Be prepared

Remember, gentle reader, those “young Romans who lost the Empire of their forefathers by being wishy-washy slackers without any go or patriotism in them.”

I am quoting from that Edwardian classic, Scouting for Boys. One may still discern it on the distant horizon. The Boy Scouts were one of many young paramilitary organizations, that rose from the victorious ashes of the Boer War. There was the Boys’ Brigade, the Church Lads’ Brigade, the Kibbo Kift Kindred. There was even a National Peace Scouts movement, founded by some liberal as a reaction to all this campfire militarism. But General Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts, never intended to amount to more than the competition, spread quickly through the British Empire and beyond. Even in USA, the Boy Scouts supplanted such native organizations as the Woodcraft Indians, the Cos Club, the Sons of Daniel Boone. The Hero of Mafeking had the style and charisma. The uniforms were better, too; and the jingoism more polite and restrained. Boy Scouts were taught to be helpful to old ladies.

Grown Boy Scouts were among the first eager recruits for the Great War. More than a hundred thousand of them soon signed up, in 1914, and soon after, ten thousand of them were dead.

My parents signed me up — for the Boy Scouts — half a century later, and more than half a century ago. It cost them for the uniform and trinkets. A wishy-washy slacker by disposition, and never much of a team player, I wanted out the moment I was in. Perhaps I lasted eight weeks, through which I scrood up every assignment. I associate most of my early experience of regimented “physical education” with physical injuries, and without affection. A woolly empathizer, too, it is well that I have never been placed in command of soldiers.

But I am no pacifist, and will lead with my chin (or more precisely, my mouth) when faced with the feminized girly-boys, boys who want to be girls, boys who’ve made the transition, and actual girls who “criticize” the Boy Scouts today, yet weirdly demand to be admitted. It is a sign of the times. (Why not join the Girl Guides, and learn some “home economics”?)

The boy with enthusiasm for nature and outdoors will today, I suppose, do what I did. He will go hiking alone, with a field guide in his satchel and perhaps a pocket microscope; or opera glasses for the singing birds. He will fill his head with adventure stories, and imagine himself rafting down the Congo, or bagging Himalayan peaks. He may discover the use of a canoe. A close companion may tag along, perhaps. Boyless uncles will vie for his company on their own private fishing expeditions.

“Honour, duty, loyalty, self-control” — all good, if you ask my opinion. Too, I can see there is something attractive in drill and parades, though I would rather watch than march, or line-dance. After all, I still have those opera glasses. But my ideology was formed in “A Boy’s Song,” by the estimable James Hogg (1770–1835), which I was given to memorize at the age of six:

Where the pools are bright and deep,
Where the grey trout lies asleep,
Up the river and over the lea,
That’s the way for Billy and me …

Wars are necessary, and we should be prepared. But even after the next one starts, we should also be prepared for peace. Because it happens, you know, sometimes.