15. Imperialists and Boy Scouts
Prof: All right.
I’m going to talk about
imperialism today. This complements the chapter in
the book. The main topic is the New
Imperialism, and the lecture is very much about the culture of
imperialism. Part of the age of mass
politics in Europe in the 1880s and 1890s, before World War I,
involved massive support for the New Imperialism.
What was new about the New
Imperialism? What period do we talk about as
having had the New Imperialism? It’s really from the mid-1880s,
just say the 1880s, to 1914.
It’s at that point,
as you can see from the maps in the book and you can see from
the discussion, that the European powers really
conquer the world. There’s no other way to put it.
There’s a frenetic,
wild chase even to the South Pole as part of that.
The African continent,
of which there were huge blanks in the maps of Africa,
by 1914 virtually the entire continent was not only charted
but had been conquered. Europeans really control the
globe. The Americans,
in a smaller way, are part of the New
Imperialism. Let me just start out by posing
the question, and I sent all this stuff
around to you, so I don’t have to scribble on
the board and you don’t have to try to figure out what it is
that’s written on the board, because it’s hard to see from
here. If you were going to point out
or to claim that there was a central reason for the New
Imperialism, why even Bismarck,
who described colonies as an albatross around the neck of
Germany while he gets into the kind of feeding frenzy himself,
it’s been put rather cleverly by a guy called Baumgar a long
time ago, that it comes down to God,
gold, and glory. There were those who
interpreted the mad quest for colonies as being the missionary
impulse. A sort of subset of this would
be the French idea that there was a civilizing mission going
on and trying to give indigenous peoples access to French
culture. Basically it argues that Dutch
Calvinist ministers, and Lutheran ministers,
and Catholic priests, and other denominations
encouraged states and their own church people to bring to their
religion indigenous peoples all over the place.
Well, we can dispense with that
one. That was part of it, of course.
You can’t distinguish any of
these three and say that any of them are nul.
But that is a rather small part
of the quest for yet more colonies in the New Imperialism,
and indeed for all of the well-meant,
however condescending in many cases,
quest for religious conversion. Most of the Lutheran ministers
and Dutch Calvinist ministers in Southeast Asia,
and Catholic priests all over the place such as Vietnam–my
friend Charles Keith just finished a dissertation on
Catholic Vietnam in the 1920s–most of those priests in
areas such as Africa were there to tend to the religious needs
of the European communities. It was particularly true of,
for example, Lutheran ministers in German
Southwest Africa and in other places.
The drive to convert peoples to
organized European religions was probably greatest,
and the Vietnam case is a very good one,
and the role of the Catholic Church is extremely interesting
in Vietnam and the origins of Vietnamese nationalism.
But that is another story.
The second one was gold.
Gee, I put a “d”
for the “o” in gold, but it’s spelled
G-O-L-D usually. I said in what you’re reading
that if you get Karl Marx, if he ever sat together with
Hobson, a very major economic thinker
whom I describe in there, if they were having dinner,
there would be a lot that was uncomfortable about the dinner.
But they would really agree.
They would say that the New
Imperialism, of which obviously Hobson was a great critic,
emerged out of the quest for riches, for resources.
Part of Marxism and part of
Leninism, an important part was that
imperialism is sort of the final stage of the development of
capitalism, and that states need new
markets. They need new resources.
Therefore, they set out to,
at a time of economic crisis–nothing like now,
but there is a depression that lasts from 1874 to the
mid-1890s–they set out to find new riches.
The people going up the Niger
River, for example, where I’ve been in Mali,
they expected to find gold around the next bend,
or more peanut oil, or diamonds,
because of the diamonds in South Africa,
which was the equivalent of the gold rush in the U.S.
in about 1848 in California.
Hobson was no Marxist at all.
And he was a critic of the
brutality of the New Imperialism, which I’ll talk
about in a minute. But he said,
“If you want to find out where this all began,
you look at high finance in the City,” the City being the
City in London, Westminster,
where the high rollers, and the bankers,
and the big capitalists are. There are the origins of the
New Imperialism. Now, there were critics of the
New Imperialism. Most of them,
but not all, were in Britain.
