Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Boy Scouts

[Norman Rockwell, "Pointing the Way"]

I was a Boy Scout, and then an Explorer Scout. We lived next to the West Raleigh Presbyterian Church, which sponsored a scout troop. I don't know exactly what year I joined up--maybe '53. If so, Korea was still on, and Ike had just been elected. There was a good bit of military stuff in Troop 3. We learned how to close-order march. We got a good bit of Army Surplus gear to augment our uniforms. I had one of those aluminum canteens, and an ammo belt with all these little pouches with snap down covers. On the other hand, we didn't really care a lot about the merit badge thing. We mostly went on great camping trips, long weekends here and there. As I got older I recall a very wet late fall trip camping down on some corner of Fort Bragg, which is mostly piney woods. Another fall we went up to a place called the Pinnacles of Dan, three rocky spires along the Dan River. I googled that one time. It's now more or less closed down due to fears of sabotage, since there's a big power plant or water plant very near the entry way to the camping and hiking area. They had pics at the website of huge water pipes you had to walk pass. I almost remembered them, and I was sorry to learn that I could never go back up there--it's not so far from here where I live. That's the past for ya.

The best trip, which I think I participated in after I'd become an Explorer, was a long hike on the Appalachian Trail. I'm not quite sure where that trip happened, but at any rate a reasonable drive from Raleigh. We started out on a Friday evening, so maybe school was in. First night we hiked a bit, then camped on some flat rocks beside a creek. Next morning we set out and marched all day. I was surprised to discover that now and then we were walking past little farms with pig pens and civilians doing farmy things. It was a long hot day, not seriously steep climbs as much of the AT follows ridge lines. Now and then you'd come around a bend and get a great vista. By nightfall we'd come to our planned camp, had some sort of meal, bedded down. Sunday we pushed on as we had to get to where the vehicles were to meet us. We ran out of water--the maps showed water points that turned out to be dry. It was pretty nice to get to those vehicles, and I remember a stop for milkshakes and hamburgers that was pretty fantastic. As we drove home there was some need for an urgent rest stop, and the scout master, who was driving and wanted to get home, said "at least you've got something to hold on to, pipe down." This was probably the same year Mantle hit 56. I'm just guessing.

There was no politics in Scouts, in "my" Scouts. That is of course a lie. Politics is about perception. There were no black kids in our Troop. We all pretty much "Liked Ike." But it really just didn't come up. Mainly, we liked to march around and hike and camp out. Even though the Church sponsored the Troop, there was hardly any church in the Troop. I don't recall praying, beyond the proforma oaths and such. There were a couple of kids who were into merit badges, and I recall once going to an actual church event where one guy got an Eagle Scout badge. I didn't think it was much of a deal. Maybe he did.

Looking at that illustration at the top, I see a clear reference to the Iwo Jima Flag Raising Monument now. I wouldn't have consciously noticed it in the '50s. I don't even know if the Rockwell painting predates the monument or not, although I'd guess the Rockwell predates even the 1945 photo on which the Monument is based.

It's not really a "copy," as you can see. The Rockwell painting just "evokes." Maybe that's me? That's how the Scouts were anyways, in the '50s, in my experience. Yes, you could see, you can see now, looking hard and squinting your eyes. There was an evocation of military culture, and a respect for the wars just past, World War II, Korea. It was part of the '50s. As I've mentioned here in another post, my 5th Grade Principal, a WW II vet, brought a German Luger to class one day and let all of us pass it around, heft it, for all I know someone or other snapped the trigger a couple of times. He told us--Mr. Edwards was his name, a nice guy in his '30s with a blonde crew cut--that he'd picked up the weapon as he marched through a German town very near the end of the war. The Germans were tossing weapons out of their windows and it landed at Mr. Edwards' feet.

It was probably another decade before I'd seen Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will with it's depiction of Hitler Youth. Some free flic at UNC. Educational stuff, but with not enough context. Another ten years and I'd seen a showing of Goddard's Contempt at UC Berkeley, which featured Fritz Lang as a guest speaker because he was in the film. I didn't know at that point that Lang and Riefenstahl were married in the '30s, that Lang had left and she had stayed, Hitler's favorite Director.

So this is a long way round to say that Mr. Trump's appearance before the assembled Boy Scouts of America yesterday, in West Virginia, is pretty chilling in my book. Those boys don't need that stuff. They don't need to hear propaganda that young. There's plenty of time to get to serious marching, much less serious whatever Mr. Sebastian Gorka has in store for those of the lads what are drawn to "domestic" corrections. ICE will need recruits for years, but not those boys, not yet.

And maybe some of them, some small remnant, will get to where they can read Phillip Roth's The Plot Against America, and begin to see beyond the tree line. I grieve for my West Virginia. It used to be a place to hike a mountain, then it was a place to find a fiddle tune. Hazel Dickens sang the West Virginia I love. That's why she ought to have a teevee show.

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