By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
Of the literally hundreds of books in my personal library, one of the most-cherished is my 1970 edition of the Boy Scout Handbook. Weather-worn from years of return-reading, it is easily one of the best combination-primers of leadership techniques, good citizenship, first aid, outdoor survival skills, and the finer points of manly virtue ever published.
I say “most-cherished” and “best” because I’ve read an untold number of great leadership and survival books over the past few decades – everything from business-management books, Marine Corps guidebooks, various military field-manuals and treatises on successfully competing in the world and surviving everything from war to economic downturns to the world’s most dangerous big-game animals. But few match the Boy Scout Handbook in terms of its conciseness, thoroughness, simplicity, and yes, its uniqueness as a practical guide for what it takes to be – not just a man – but a good man (sadly, a dissipating natural role).
Frankly, I never hoped nor expected to find a better handbook for boys and men. But I did.
SCOUTING FOR BOYS: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship, a 2013 reprint of the 1908 edition by British Army Lt. Gen. Sir Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts) is in my honest estimation the standard by which all other books on “manliness” should be based. Granted; the idea of manliness has become something to be eschewed in many of the more politically-correct circles where gender-norming is the trend today. But considering our current political leadership – and some among our senior-level military leadership – as well as the obvious trending of cultural and moral degradation; perhaps a revisiting of Baden-Powell’s SCOUTING FOR BOYS might not be such a bad idea.
Hardly just for boys, this first-ever book on “the Scouting movement” was based on Baden-Powell’s earlier books composed during the late 19th century as military training manuals for British Army scouts operating during the Boer Wars in Africa. Notes from “Reconnaissance and Scouting” (1884) and “Aids to Scouting for NCOs and Men” (1899) became the basis of SCOUTING FOR BOYS. And the rest – as they say – is history.
Speaking of which, just leafing through SCOUTING FOR BOYS transports the reader back to a time when all of society saw great value in bringing boys up to be tough, honorable, imaginative, disciplined, competitive, always prepared, selfless, manly men who loved God and embraced what the book refers to as The Knight’s Code.
“The great point about a knight was that he was always doing kindnesses or good turns to people,” writes Baden-Powell. “His idea was that everyone must die, but you should make up your mind that before your time comes you will do something good. Therefore, do it at once, for you never know when you may be going off.”
He adds, “So, with the scouts, it has been made one of our laws that we do a good turn to someone every day.”
But there’s so much more in this highly readable (despite its having been penned nearly 100 years ago) guidebook. Baden-Powell shares – with marvelous narrative and anecdotal material – character-developing life-lessons from land-navigation, building fires without readily available materials, and man-and-animal tracking; to physical conditioning, marksmanship, earning money honestly, and basic criminal investigative techniques. Even preventing suicides.
This is truly a must-read for every Boy Scout, former Boy Scout, and anyone else – man or woman – who recognizes both the importance of manhood and the value of scouting as it was originally intended to be.
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