Many of them opposed the New
Imperialism because of the brutality exerted on indigenous
peoples by the imperial power. There was a real wave of
opposition, for example, to imperialism that swept
through Britain and London in 1900 in what they called the
Khaki Election, khaki because it was the color
of the uniforms of many of the British soldiers in hot
climates. Some of the opposition in the
liberal party were opposed, ran on a campaign of
anti-imperialism. They were just wiped away.
They were just absolutely swept
away in the elections of 1900. Ordinary people in Britain
thrilling to the accounts of colonial exploits voted
overwhelmingly for the conservatives who just blow the
liberals out of the water, and the labor party exists in
1900, but is not yet a major force.
Imperialism carries the day.
The big parades in London of
returning soldiers from the Boer War in South Africa and from
other wars, from all the wars,
they are greeted as conquering heroes nowhere more
exuberantly than the City, because there is a link between
big finance, big capital and imperialism.
we have a category we call social imperialism.
The imperialist power saw
imperialism as part of the overall strategy of conquests.
They said, “Look,
if you’ve got economic problems at home and you’ve got a lot of
unemployed workers–also in France–if you’ve got a lot of
unemployed workers who happen to be socialists,
or in Italy, that you could kind of export
your problems, because you can point people in
the direction and say, ‘Hey,
times are tough here. But if you go to Algeria,
we’ll rip off some Arab land for you and you’ll be just
fine.’ Or ‘You can go make it
rich in Vietnam.’ Or ‘You can go to Kenya
or to Ghana,’ (or what would become Kenya or Ghana).
‘You can export your
social problems.'” This is sort of what New
Imperialism meant. A classic case would be the
insurrection of 1851. This is backing up before the
New Imperialism. What do they do with the people
who are arrested after the insurrection of 1851?
A lot of them are sent to
Algeria. You export your “social
and political problems.” The irony there,
amazing delicious irony, is their great,
great, great, great,
great grandchildren end up being right-wing supporters of
the National Front, and before that of various
right-wing groups that believe in French Algeria and who try to
keep the French from leaving Algeria in the early 1960s,
after the Algerian war of independence.
So, social imperialism is seen
by sort of the economic canon, that is,
the way of thinking about the political economy of these
countries, as a way of keeping things calm
at home. They say, “Give people
opportunities. Send them to these foreign
places.” Geez, in the case of France I
remember reading these gripping, just pathetic stories of these
people who just can’t make it in the area in which we live in the
south of France. They pack up all their stuff
and they walk. They walk or they get little
push carts, try to get to Avignon,
try to get to Marseilles, try to get a boat to get to
Morocco, or Tunisia, or Algeria,
to try to make a living there. This, too, is part of social
imperialism and is part of the idea that somehow social
imperialism is economically determined.
That it’s the final stage of
capitalism. Is that the biggest reason?
But it’s damn important.
The biggest reason has to do
with the entangling alliances and great power rivalries.
It’s represented best by
Fashoda, at the end of the 1890s,
where a British force stumbles into a French force in the
middle of Sudan and they say nasty things to each other,
finally toast each other with what drinks they had brought
along and their countries almost go to war,
because the flag would be tarnished by losing out to the
craven reptiles that you just stumbled into in the Sudan.
The New Imperialism is one of
the fundamental causes of World War I, period.
That is the biggest reason.
Now, don’t get rid of the gold
interpretation completely, because obviously as Britain
and Germany become huge economic rivals,
big economic rivals, as the Germans are not only
nipping at the heels of the city,
British industrial production and British naval production,
but passing them in things like chemistry,
and production of steel, and the production of big
battleships. All this stuff runs together.
Your victory is your craven
reptile opponent’s loss. That’s the way they viewed it.
I’ll talk about this on Wednesday.
It’s fun to talk about,
sad but also fun. Most people in the 1890s
thought that the next war would involve France and Britain.
