This past Friday was and, as I do every year, I was wearing three hats—as a member of the Board of Selectmen, as a veteran and as the Scoutmaster of a Lexington Boy Scout troop.
After the ceremonies, there was the inevitable question from a reporter which sought to tie all of that together, especially the Boy Scouts and military parts.
It was a good question, because it gave me a chance to talk about Robert Baden-Powell, who founded World Scouting more than one hundred years ago. He was a former British Army general who had seen his war and apparently did not like it -- even though he emerged a hero.
At the first World Conclave of Scouting, Baden-Powell held aloft a “hatchet of war” and then buried it in a barrel of golden arrows, telling the Scouts that they must return home as agents of peace to carry a message of “Love and Fellowship on the wings of Sacrifice and Serivce.”.
So here was a guy who believed in military organization, but he wanted Boy Scouts to be a peace organization. Peace through getting to know other cultures and through service. Tough stuff!
The funny thing is that, while I was doing my 23 months in Vietnam, peace and fellowship came up quite a bit. The small unit of which I was a part often found itself dependent on people we met along the way for our survival. Being able to make friends became a key skill.
When that happens, inevitably your outlook changes, at least a little bit. You start to identify with the people who help you. You get interested in them, what they think about, and why. You also get interested in the people who don’t help you. Sure, they do not have your best interests at heart, but along the way you begin to wonder if there isn’t some middle ground you can all inhabit peacefully.
Many years ago, as a young sailor recently graduated from boot camp, I took part in an exercise related to Project Camelot. Project Camelot was an ambitious study suggested by the Army to assess the causes of, and what could be done about, conflict among nations.
Congress got very negatively excited about it pretty quickly, so the project was shelved.
But, before that happened, I found myself as the agriculture minister for a small agrarian country. We were instructed to try to make things better for our people.
For the first three days of the exercise, my country played by what we perceived as the rules. We emphasized the crops we could grow and used them to trade in the international market.
Toward the end of Day 3, however, we began to grow frustrated. Large nations were pushing us around. Among other things, they were using their strength to force down prices for what we had to sell.
On Day 4 we began to secretly trade for things that we felt we needed rather than things our people needed. We acquired weapons. And we acquired nuclear capability. Just what we planned to do with them was not entirely clear to the cabinet of which I was a part.
But on Day 5, pushed once too often, we figured out what to do with the nuclear capability: We nuked one of the larger nations into oblivion.
At the end of Day 5 the entire world lay pretty much in ruins. We had obliterated one country, but were, in turn, nuked by a coalition of other countries, some large, some small. That set off other fights, which continued up until time was called at the end of that day.
In the wrapup on Day 6 we were told that Day 5 did not count.
“Somebody always drops the bomb," said one of the monitors overseeing the exercise. “We know that wouldn’t really happen, so we discount that last day.”
As I sat in this past Friday for the , that long ago exercise came to mind.
Over the years I have wondered why Day 5 was so quickly discounted. Part of it was what one of the monitors described as “an inability to obtain nuclear materials with a strong peacekeeping presence in the world.” I think he meant the United States. It was an imaginary country much like the United States on which my small, imaginary, nation unleashed our small, but effective, nuclear capability.
I remain convinced that Day 5 can happen just as I remain convinced that there has to be a better way than war.
I am also convinced that the average citizen does not comprehend how much women and men give up when they go to war. I suspect my Vietnam experience was nowhere near as stressful as a tour in Afghanistan or Iraq. Moreover, when I came home from Vietnam, I knew that there was almost no chance I would be deployed again. I knew a handful of Marines who had done a tour then were sent someplace for six months and then returned for another tour, but that was unusual for my specialty.
Today, I know any number of service personnel who have done multiple tours in a war zone. I cannot imagine how that can be good for anybody. I note also that, while most of us in the Vietnam era were relatively young and mostly unmarried, that is no longer true.
So, as I walked home I thought about how to thank veterans -- most of whom understand all too well why peace is necessary -- and I thought about how to grow more organizations like the Boy Scouts which emphasize service and which have laws like “Friendly.”