April 2, 2014

When the President decried and bemoaned "The Soft American."

"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.
That was 1960. I don't think JFK wrote his own material, but I note his/"his" absurd dependence on pairing one word with another that means almost the same thing:  rigors and hardship...  stamina and strength... real and immediate. Many, many more in the full article: vigor and determination...  effort and determination... vigor and muscle tone... soft and inactive... physical development and prowess... health and vigor... vigor and vitality...

It is the type of pleonasm that is, I think, called a merism. This literary device has marked legal writing. (Kennedy was a lawyer, as was his prime ghostwriter Ted Sorenson, which might explain the literary tic.)  Check out this list of what are called legal doublets: "aid and abet," "all and sundry," "acknowledge and confess," etc. etc.

There's also hendiadys, which is more poetic than redundant (as in "sound and fury" to mean "furious sound").

So... sharpen up your body and your mind. (Kennedy's "Soft American" article warns us that without a fit body, we can't reach optimal mental functioning.)

I got started on this topic after reading the comments to Sunday's post "Meade's Pull-Up Challenge," where there's much talk of the pull-up/chin-up distinction, and jaed said:
This is making me remember the John F. Kennedy Presidential Fitness Challenge (or whatever it was called) from grade school. Once a year.

Most of the exercises were gender neutral, but for whatever bizarre reason, girls were required to do chinups with palms facing forward (pullups?), while boys could do them with palms facing the body. This always peeved me. I could do several the boy way - as could most of the girls - but not even one the girl way - also same as most of the girls. Doing them with palms facing forward is harder. So why did we have to do them the hard way?

It's strange how minor and never-explained unfairnesses stick with you for so long.
Here's some detail about JFK's fitness program from the JFK library. In addition to the testing of school children, people were challenged to do a 50-mile hike:
In late 1962, President Kennedy discovered an executive order from Theodore Roosevelt challenging U.S. Marine officers to finish fifty miles in twenty hours. Kennedy passed the document to Marine Gen. David M. Shoup. The president suggested that Shoup bring it up as his own discovery and challenge modern day marines to duplicate this feat. Kennedy went on to say that:
Should your report to me indicate that the strength and stamina of the modern Marine is at least equivalent to that of his antecedents, I will then ask Mr. Salinger to look into the matter personally and give me a report on the fitness of the White House Staff.
In conversations with his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, Kennedy left no doubt that "look[ing] into the matter personally" would involve Salinger walking fifty miles himself. A well-padded individual with a sense of humor, Salinger turned his efforts to avoid the hike into an open joke. He finally released a statement on February 12, 1963, in which he publicly declined the honor. Attorney General Robert Kennedy undertook the hike, clad in leather oxford shoes, and completed the full distance through snow and slush. Salinger pointed to him as proof of the administration's fitness.
I'd say — if I were blogging back then — that RFK demonstrated mental unfitness in picking those shoes. Here's the Life Magazine article about it, replete with a photo of Bobby and his dog Brumus and Bobby and his wife Ethel Kennedy. Brumus accompanied Bobby on his hike. Ethel massaged Bobby's foot in the photo op.

Here's an ad from that time, with negative imagery of a sort I don't think you'll see today in fitness promotion:



Bonus 60s memorabilia: "Shapes of Things":

22 comments:

RecChief said...

wow, what would he say now?

RecChief said...

"The president suggested that Shoup bring it up as his own discovery"

Shit, they've been manufacturing evidence and planting discoveries for years!!

tim maguire said...

The JFK quote contains an interesting allusion to a misquote of Wellington:

"The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton."

EDH said...

Doing them with palms facing forward is harder. So why did we have to do them the hard way?

Palms forward is the only way that will help you if you find yourself dangling from a shear face or a building ledge, which is quite common in the defense of liberty, if movies of the time are any guide.

The Drill SGT said...

I suspect that when the Marine Officers hiked, it was in uniform and with gear, not the RFK way. In my day, the Army in Europe participated in a Dutch 4 day march. 160KM

"40 km x 4 days - Wearing uniform + at least 10 kg backpack for persons ages 19(or 19 that year)-49 (+ water, etc.)"

