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This page contains both original essays and comments on postcards as well as articles formally published in Metro News, the bi-monthly bulletin of the Metropolitan Postcard Club while I served as editor. Many of these reprinted articles have been enhanced on this website by adding additional content.
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The Twelve Points of Scouting
Views of childhood as a modern phenomenon, have been disproven by a variety of surviving artworks dating from ancient times. Rather than depictions of children as miniature adults, we find them playing with their mothers, toys and pets. Adolescence however is another matter. For most of civilized history, nearly everyone was involved in some sort of farming. Children were usually moved to the fields as soon as they could handle the work. This tradition was then incorporated into factory work during the industrial age. Radical changes to this model came with the turn of the 20th century. With a population shift to cities, and a growing middle-class, a new emphasis began to be placed on education over child labor. This was not universally seen as progress for large numbers of young people with more time on their hands introduced new social ills such as those termed hooliganism.
Many youth movements were born out of a desire to harness or at least direct this newfound freedom. Some like wandervogel in Germany were truly spontaneous and had no true leadership, while others developed into highly regimented organizations with constructive aims. The basic premise behind all these movements is that they embrace and even promote a set of defined values. While it is easy to see how the ideas supporting counterculture movements can easily stir up controversy and opposition, even those that promote core values highly prized by a society have never been without detractors.
People usually view the values they hold as absolutes that they do not want challenged, but this creates a situation where other points of view cannot always be tolerated. This is a problem inherent in all democratic societies that only grows more difficult to reconcile with a diverse population. These same issues tend to be extended to any organization or movement that is value based. Even when designed to promote good, it is often found that we cannot all agree on what is good. Very often these organizations only come to represent majority viewpoints. While most former Scouts continue to say that their experience in Scouting has made them better able to handle life, this doesn’t address those oppressed by majority rule. Bigotry, sexism and discrimination have historically been supported by adherence to core values. We can now see this in recent controversies surrounding the presence of homosexuality and transgender children in Scouting. Policies that one side welcomes are abhorrent to the other.
The ability to highjack a doctrine that is successful at controlling behavior has never gone unnoticed by those willing to use it to further their own agendas. While this has often been done for personal gain, it can become extremely potent and even dangerous in the hands of the state. Totalitarian regimes that are only interested in one point of view have been exceptionally good at indoctrinating core value through youth organizations. While an emphasize on duty was widely promoted in all nations a hundred years ago, its role in organizations like Hitler Youth or the Young Communist International has left a bad taste in many peopleÕs mouths. This has led groups like the Boy Scouts to relinquish most of their soldiery trappings, but they are still looked upon by some as too militaristic.
Despite the problems found in value based movements, the appeal of Scouting has remained strong, which can be clearly seen in the sales of Scouting for Boys written by Robert Baden-Powell. Since its first publication in 1908, it has become the fourth bestselling book of the 20th century. Baden-PowellÕs inspiration for this handbook was born out of his personal experiences while serving in the British Army. He had already published a book on military scouting, Reconnaissance and Scouting back in 1884 while stationed in British-India. His own skills were further enhanced after meeting up with Frederick Russell Burnham during the Matabele War in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Burnham was an American adventurer working for the British South Africa Company. Having served as a tracker in the Apache Wars, he teamed up with Baden-Powell on reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines. It was during this time together that he passed along the woodworking skills that he learned while growing up on a Dakota Sioux reservation, and from his familiarity with the last frontiersmen of the American West.
A few years later, Baden-Powell took part in the Second Boer War where he was besieged in the town of Mafeking, the capital of the Northwest Province of South Africa. The siege lasted more than seven months, and during this time Baden-Powell worked closely with the local Cadet Corps that was supporting British troops. After observing the practical value that well trained young men had on the war effort, he began collecting his own ideas on how to build self-reliance through skills in tracking and craft. This became the basis of Scoutcraft, which he promoted in his 1899 book, Aids to Scouting. His newfound status as a military hero helped to bring these ideas to light at a time when the public was hungry to receive them. This inspired the formation of many organizations such as the Boy&rsquo:s Brigade, but after the publication of his Scouting handbook in 1908, a full fledged organization of Boy Scouts was born.
While the British model for the Boy Scouts drew heavily from their experiences in India, other local traditions were incorporated as the movement spread around the world. Even though diverse Scouting organizations were established in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Malaya, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, and the United States by 1910, all were still united by their adherence to the points expressed in Scout Law. While it seems difficult to argue against the values expressed on the cards below as anything but those good citizens should embrace, their lack of precise meaning has inspired inconsistent interpretations over time. When Loyalty is equated to unyielding duty to one’s country, should we ask to what purpose? Discipline can also be read as mindless obedience to authority; a virtue to authoritarians, but not to those who believe authority must always be questioned if freedom is to be preserved. Most interpretations of the term Clean cannot be separated from Christian concepts concerning sin. It is interesting to note that the often cited virtue of being reverent to God is replaced here with that of tenacity. This is no doubt a reflection of the long standing hostility between church and state in Republican France where the cards were made.
Since many Scouting activities take place at outdoor camps, it places many Scouts far away from their families. The problem of homesickness that arose was the same as that experienced by young military recruits, which inspired the creation of postcards as an inexpensive method of correspondence. It should then not be surprising that during the golden age of postcards, many publishers introduced a wide variety of Scouting themed cards. These cards also played a prominent role in promoting Scouting and introducing the public to its values. A good insight into these points can be found in a beautiful set of twelve French postcards published by Roberic of Paris. Though undated and unsigned, they may have been produced during the First World War when any sort of card that supported national unity through shared beliefs was officially encouraged.
1 A Scout is trustworthy.
2 A Scout is loyal.
3 A Scout is helpful.
4 A scout is a friend to the world and the brother of all other scouts.
5 A Scout is courteous.
6 A Scout is kind.
7 A Scout is disciplined.
8 A Scout is always in good spirits.
9 A Scout is brave, resourceful, decisive.
10 A Scout is tenacious.
11 A Scout is hardworking, reliable and thrifty.
12 A Scout is clean in body, thoughts, words, and actions.