They’ll be fighting again and
their rivals here and there. Or they thought that maybe the
British and the Russians would fight because they’re rivals in
what was called the “Great Game” for north of India,
and Afghanistan, and all of that.
Basically, glory and the great
power rivalries is the biggest reason that Germany gets into
the imperial game, for example.
Bismarck–;it’s the famous
Bismarck story–a really awful man.
But when there’s an imperial
lobby comes racing along and says,
“Look, Herr Chancellor, we really need to have the
troops go and protect our merchants.”
People like the sort of
freelance guy, Karl Peters.
He said at one point,
he slams down a map of Europe on the table and he says,
“That’s my map of Africa. Here we are and we’re
surrounded by Russia and France.”
But toward the end of his
career was completely different. He’s backing up German
merchants with expeditionary forces.
Plant the flag and then you’d
better defend it. The big issue there is rivalry
with France and with Russia. Bismarck says, “Geez,
if we can get the French interested in all these colonies
in Africa, then they won’t be dreaming of
re-conquering Alsace and much of Lorraine.”
At the end he says,
“Well, we’d better be out there, too.”
And they’re all out there.
As some wag once puts it,
Italy gets into the game, too, with Libya and Ethiopia,
with “a huge appetite and bad teeth,”
as someone once put it. Of course, they get defeated in
the battle in 1896. Then they will pay them back
with poison gas and cascades of bombs in the 1930s,
and just destroy everybody and kill them all,
if they can, to pay them back for their
defeat in 1896. I am eventually going to talk
about the culture of imperialism and give you the example,
which I find telling, of Robert Baden-Powell and the
origins of the Boy Scouts. You didn’t associate the Boy
Scouts with imperialism, but you will in a minute.
First, let me just say that
this is not some sort of ‘70s radical guy
saying–there he goes again–;”it’s really nasty
to be slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people.”
But it is nasty,
and that’s what they did. That cannot be forgotten.
It doesn’t just start with the
famous case of the Germans in Southwest Africa.
More about that in a minute.
Bugeaud, the name is quite
forgettable but who’s a general from Limoges.
The French conqueror Algiers
anyway in 1830 is a political diversion.
Gradually they expand their
control over Algeria. Algeria becomes a colony.
It becomes an integral point of
view–from the point of view of the French,
in a different way than Tunisia, and Vietnam,
or Morocco, and other places of France,
even though it’s not part of metropolitan France.
Bugeaud and his successors kill
about 850,000 people during the campaign, very unequal battles.
Bugeaud comes up with the idea
of simply putting men, women,
and children into these huge caves and caverns,
and then simply throwing bombs in and so they all die.
He did that over and over again.
It’s easy to say,
“Well, the demons of the twentieth century,
they come in the twentieth century, don’t they?”
But, as I suggested before in
terms of the Commune, this stuff is out there in the
nineteenth century as well, and so racist ideology is out
there in the nineteenth century. There’s no doubt about it.
It wasn’t that way in every
place, but the French experience was pretty terrible.
In the very well-documented
case of what happened in what now is Congo and Zaire,
which were sort of the private colony of the king of Belgium,
the atrocities there are well-known.
One could go on all day talking
about these atrocities. The most well-known,
certainly, and most well-documented, and,
in a way because of what comes later in the twentieth century,
is that of the conquest and indeed genocide.
Here I’m borrowing an
appropriate term, I think,
in this case-that’s not a term you throw around very
loosely–of my friend and colleague,
Ben Kiernan, whom some of you know,
in his big book on genocide, which Yale Press published
recently. They begin conquering Southwest
Africa in 1885. So, Bismarck still has a few
years to go. In their way,
as they would see it, among other people were the
a Bantu group of about 75,000 cattle herders who were in the
center of what would become the German colonial territory.
