Are the Boy Scouts a paramilitary group?

They wear uniforms. They’re awarded ranks, badges, patches, and medals. Scout organizations are called “Troops” and subgroups within Troops are called “Patrols.” Scouts are taught outdoor skills like camping and knot-tying. Scouting certainly has a military look and feel, and one could be forgiven for suspecting a hidden purpose of preparing boys for eventual military service.

But is it really? As one writer noted (here),

“The genius of the Boy Scouts derives from the ideas of its founder …. He was … under tremendous pressure from Christians who wanted the Scouts to be explicitly religious and … people who wanted the Boy Scouts to be a paramilitary organization. His goal was to figure out how to teach boys to be virtuous … without being an auxiliary organization to churches, synagogues, or the military.”

The scouting movement, as every Boy Scout knows, was founded by Robert S. S. Baden-Powell in the early 1900s. Lord Baden-Powell was a British army general and Boer War veteran who wrote books about military reconnaissance and scouting (as in military scouts), which morphed into a manual called “Scouting for Boys.” The first edition’s cover depicts a boy watching a ship from behind a rock, and the author’s byline includes his military title.

Upon retiring from the movement, Baden-Powell told its followers this:

“I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have a happy life too. I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness does not come from being rich, nor merely being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence.

“One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so you can enjoy life when you are a man. Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.

“But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. ‘Be prepared’ in this way, to live happy and to die happy – stick to your Scout Promise always – even after you have ceased to be a boy – and God help you to do it.”

Doesn’t sound much like “Hooyah!” And other evidence suggests Baden-Powell looked upon Scouting as outdoor and moral education, not turning boys into feedstock for military training. Still, the Scouts give some people (like this guy) the “creeps.” And former Scouts who end up in the Army or Marine Corps will find a lot in military service that looks and feels familiar. One thing that’s different, though, is the drill sergeants aren’t your average Scoutmasters.

Photo, above: Some of these guys may be former Boy Scouts, but this ain’t a camping trip or knot-tying class.

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0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    What is odd is that your comments are limited to the boy scouts. Every fact you have put forth is equally true of the girl scouts. Even true of the camp fire girls. [This comment has been edited.]

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    The Scouts allow girls to join now, so I covered it.

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