Legends of the fall

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) filed for bankruptcy protection late Monday, as one of the country’s largest youth organizations tries to endure intensifying legal pressure over accusations of childhood sexual abuse going back decades.

It’s sadly ironic that an organization founded more than a century ago to help boys get on the right path in life wound up being a hotbed for sexual predators. As the number of lawsuits grew, the BSA had no choice but to file bankruptcy.

The BSA was founded 110 years ago by an American newspaper man and entrepreneur named W.D. Boyce. On his way to British East Africa for a safari, Boyce stopped in England and got lost on the foggy streets of London.

When Boyce asked for help getting back to his hotel, an unidentified Scout “went the extra mile,” guiding Boyce back to his hotel. The boy refused Boyce’s  money offered in gratitude, explaining that he was merely doing his duty as a Boy Scout. 

Boyce was so impressed that when he returned to The United States, he founded the BSA. An attorney named James West took over as the leader the following year and led the organization for 35 years, as it grew rapidly across the country.

One of West’s first tasks was to revise the British-based program outline in the handbook and adapt it for American boys. West was instrumental in expanding the third part of the  Scout Oath, adding a moral compass.

To help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

I became a Cub Scout when I was eight years old and proudly wore my badges on my Scout uniform. I never made it the Boy Scout level, but my son did. Daniel enjoyed the campouts – another excuse for him to be in the great outdoors.

What went wrong? This is something that will be discussed by writers, historians and philosophers. But to me, the answer is that the world went wrong. The decline, which started in Eden, has accelerated in recent years. It’s the American Legend of the Fall.

More than two years ago, Peter Johnson, writing for the Federalist, chronicled the history  of moral compromises made in the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of this century. Johnson said these compromises sealed the fate of the BSA.

Sadly, there is nothing to my knowledge available to fill the void the BSA leaves behind. Boys need to keep themselves “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight” now as much, or more, than they did in the past.



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