Again, European powers are
putting things like borders there, boundaries,
and that has nothing to do with the way that,
particularly nomadic people–they don’t have any
sense of borders. Mali, where I’ve been because
my daughter was just studying in Touareg in northern Mali,
north of Timbuktu. The Touareg are a people who
had no sense of borders. There were Touareg across other
borders, too. Borders are something that were
artificially constructed by these powers to say,
“Here. Our empire goes there and yours
doesn’t start until there.” And, so, as these people rise
up to defend their own territory, they are
systematically massacred. They basically first decide to
crush the uprising at all costs. There is in 1904 an
extermination order. That’s literally the German
translation from the German. The proclamation of the local
military commander is that, “The Herero people must
leave this land. If they don’t I will force them
to do so by using the great gun,” that is artillery.
“Within the German
border,” that is defined as now German,
“every male Herero armed or unarmed,
with or without cattle, will be shot to death.
I shall no longer receive women
or children,” that is spare them,
“but will drive them back to their people or have them
shot. These are my words to the
Herero people.” Now, I couldn’t make this up.
It’s easy to say how terrible
this is, but it is terrible. It was part of the enterprise
and has remained part of the imperialist enterprise.
It wasn’t the goal of every
imperialist to exterminate the people who were there,
but if they got in the way in a very equal fighting.
In India there were various
cases of soldiers complaining it was too easy shooting down the
rebels because it was just like hunting.
It was a very British,
upper-class analogy. It was just like hunting.
Basically what they do if they
don’t shoot them they chase them out into the desert and then
they cement over the wells in the oases so they die.
Basically they exterminate
about two-thirds of the people. There’s a very excellent book
on this written by a former graduate student here many moons
ago called Isabel Hull that was published four or five years
ago. The origins of this,
and again there are people now writing and saying,
“Well, it wasn’t that bad. They brought trains to India,
ended the huge disparities in prices.”
Certainly lots of good things
did come. But looming in the background
were these massacres. The edition that I’m working on
now, that I’m just finishing of the
book that you’re kindly reading, there’s a whole recent spate of
interesting literature on the end of the British empire in
Kenya in the 1950s. History of the Hanged is
one. There’s another one by a woman
called Caroline Elkins at Harvard.
The title escapes me at the
moment, but these are just fantastic,
just gripping, just chilling accounts of
essentially the mass murder, incarceration,
and murder, and shooting,
under the guise of “trying to escape”
and all of this of hundreds of thousands of people.
This was hidden from the
British public, just systematically by the
government. It’s a long story and it’s one
that we have to wrestle with. Having said that,
I want now to talk about the culture of imperialism–this is
sort of shifting gears rather rapidly–and talk about Robert
Baden-Powell and the origins of the Boy Scouts.
Again, because I was once asked
to leave the Boy Scouts in Portland,
Oregon because I was of no use and never accumulated a single
badge, this is not the origins of this
lecture. There’s lots of stuff written
on Baden-Powell. He’s an easy person to mock.
He’s an easy person,
I suppose, to have some sort of respect for, too,
in a way, depending on your point of view.
I’m not dissing the Boy Scouts.
Once I had people running up.
There was a woman who came up
who was a Girl Scout. She says, “Oh,
this is so cruel what you’re saying about scouting.
It’s not like that.”
I know it’s not like that now.
But having had some relative
who had the very strange idea of giving me, of all people,
Boys’ Life as a birthday present.
I remember reading that and all
this kind of over-the-top Americana publications,
I suppose I’m reacting a little bit against that,
too. But there is a point to all of
this, so the rest of this is about Baden-Powell and the Boy
Scouts. Robert Baden-Powell was a
soldier. He came up with the idea of
scouting as a way of preparing British youth for imperialism
and for the next war. The origins of the Scouts,
in terms of its timing, that is the first decade of the
twentieth century, has to be seen in terms of
these international conflicts, these international great power
rivalries with which we began. It comes at the time of the
Moroccan Affair, the first Moroccan Affair and
the second Moroccan Affair in 1905,1911,
when it seems like the French and the Germans will go to war
against each other and they will bring in the other great powers.
More about that.
