On this day in 1908, the first troop of Boy Scouts was formed by fascist Robert Baden-Powell. It seems kind of weird to me still that the Boy Scouts started in England. It seems so very American. But make no mistake. It came from Baden-Powell’s experiences fighting wars in Africa. So say what you will about the Boy Scouts and helping little old ladies across the street, the Boy Scouts is a group designed to get boys ready to fight wars. It is not surprising that the two eldest boys in the very big Boy Scout family that lives across the street from me have both gone into the military.
My opinion about the Boy Scouts has not changed over the years. Here’s what I had to say two years ago, Why Boy Scouts Have Always Bothered Me:
Although it might not be clear to look at me now, when I was a child, I was a very typical boy. I loved my army men and when I got older, I ran around with the other boys playing war with sticks fashioned into guns. So when my friends started becoming cub scouts, you would have thought I would have followed along. But I didn’t. Then, as now, I thought it was all very creepy.
It probably comes from the core of my being—my fascination with the Romantic hero archetype. But the idea of everyone dressing up the same way just wasn’t my idea of what it is to be a man. And more to the point, it wasn’t what my idea of what it is to be an American…
Now let me be clear: I don’t think that the Boy Scouts of America are a fascist group. I don’t think that at all. But it wasn’t hard for Mussolini and Hitler to change the Boy Scout programs in their countries to fascist youth groups. And I think that is what is creepy about the group. But that is completely expected. I am the kind of person who rebels against authority. I am an equally bad leader and follower. A society made up of people like me would be no kind of society at all. So we need a lot of people who are willing to conform to create social cohesion.
Just the same, I think it is a major mistake to turn conformity into a fetish. The military does this because it is an unfortunate necessity, just as the very existence of the military is an unfortunate necessity. But to push boys into blind and ostentatious conformity before they are able to make the choice seems wrong to me. It’s too much like indoctrination. What’s more, it is a particular kind of paramilitary indoctrination. And for me, that’s what tips it from concerning to creepy.
There’s something else: males should not be left alone. Men are at their best when they have women around to remind them that they live in a civilization. This may be why the Girl Scouts have not become a creepy group. Women don’t need us men, but we men really do need women. I like the idea of people forming groups. But it should be about something more than preparing men for the Third Boer War.
 This is from Robert Baden-Powell’s diary entry from 6 October 1939, “Lay up all day. Read Mein Kampf. A wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation etc — and ideals which Hitler does not practise himself.” In addition to his clear fascistic sympathies, this was written over a month after his own country had declared war on Nazi Germany. I wonder if there is a merit badge for treason.