The Boy Scouts of America and Terrorism

It was certainly a busy week in the news media and for the public, between the Boston Marathon bombing, the fertilizer plant explosion in West. There was the late season snows in the northern US, and the massive rain in the central US. Terror and factionalism continued in troubled parts of the world. A huge earthquake rocked China, and North Korea acted like a spoiled child; one day threatening nuclear war and the next putting on a flower festival. Margaret Thatcher was buried. A midst all of this, 40 or so miles north of that fertilizer plant in Texas, the Boy Scouts issued the following proposal, to allow gay scouts, but not gay leaders.

Perhaps by issuing the press release Friday afternoon on the busiest news day in years, they were trying to bury their story, knowing it was controversial. But this decision is at best a partial solution with more ramifications than the whims of a private organization. And the Boy Scouts are a private organization,  but they do bear a public responsibility.

What happened in Boston is horrific, and our hearts go out to them. The news is beginning to reveal some sense of how this happened. The older brother, of a Chechen immigrant family, had steadily gone from what we would see as a normal, even exemplary young man to one who harbored extremist views and hate. It looks like Tamerlan was the driver of the deed more than his younger brother, Dzhokhar. We heard sound bites and interviews with their friends, who were classmates and teammates, and girlfriends with these guys. Some people did recognize they were changing, though. As the public discourse – and the investigating authorities – dig into the question of ‘How does something like this happen?’ we explore various answers.

We can check several things off the answer list already. We can’t blame Chechnya, or Islam. We can’t blame someone who may have noticed, standing among a cheering crowd at the finish line, a black nylon bag and did not immediately call 911. We can’t blame the federal government, who interviewed these brothers at the suggestion of Russia, but did not decide to deport them. Nor should we call for some drastic push for greater restrictions and a lessening of civil rights.

The solution, which will not guarantee safety, but is nevertheless the most effective, lies in what we gain from the best commentaries we are hearing about Boston and terrorism in general. Terrorism is not effective against a strong community. You too may have welled up if you heard the National Anthem sung so heartily at the Bruins game and other events around the country. But strength of community is not measured by enthusiasm in singing, nor our ability to party. We regular people need to show we care. The penultimate example is those heroes – in or out of uniform – who ran toward the problem. There were many of these exemplary people in West, Texas, too.

I hope and pray that not all of us will be faced with the decision of whether to run toward a mortal disaster. But each of us is a member of our community. We all talk to each other every day. We must remember that with great freedom comes great responsibility. That is a lesson that must remain a priority as we might let down our guard, and get back to our routines. No-one has the right to act on bigoted prejudice. You have a right to your opinion, but not to be a jerk. And each of us has the responsibility to admonish fellow members of our community who might be headed in that direction.

The Boy Scouts claim to be a values-based organization, whose priority is to build character. The Girl Scouts, the YMCA, and scores of other youth and family serving organizations make the same claim. They have a duty to operate in a manner that is free of prejudice. The announcement made by the Boy Scouts is a half solution, and falls short of its responsibility. George H.W. Bush once said, “You cannot federalize virtue.” And he was right. There are formal ways to assure that the right thing happens; through legislation, policies and charters. We need policies that allow the best in each other to be manifest, and when we fail in our responsibilities, it is because we allow apathy to set in, and some more formal push is needed. A good daily life comes from the efforts of good citizens, daily.

I am an Eagle Scout, and I cannot abide this policy of testing the sexual orientation of scouts or their leaders and labeling them. I certainly would not tolerate abusive or perverted behavior either. We do know there is a difference. The scouts should see this. They are misguided if they think otherwise.

Has our culture allowed so much passive tolerance that any belief is okay, that any bigot can do as they please? There is a fine line between the values of tolerance and good character. The lazy among us avoid the issue. But there are criteria to know the right thing to do. Teachers and parents are taught to love children, but identify bad behavior. And each of us does have the chance to step in and reverse the course of anger, pain and suffering in our neighbor. And it’s better to catch it sooner than later.

Neil Diamond led a spirited round of “Sweet Caroline” at the Red Sox game yesterday. Everyone – I mean everyone – seemed to join in, with a sense of relief and release. But let us not relax with a sense of abandon. We are our brothers’ keeper.


About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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One Response to The Boy Scouts of America and Terrorism

  1. JP says:

    Nice essay from a scout. Good advice for the country. I heard that Neil just showed up at Fenway and asked them if he could sing. It was unplanned, and a nice moment. The way to overcome terror, whatever the cause, is to keep such moments going, and part of that is, as you say, remembering that we are our brother’s keepers.

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