I joined the Marine Corps in 1971. At that time when a young man joined the military he signed on the dotted line and went directly to basic training—what the Marine Corps calls “boot camp.” It was a sink-or-swim proposition. The military just assumed new recruits could withstand the rigors of basic training and, frankly, most of us could back then. Apparently things have changed, and not for the better. Today even the few potential recruits who are qualified for military service often must spend months working with their recruiter trying to get into good enough shape physically to complete basic training, get off of drugs, or complete a rehabilitation program for mental conditions that otherwise will make them unfit for military service. And then there are the tattoos. In an attempt to express their supposed individuality, many young people have covered their bodies with every kind of tattoo imaginable. Because the military is about teamwork not ostentatious individuality, so-called “body art” is frowned on can even be a disqualifier for military service.

In my youth, recruiters just assumed that most young men who joined the military would be able to withstand the rigors of basic training and become a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. In the majority of cases, this was an accurate assumption. At the time, young people were, as a rule, in fairly good physical condition. Drugs had not yet become the all-pervasive scourge they are now, and tattoos were something only sailors got after drinking too much. Of course, even back then enlistees typically came out of basic training in better condition than when they went in, but—nonetheless—most were able to begin basic training with a reasonable expectation of making it through.

In my youth, young people were not couch potatoes. We led active lives and were required to work. Too often these days, this is no longer the case. Not only can the typical American youth not make it through basic training these days, most are not even qualified to begin. It is a sad indictment of contemporary American society that more than 70 percent of today’s potential military recruits are precluded from enlisting because of physical, moral, or cognitive problems. According to Maggie Ybarra (The Washington Times, February 16, 2015), “The majority of potential Army reservists are either hooked on prescription drugs, have too many tattoos, are overweight or have mental conditions that prohibit them from joining the military.” Many also have criminal records relating to illegal drugs. According to an Army Reserve Spokesman, “Seven out of 10 applicants fail to meet Army Reserve standards for mental, moral or physical reasons.” Said another way, only 30 percent of potential military recruits are mentally, morally, or physically fit to serve in uniform and defend our nation from enemies “both foreign and domestic.”

Frankly, it is difficult for me to get my mind around the fact that only three out of ten potential recruits are fit to enlist in the military. When I think back to my high school class of 1968, I cannot remember any friends or class mates who were unfit for military service. What all of this means on a practical level is that, as a nation, we are dependent on a shrinking minority of our young people to defend the freedoms most Americans take for granted. As the Cold War with Russia heats up again and the threat from terrorism continues to worsen America is finding it increasingly difficult to field a fully-manned national defense force. This is not good news.

What a difference a few decades can make. The years since I was a youngster have been characterized by the liberalization of government policies, religious beliefs, and societal norms; leftwing degradation of traditional American values; and the couch-potato syndrome which, when taken together, have eroded the moral and physical fiber of America’s youth. In short, we are now suffering the consequences of the philosophical and political turn to the left our country took beginning in the 1960s. By transforming America’s public schools into centers of leftwing propaganda that focus on inclusion rather than merit and self-esteem rather than self-discipline, liberals have ensured that every school year we graduate a new crop of cognitive lightweights who are unprepared for college, work, and now even the military. By trashing traditional American values, the left has transformed many of our youth into drug dependent, psychologically crippled misfits the military cannot trust to carry a loaded weapon.

By treating the normal behavior problems of youth as psychological maladies to be treated with prescription drugs instead of poor discipline to be treated with a paddle, we have ensured that many of our young people are hooked on prescription drugs before they even finish elementary school. Then the very people who push the prescription-drugs approach to dealing with youngsters who misbehave sit back and helplessly wring their hands while bemoaning the scourge of drug abuse among young people. On top of all this there is the couch-potato syndrome in which the only exercise young people get these days is using their thumbs to text or to change channels on the television.

Compare how the youth of my day spent their time after school and on weekends with how the youth of today spend their out-of-school hours. In the elementary years we were hardly out of school before organizing pick-up baseball, football, or basketball games. We climbed trees, ran spur-of-the-moment races, competed to see who could do the most pull-ups or push-ups, played cowboys and Indians, wrestled, boxed, built forts, re-enacted battles from World War II, and walked, ran, or rode bicycles everywhere we went. I don’t remember a parent transporting me or my friends anywhere, nor did we ride school buses. Back then if you lived within three miles of your school, you walked or rode a bike. In most communities the walking distance for students has been shortened to just one mile, and in some to even less. But the distance doesn’t really matter anymore because most parents of children who don’t ride the bus drive their children to school anyway.

In our junior high and high school years afternoons for me and my friends were given over to football, baseball, basketball, or track practice, depending on the season, and part-time jobs. What did we do on weekends? Hunting, fishing, working, and, when we could squeeze them in, pick-up football, baseball, and basketball games. The point is we were active and led physically demanding lives. I can’t remember ever just sitting around. In fact, back then any youngster caught being idle ran the risk of being pressed into service by an adult who had chores that needed to be done, even if the chores had to be made up.

Consequently, when our time came to serve in the military my friends and I were well prepared. We were in good shape physically; had never been pampered; were accustomed to being disciplined with a paddle rather than being fed prescription drugs; had never even heard of the psychological disorders of youth; had no tattoos—our parents, teachers, and coaches would have killed us; and we could pass the mental aptitude tests required by the military (our time in school had been spent actually learning as opposed to idly absorbing leftwing propaganda, stressing over self-esteem, and using cultural inclusiveness as an excuse for failing to learn how to read and write).

By comparison, consider how the youth of today spend their time after school and on weekends. For the most part they spend hour after hour sitting around doing nothing more physical than thumbing text messages, watching You-Tube videos, surfing the net for sites their parents would never authorize if, that is, they were paying attention; and watching television. The youth of today are idle physically and mentally. Thanks to Google, smart phone apps, and lackluster teaching, today’s young people cannot remember what day it is much less what they should be learning in school. Further, growing up in today’s anything-goes society championed by liberals has left today’s youth with gaping holes in their souls they try unsuccessfully to fill with tattoos, drugs, and Facebook “Friends” they have never even met and probably won’t.

No great civilization has ever survived its own material prosperity. Why? Because material wealth has always led to moral poverty and moral poverty has, in turn, led to ruin. For examples of this phenomenon, study the sad history of ancient Greece and Rome. When material comfort becomes a society’s god, that society has started down the road to self-destruction. Material comfort abetted by technology has brought American youth to the point where they are overfed, underworked, and morally adrift, and we are all paying the price for it.