Ron said...

Hey there's an idea! Althouse could do a month of "Retroblogging." Pick a month in the past, and blog your reactions to things day-by-day.

"Calpurnia was right: Julius should have stayed home."

"How will today's assassination of Archduke Ferdinand affect the WASP US Presidents polling number, say, 100 years hence?"

Ann Althouse said...

@Ron Check out my old Time That Blog Forgot.

rhhardin said...

American troops were good with hand grenades because of playing baseball, somebody claimed once. It might be true.

Not for women though.

RecChief said...

@TheDrill SGT,
Ever done the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands? My whole squad took leave and flew space-a from Ramstein one year. That's a mother.

RecChief said...

Since I just heard an ad for this, and this crops about equality for the sexes, why aren't women required to register with the Selective Service administration?

St. George said...

Maybe Sorensen...who, it should be added, was JFK's long-time attorney. Perfect spokesman...Erudite, eloquent, and...a lawyer.

The Drill SGT said...

rhhardin said...
American troops were good with hand grenades because of playing baseball, somebody claimed once. It might be true.


That and good QA. Nothing worse than a 4 second fuses that is either 2 seconds or 6.

The Drill SGT said...

RecChief said...
@TheDrill SGT,
Ever done the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands? My whole squad took leave and flew space-a from Ramstein one year.


LOL. no. My idea of a march is a Volksmarch.

I was an armor officer. A decision i made while standing in a rice paddy up to my ass in shit, watching M48's go by with lawn chairs and ice chests in the bustle racks...

BarrySanders20 said...

He'd say the same today as he did then: "vigga".

JFK loved that word. Must have wanted people to associate its meaning with him.

RecChief said...

"A decision i made while standing in a rice paddy up to my ass in shit, watching M48's go by with lawn chairs and ice chests in the bustle racks..."

haha, True. Thought the same think a time or two even about Mech Infantry.

You know, I wasn't claustrophobic until I got in a M48 once. No thanks, I'll walk.

John_Wald said...

(Kennedy was a lawyer, as was his prime ghostwriter Ted Sorenson, which might explain the literary tic.)

JFK was not a lawyer. Bobby and Teddy went to law school, but not him.

William said...

I remember practicing drill in heavy leather brogans. Boots and shoes were really primitive back then. RFK didn't make such a bad choice in wearing leather shoes. Sneakers back then were even worse. Canvas stitched to a rubber sole......The passage of time has not improved my feet, but I have much healthier footwear........Does anyone think it possible that RFK fudged that fifty mile walk? JFK's "vigah" was of a piece with his monogamy.

Daniel Fish said...

John Wald is correct. JFK was not a lawyer, and never went to law school. He was a journalist, briefly, between leaving the Navy and running for Congress.

Mitch H. said...

Now that we know that Jack Kennedy was a very, very sick man, and often half-out-of-his-mind on uppers and painkillers, that article and the whole fitness program is deeply weird. *Especially* the emphasis on vigor and vitality.

Michael said...

Mitch H.
I suppose you find the wierdness between his actual physical condition and his desire to extol fitness. Not sure why. Seneca preached stoicism while bitching but his writings have lived through the centuries. He wrote about the simple life but he was as rich as croesus. It is a fallacy of modern thinking that hypocricy is the world's worst crime. An excuse, finally, not to believe anything at all.

John said...

"Throughout our history we have been challenged to armed conflict by nations which sought to destroy our independence or threatened our freedom."

Really?

Arguably Russia but we never went to war with them.

Who else? Germany? In WWI or WWII they represented no threat to us or our indipendence or liberty but we decided to go to war with them anyway. Gradually but more agressively starting in Jan 1941.

Japan represented a threat to HI and some of our overseas possessions. They were a threat to our operations in the pacific.

They were never an existential threat to the US.

Korea? Vietnam?

What wars is he talking about?

John Henry

Lance said...

Softness? Decreasing physical fitness? Somebody must be trying to sap our precious bodily fluids.