September 4, 2010

Boy Scouts of America – 1972

This week (Sept 4-11) is dedicated to the wondrous 2 years I spent as a boy scout traveling around to see the great outdoors. And by wondrous, I mean bizarrely frighteningly surreal.

First, for those who are younger than dust, the BSA of 1972 is not exactly the wholesome Americana you may assume. Well, at least it’s not in Memphis, TN, in a run-down old gym with a bunch of bullies, psychopaths, good old southern boys, and a small handful of confused young boys. My Troop 184 (Yes, I still remember that!) is all-white, all male, and all about the interaction that a highly testosterone environment brings to impressionable blank slates. At least, that’s what I remember in the haze of an emotionally scarred, spotty, Alzheimer’s, sort of way.

To highlight exactly what the BSA is about during this time, here’s a small example.

One meeting, forty of us huddle on the gym floor as a Marine sergeant gives a lecture. He's a Viet Nam veteran, but his topic is not about discipline or honor or even a pitch to enlist that small handful of misfits who have stuck around this troop at the ripe age of 17. Nope, his purpose is to show us guns: sniper rifles, M16s, shotguns, tripod-mounted heavy machine guns, etc.

As we all lean closer with rapt attention, he tells us the secret to the perfect shot. In his gravelly voice, he says, “When you shot a gook, don’t aim for his chest or head.” Yes, in my imperfect memory I explicitly remember him saying “gook.” And you all thought that's a stereotype from the movies! Then he continues, “What you want to do is shoot him in the shoulder or leg. Put him out of commission, but don’t kill him.”

Now before our young minds can possibly find a kernel of humanitarianism in this gesture, the Marine sergeant clarifies the real purpose: “See, then all his gook friends will come out to rescue this poor sucker as he lays there screaming. So as they pop out of the jungle, you have the opportunity to kill more.”

Yup. This is what we’re listening to at 11 years old. How to wound the enemy so we can kill anyone who tries to help him. That's the Boy Scout way.