Open letter to the angry Boy Scouts’ parents, concerning Trump’s speech at the 2017 National Jamboree: it’s too easy for your children to “degrade themselves” — they have an unquestioning respect for authority
(07-29-2017, updated 07-12-2018) Dear BSA parents, those of you who were shocked, livid, dismayed, appalled, about Trump’s speech at this year’s National Jamboree,
Tom Horneman probably spoke for a lot of Boy Scouts parents when he wanted the BSA to apologize:
“You had to know he would say something dumb/offensive/ridiculous — and he did, of course. In the process, he got Scouts to degrade themselves and embarrassed those of us who are proud of our school-age days in Scouting.”
The Chief Scout Executive, Michael Surbaugh, explained that every president of the USA is invited to speak. Not to invite Trump to the 2017 National Jamboree would have been a political statement, and the BSA wants to avoid politics. Fair enough. The leader of the BSA and you, the Boy Scouts parents, also know that there are no limits to Trump’s depravity and that he won’t stick to a speech written for him by someone else if he sees an opportunity to wallow in adoration and applause.
The real problem is that it was that easy for the Scouts to “degrade themselves”. All it takes is a slug like Trump in a position of authority playing their crowd. It’s the problem of America in miniature: An under-educated population (at least the Scouts have the excuse of still being kids) that has been spoon-fed a shallow sense of patriotism and pride that’s based on not much more than the American flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, and unquestioning respect for authority.
The latter is why those Scouts degraded themselves at the 2017 National Jamboree, and embarrassed former Scouts who were proud of their Scouting days.
The BSA website claims the following:
The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.
This looks pretty good, right? “…to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices…” Assuming that the Scout Oath and Law support this.
They don’t. The Scout Oath could be taken straight out of the Hitler Youth handbook, were it not that Hitler actually modeled his Hitler Jugend on Britain’s Boy Scouts right around the same time America adopted the Boy Scouts. This is the Scout Oath of the BSA:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally strong.
Physically strong, obedient young men and women who will do their duty. Oh, and help others. And be morally strong. Note that both helpfulness and morality come in third place, in the listing of aspects concerning society and self, respectively. Nitpicking? How easy was it for Hitler to brainwash the German youth into being unquestioningly loyal to him? To view people who were not physically strong (and blond and blue-eyed) as less than human?
And then the Scout Law:
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
All good traits, except for the obedience. Scouts learn to be obedient, to follow rules and carry out orders given by their leaders, even if they don’t agree with them; they can complain later, “through proper channels”.
The contradiction must be so confusing. In order to make ethical and moral decisions, in order to be brave and trustworthy, one might at times have to disobey rules and orders. But my guess is that all too often, when confronted with that choice, a boy scout is pressured into obedience–or into doing what everybody else is doing.
I know several parents of boy scouts and several men who were scouts when they were young, who are outstanding people. I suppose this is where the role of the parents comes Scouting is only one part of a boy’s life, and parents can point out at home how things aren’t always as black and white as the Boy Scout Oath and Law make them out to be.
So I would like to know, from those ‘livid’ Boy Scouts parents, did you talk to your son before the Jamboree about the possibility that Trump would be there, and about what to do when he started spouting unhelpful, unfriendly, discourteous, vile and irreverent garbage? Did you tell your son that if Trump did these things he could walk away? Or at least not applaud? Did you discuss the issue beforehand with the unit leader? Did you consider not letting your son go to the speech at all or deciding as a unit not to go?
And if you are a unit leader and proud to be a scout, did you walk away with your unit when Trump started being inappropriate? Did you lead by example? Did you at least remain silent when Trump expected raucous applause? Or did you let yourself get swept up in the unquestioning mass idolization that comes from being taught that God, country, duty, flags, uniforms, pomp and circumstance and ‘leaders’ are always great fun? Were you listening to what Trump was saying or were you automatically whooping and hollering and clapping because that’s what you do at mass gatherings?
What was said and alluded to in Trump’s speech to the Boy Scouts was disgusting. But ultimately the reason your sons were exposed to it, and consequently degraded themselves and embarrassed you is because Trump was elected president of the United States. By masses of people who were all too easily worked up into a frenzy at his rallies and who hung on his every word, too lazy to find out for themselves if anything he said made sense, and who will only start to realize after the fact what a big mistake they made.
If you really want your sons to grow up to make ethical and moral decisions, then take a good look at the BSA Oath and Law and have a good, hard discussion within the Scouts about how to modernize the Boy Scouts mission.
To have most of the traits required in the BSA Law, to have them consistently throughout life, a person above all has to be an independent thinker. You can’t be a loyal friend if you rally behind a bully, you won’t be friendly and courteous to people you have been taught to hate. And above all, being brave often means standing up for someone or something, even if you’re the only one to do so.
If you’re serious about these traits, make the BSA focus on independent thinking. Have them teach the boys what loyalty and duty to country really are: standing up for what’s right, speaking up when someone does something unethical or immoral, regardless of their position of authority. Then maybe, just maybe, the next generation of Americans will be more discerning come election day, and scenes like the one at the 2017 National Jamboree won’t happen again.
(This post was first published on the blog Resident Alien: Being Dutch in America, under the title: “Open Letter to Livid Boy Scout Parents”, 07-29-2017)
- Boy Scouts of America. https://www.scouting.org/resources/info-center/mission/
- Reed, Brad. “‘I am beyond appalled’: Boy Scout parents furious about Trump’s ‘offensive’ Jamboree speech”. Raw Story, 25 JUL 2017 AT 07:31 ET. https://www.rawstory.com/2017/07/i-am-beyond-appalled-boy-scout-parents-furious-about-trumps-offensive-jamboree-speech/
- Surbaugh, Michael. “From the Chief: Our Perspective on the Presidential Visit”. Scouting Wire, July 27, 2017. https://scoutingwire.org/chief-perspective-presidential-visit/
- Header image: In: Dwyer, Colin. “Boy Scouts Chief Apologizes For ‘Political Rhetoric’ In Trump’s Speech”. (America) The Two-Way: Brekaing News From NPR. NPR, July 27, 20173:25 PM ET. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/07/27/539802987/boy-scouts-chief-apologizes-for-political-rhetoric-in-trumps-speech