely | Robert Kelly — Asian Security Blog

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