President Donald Trump’s speech to the annual Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on Monday was wholly inappropriate and embarrassing by even the low standards Trump is held to. Using children as political prop brings to mind Nazi rallies in 1930s Germany, not a gathering of young men who are supposed to be dedicated to service, kindness and courtesy.
President Harry S. Truman, presciently, it turns out, warned against such speeches by “a cynical group of leaders” to the Boy Scouts in 1950. He assumed such division and hate were a danger in other countries. He would be horrified to see that the very things he warned about 67 years ago are now part and parcel of the American presidency.
During his June 30, 1950 speech in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Truman praised the scouts for their inclusivity and help for other countries.
“At this encampment there are Scouts from every State in the Union, from Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and from the Philippines and many other foreign countries. This is a practical demonstration of how to achieve world understanding,” he told the 50,000 scouts at the jamboree. “When you work and live together and exchange ideas around the campfire, you get to know what the other fellow is like. That is the first step toward settling world problems in a spirit of give and take, instead of fighting about them.”
“The great tragedy of our times is that there are movements in the world that deny this fundamental ideal of human brotherhood,” Truman said later in his speech. “These movements have devoted themselves to preaching distrust between nations. They have made a religion of hate. They have tried to turn the peoples of the earth against one another—to create a gulf between different peoples that fellowship cannot bridge. As a part of this effort, they have tried to poison the minds of the young people.”
“This is a sad and terrible thing,” Truman said after recalling how Hitler and Mussolini indoctrinated children with the ideas of “racial hatred and war.”
“How can we meet this situation?” the president asked. “There is only one way. We must not return hate for the hate … We must realize that they are the victims of a cynical group of leaders. We must make it clear to them that we believe in the fellowship of human beings, in the possibility of cooperative human action, and in peace based on mutual understanding. We must show them, over and over again, that fellowship is possible between men of different nations, different colors, and different creeds.”
“We must continue to hold out to them the invitation to work with us for the common good,” he said, in contrast to Trump’s rambling tale of cocktail parties, yachts and the evils of Obamacare and the media.
“I hope that you young men in the Boy Scout movement, in this country and other countries, will take home from this Jamboree a clearer understanding of the meaning of human brotherhood. I hope that you will work for freedom and peace with the same burning faith that inspired the men of George Washington’s army here at Valley Forge,” Truman concluded in his 1950 speech.
This is the type of speech and exhortation to bridge divides that Boy Scouts and all Americans deserve to hear from their president.