In recent months senators, ex-athletes, the clergy, and at least one President have added their voices to a mounting chorus of indignation. They have joined the bewhistled physical education teachers of the nation in condemning Americans as soft, flabby, lazy, and generally unfit.
The question I'd like to ask is, unfit for what? The basic impetus behind this Spartan movement seems to be the fear that the Russians (a vast race of tawny, muscle-bound gymnasts) will someday descend upon our shores and thrash each of us flabby capitalists individually.
The alarmists remind me of an old gym teacher of mine, Mr. Adley. Whenever there was a particularly dismal showing in the standard calisthenics, he would align the entire class at attention along one side of the basketball court. In a voice choked with emotion, Mr. Adley would then prophesy death for us all in military training, because we were "not physically fit enough to navigate a simple obstacle course."
I always wondered if those who could not make it through the obstacle course were shot, or if they were simply sent out and never heard of again. The latter possibility presents us with the picture of various misfits dangling from landing nets, stuck in hollow logs, or perhaps assaulting an eight-foot barrier again and again before finally yielding to starvation, insanity, or concussion. I was always haunted by a vision of myself sitting in a malaria-ridden swamp with each of my feet hopelessly caught in a huge tire.
But, to return to my original question, have we ever considered the possibility that our whole approach to the problem may be wrong? Muscles may be useful in hand-to-hand combat, but I fail to see what advantage they give one in the Cold War. Indeed, that gaunt and bony look so much in fashion among Americans today may be a positive liability in the battle for the minds of men. How can we expect the world's starving masses to believe that a nation of emaciated people is as well off as it pretends to be? We seem to have forgotten that while obesity is the bane of modern America, it remains the ultimate symbol of happiness and security to that portion of mankind which goes to bed hungry every night.
Loath as I am to resort to alarmist tactics, I must call attention to a situation which has, until now, escaped the notice of the American public. While we work furiously to pare our waistlines, what are our Russian counterparts doing? One need look no further than the photographs in the daily newspaper. While our svelte first family cavorts energetically about the White House lawns, in what shape do we find the wily Russian Premier and his wife? The answer to this question, however simple, is revealing: round!
A look at the entire galaxy of Russian VIPs, in fact, presents us with an unavoidable truth—namely, that the Soviets have chosen their leaders with an eye to the propaganda value of obesity.
One glance at the Russian women is enough to reveal that the state has molded them into a plump advertisement for the Communist way of life. It has even been rumored that in the women's ready-to-wear department of the giant Moscow GUM there is not a single dress in stock smaller than size eighteen. Russian children, no doubt, are next on the list. When the tots have been satisfactorily well-rounded, the day will not be far off when the Russian male will step out of his deceptive cloak of physical well-being and confront us from behind his newly developed paunch. The psychological impact of such a thoroughly fat nation upon much of the world would doubtless be sufficient to entice it into the Communist camp. Only the failures of their farm program have so far prevented the Russians from carrying out this plot.
With the potential enemy already so well along the road to "physical fatness," we have not a moment to lose. However, in our drive toward expanded waistlines, we have several important factors on our side. Our program of agricultural stockpiling has guaranteed us a larder well stocked with simple but fattening foods. Dieting fads have unquestionably built tip a vast reservoir of hunger and frustration, the pent-up energy of which, once released, will give great impetus to the program. Millions, their shackles of self-denial cast off by the nation's call, will dash out of the reducing salons and into the eateries. The clatter of dishes and tableware, mingled with lusty shouts of "Seconds here!" and "'Please pass the butter!", will resound across the country. The great American appetite, once harnessed to a sound government program for physical fatness, will lean into the traces with a will. We shall match the Russians potato for potato, calorie for calorie. We shall fight on the beaches; we shall fight on the picnic grounds; we shall fight in the all-night hamburger stands. We shall never surrender! And if the American nation should last a thousand years, history will say, "This was their fattest hour!"