Robert Baden-Powell was a
professional soldier. When he went back to England he
thought that British youth were cigarette-smoking,
heavy-drinking, flabby weaklings,
whether they were upper classes and, even worse,
his few lower classes, because they were underfed and
therefore smaller. He hated the Oxbridge common
rooms; he said, “With its town
life, buses, hot and cold water laid on, everything is done for
you.” The British working classes,
like the upper classes, tended to drink a lot.
He was sure that there’d be a
war fought in the lifetime of these same people,
and he came to the idea of scouting.
Now, America has a role in all
of this. This country has always
believed in the frontier. Those of you who had Glenda’s
course in American history and other people know about the
Turner Thesis, about always you can expand to
the west. You can diffuse your social
tensions in the east by giving people access to land further on
and get rid of the Indians in the way, etc.,
etc. Now, we have friends in France
who still read The Last of the Mohicans.
There’s just a fascination with
the American frontier. This is extremely important in
the end of the nineteenth century in Europe.
Baden-Powell borrows the
uniform of the Boy Scouts from the frontier uniform as he
imagined it in America–the cowboy hat,
the flannel shirt, their neckerchief,
the short pants. He said, “The shape of a
face gives a good guide to a man’s character,”
this sort of firm face. He loved that.
Square jaw, compared to
and “shirkers,” as he called them.
It’s this cult of masculinity.
This comes at a time,
one must say, when you’ve got very aggressive
movement for female suffrage by the suffragettes who want the
rights of women to vote in Britain,
one of whom throws herself in front of a horse at a horse
race, and sacrifices her life to make
a point. It comes at a time as the
famous Oscar Wilde trial. Oscar Wilde, of course, was gay.
There was a sense that the
virility of English manhood was being tested by women–
Baden-Powell did not like women, he referred to women as
“silly women,” “silly girls”–and by
gays, whom he saw as effeminate and
therefore not really British, and wouldn’t be there.
What good could they do in the
next war? Also it’s a time where in
Germany particularly, but not only in Germany,
men were dueling. There’s sort of that test of
masculinity. If you’re lucky you’ll end up
with a dueling scar and not actually get killed.
Most of them don’t get killed.
But they’re dueling all over
the place. They’re dueling in the woods
outside of Paris. They’re dueling almost
everywhere in Germany. They’re dueling still in
Britain. That sort of reaffirmation,
according to Bob Nye and lots of other people,
and all sorts of people have written on this.
, my colleague, is now gone from Yale,
unfortunately. This is part of the
reaffirmation of virility. The tendency is to say,
looking back, “Well,
they’re taking it out on animals,
blowing the hell out of them and indigenous people,
etc., etc.” So, scouting for boys takes off.
It spreads from Britain to
Australia to Canada to New Zealand to India to Chile to
Argentina to Brazil. In 1910 it starts in the United
States. In 1910, Baden-Powell resigns
from the command of a division of the Territorial Army to spend
the rest of his life involved in scouting.
Again, what I’m saying is that
involves this sort of grafting on this idea of the American
frontier. You’re going to create your new
frontier. Your new frontier is going to
be in Africa. Your new frontier is going to
be in Afghanistan. You create your frontiers,
and then you hold the frontiers and you train these boys,
these young men to hold the colonial frontier.
He finds sponsorship in the
Daily Telegraph, which was a big conservative
newspaper. All of the big newspapers are
conservative. The 60,000 scouts–I think I
sent this around–by 1909 there’s 60,000 scouts in
Britain. In 1910 there are 107,000.
and in 1917,194,000. Why was there such a short gap?
Not that much of a leap between
1913 and 1917? Because they’re dead.
They get killed in the war.
They’re going off to fight.
Scouting is finished rather
early. You’ve got these big rallies,
enormous in London, and scouts coming from all over
the empire. Girl Scouts are created in
1914, but Baden-Powell didn’t care much about that.
Now, there had been groups of
frontier-inspired youth organizations that existed in
Scotland, particularly. They’re called things like The
Sons of Daniel Boone, The Woodcraft Indians,
The Boys’ Brigade in Glasgow in 1883.
Some were church sponsored.
Again, this is the sort of
moralization of the working classes.
You get them into groups.
