Mark Hertling: After Trump's disappointing speech to the Boy Scouts of America, the organization should distance itself from many of the statements of the President
Trump failed to provide the proper example to thousands of impressionable young men, he writes
Editor’s Note: Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling is a national security, intelligence and terrorism analyst for CNN. He served for 37 years in the Army, including three years in combat, and retired as commanding general of US Army Europe and the 7th Army. He is the author of “Growing Physician Leaders.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his.
In my neighborhood in the 1960’s, all my friends were Scouts. Mostly because it was fun – weekend camping trips, swimming, canoeing, rock climbing, telling stories, laughing and singing songs around a campfire and learning new skills that resulted in earning merit badges.
Intermingled with all the fun were lessons in citizenship, character, and leadership. Fifty years later I can still recite the 12 values associated with the Scout Law and explain Lord Baden-Powell’s philosophy behind the Scout Oath. Oh, and there were the positive examples of our Scoutmaster and his assistants – men whose names I remember just like I remember my drill sergeant from the Army – because these men are those I think of when I look back on my life’s role models.
I attained Eagle Scout at the age of 16 in 1969, and I have palms (fellow Scouts will understand). I’ve been to multiple National Jamborees and worked at Scout summer camps (the S-F Ranch in Missouri) for two summers before going off to West Point. I was a Scoutmaster for other boys as a cadet at West Point, and in 2012 the Boy Scouts of America gave me the honor of “Distinguished Eagle Scout” when I was commanding soldiers in Europe.
So yeah, Scouting is a big deal to me.
Scouting teaches young men respect for all people, all religions, and all our national institutions. Scouting is apolitical in its rules (“a scout is trustworthy and loyal”); scouting emphasizes looking out for each other and not using harsh words (“a Scout is helpful, friendly, courteous, kind”); Scouting teaches doing your duty with a cheerful countenance ("a Scout is obedient, cheerful, brave”); and Scouting emphasizes that all Scouts are stewards of the environment, human relationships and beliefs ("a Scout is thrifty, clean and reverent”).
That is why Monday night, after President Trump addressed the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Summit Bechtel Reserve, I called and then wrote the Boy Scouts of America to express my disappointment and to offer some advice.
You see, the BSA now finds itself in a position where they must stand for what they believe in. That will require distancing the organization from many of the statements made by the President and countering his comments about religion (a Sikh Scout gave the prayer before the President spoke and he – like others – were likely confused by the “Merry Christmas” meandering); politics (booing former President Obama, himself a Scout, was not good form, nor was the recounting of his election victory); and democratic institutions (the recurring negative commentary on the press and those in the “swamp” in Washington, even as required merit badges allow Scouts to learn about the media and citizenship in community and nation).
Beyond official statements, many of the Scout Leaders at the event – no matter their political leanings – will also have to address their Scouts face to face about proper decorum and behavior. The booing, cheering, and moblike actions of some of the Scouts demonstrates a need for counseling. I know that, had I been there, that’s what I would have had to do. Because Scout Leaders are always required to show what right looks like – the Scouts expect that of their role models.
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While I’m still proud to have a history with the Boy Scouts of America, I also believe the President missed an opportunity. Since he did not provide the proper example to thousands of impressionable young men, this is my attempt at doing my Good Turn, Daily. Any Scout would tell you that’s what’s expected.