Sunday, May 17, 2009



I’ve long thought of the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, together officially called the “Boy Scouts of America”, as a paramilitary organization. I’ve actually thought that ever since I was a child of nine, when I tried out the Cub Scouts briefly. I think my tenure survived a field trip to Miami’s Museum of Science and Natural History — and then-new Space Transit Planetarium, my favourite part (the museum is now called the Miami Science Museum). I probably joined mostly because I thought they’d be doing a lot of that sort of thing. But then I found that I had to get “merit badges” for doing useful stuff like learning to identify cars as they drive by, and such. And there was all the bother about special salutes and reciting a pledge to serve “God and my country.” So I bailed out tout de suite.

My opinion was only reinforced when I learned that, in fact, the organization will expel atheists, and then even more when they announced their own “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, barring gay scouts and adult scout leaders. They’re allowed to do all this because they’re officially a “private” organization.

Of course, they suck boys in with the promise of camping trips and such (and, as some of their web pages cite, “cool uniforms!”). But underneath, it’s sort of “military school lite”.

Only, it’s not always “lite”, not always paramilitary. The New York Times points this out in an article about their anti-terrorism training, where gun-toting 14-year-old “Explorers” learn, not to explore, but about hunting down illegal immigrants and “taking out ‘active shooters’.” I’d say that boys and girls of 14 to 16 should not be learning to “take out” anyone, except in the context of dating.

Ten minutes into arrant mayhem in this town near the Mexican border, and the gunman, a disgruntled Iraq war veteran, has already taken out two people, one slumped in his desk, the other covered in blood on the floor.

The responding officers — eight teenage boys and girls, the youngest 14 — face tripwire, a thin cloud of poisonous gas and loud shots — BAM! BAM! — fired from behind a flimsy wall. They move quickly, pellet guns drawn and masks affixed.

“United States Border Patrol! Put your hands up!” screams one in a voice cracking with adolescent determination as the suspect is subdued.

It is all quite a step up from the square knot.

A step up? Hardly!

One of the Border Patrol agents who acts as a mentor notes, “Our end goal is to create more agents.” Training to be a Border Patrol agent at 14? That seems a bit much to me. And then there’s this:

In a competition in Arizona that he did not oversee, Deputy Lowenthal said, one role-player wore traditional Arab dress. “If we’re looking at 9/11 and what a Middle Eastern terrorist would be like,” he said, “then maybe your role-player would look like that. I don’t know, would you call that politically incorrect?”
Um. Yes. But let’s not pooh-pooh the issue by calling it “politically incorrect”; when you put an image like that in front of children, you’re teaching them to equate Arab dress with terrorists. Too many adults can’t separate the thoughts; how can we expect kids to do it?

So I no longer think of the Boy Scouts as paramilitary. It’s full-on early military training, with a thin veneer of “fun for the kids.”

Oh, and then we have this:

There have been numerous cases over the last three decades in which police officers supervising Explorers have been charged, in civil and criminal cases, with sexually abusing them.
Hey, at least we know they’re straight, and they believe in God.


The Ridger, FCD said...

Yeah ... because that's what the guy would dress like as he slunk around America carrying out his nefarious plots. Wow.

I was in Campfire Girls, not Girl Scouts. We did camp; the Girl Scouts I knew didn't. (It wasn't feminine enough.) My brothers were not in Scouts, either; my father had a dislike for the organization he never explained (maybe I'll ask him next time I go home). Instead, that were in Gray-Y Indian Guides.

I think that was a good thing.

scouter573 said...

Let me see... You take one article on one small group from the scouting program and draw a conclusion about an entire international movement. This is not up to your usual standards.

Barry Leiba said...

First, Andy: thanks for the vote of confidence on the usual standards!

And you're right, of course... I'm using this article to support the opinion I already have, which isn't favourable and never has been. I don't like the organization because it's too wedged in Christian sensibilities, it's homophobic, and I think it is paramilitary, even if you don't look at this situation.

On the other hand, it's certainly true that many boys — and their fathers — have a wonderful time with it, learn a lot, and are quite enriched by it.

Maggie said...

Penn and Teller did an episode of B.S. on the Scouts and their conclusions about homophobia and Christianity are the same as yours.

My understanding, from friends with sons in the organization, is that different troops (once you get to the higher levels) have different focuses. Some troops are more service oriented, some camp almost exclusively, and apparently some train to shoot "terrorists." I believe there are different kinds of weapons badges, but I thought it was more like rifles and archery. I don't know of any troops in this area (MA) that do anything but service or camping, and of course they all do service if they're going to earn the Eagle Scout award.

I think all troops are individual because the leaders are parent volunteers. I only know of one Girl Scout troop in my town that doesn't camp. I always took my girls camping at least once a year, even though I hate camping!!