They won’t smoke cigarettes,
which is a good thing not to do.
They won’t drink.
They won’t hang out with the
wrong people. They will go to work and become
cogs in Britain’s industrial empire.
They, too, can look at maps of
Africa being increasingly painted red, which was the color
of the empire. So, nature remains a part of
this. Again, to repeat,
the cult of the American frontiersmen,
let me say a little bit more about that, is part of this.
The idea of the frontiersmen,
the buckskin man. Rudyard Kipling is not my kind
of poet, but anyway, he expresses often this idea.
There’s something hidden;
go and find it–what’s happened? I must have pushed something.
I pushed something.
It doesn’t matter.
I’m not easily alarmed–Go and
find it. Go and look behind the ranges,
something behind the ranges is lost and waiting for you.
Baden-Powell described the
frontiersman whose manhood is strong and rich,
of a pure life. Now, his own predilection is
that for him a life would not involve “silly women,”
as he put it. The other idea,
and this is not at all, I’m not saying anything about
his sexuality, but the reality of the
situation is that he preferred the company of young men to
anyone else. This is involved in the way he
lived his life. The idea is that the free man
must earn independence with his gun.
This is, again,
part of this old American western idea,
but you apply it to indigenous people.
Now, you have aggressive models
coming from the American West. William “Wild Bill”
Cody, from my wife’s state of Nebraska, had killed thousands
of buffalo. He had dueled.
The duels that they do with the
German dueling fraternities, you’ve got the equivalent in
Dodge City, and all of this, where you’re dueling,
and the classic kind of Clint Eastwood western.
He’d killed thousands of
buffalo, dueled, and he’s a killer and scalper
of Indians. He was his own publicist and he
had enormous influence in Britain.
At the Battle of Little Big
Horn in 1876, he kills Indian Chief Yellow
Hand. In 1887 he crosses the Atlantic.
He goes to London,
Paris, and Berlin. Queen Victoria came out of her
extended period of decades of mourning for her dear husband,
Albert, to attend the Wild Bill Cody Show.
She wants to go.
And she’s there with all the
others. She hadn’t been to an event
like that in twenty-six years. The irony is that Wild Bill
Cody runs these fake combats between the Indians and the
cowboys in the equivalent of stadiums in Britain.
One of the ironies of this
about art and reality merging is that some of the people he
brought across the Atlantic were Indians who’d actually fought in
a battle against him in the Dakotas,
and he hires them as extras and he takes them to Paris,
to London, and to Berlin.
They are a big, huge success.
It’s the Wild West program.
At the same time in Canada,
those of you who are Canadian know about the Mounted Police
and all that business. The Mounted Police become a
powerful, though somewhat tamer,
more acceptable, more vanilla equivalent of
that, of keeping order in Saskatoon
and all of these places like that.
I’ve actually been to Saskatoon.
It’s a pretty nice place.
The idea of these mountain
men–now the mountain men get uniforms.
The mountain men are no longer
sort of taking pot shots at people in Kentucky on the
frontier or scalping Indians in the Dakotas.
They’re wearing sort of
freelance scalpers. They’re wearing the uniform of
these countries and they’re big-time imperialists.
That’s really the point.
Here’s a verse,
I can’t remember where I got that.
Our mission is to plant the
right of British freedom here. Restrain the lawless savages
and protect the pioneer. (It rhymes.)
And ‘tis a proud and
daring trust to hold these vast domains, But with 300 mountain
man You’ve got to kind of make it
rhyme a little bit–mountain man, pronounce it as if you were
a mountain man. But anyway, and that’s a little
harder to do if you have an Oxbridge accent,
which I clearly don’t. Also, this is part of the
whole– I don’t have time to do it now.
I spent a fair amount of time
in Australia, but it’s also part of the idea
of being Australian, too.
Anyway, that’s another thing.
Kipling’s Lost Legion is
really just awful, but here we go:
There is a legion that was never listed
That carries no colors or crest But split in a thousand
detachments Is breaking the road to the
rest (I’m supposed to be more
respectful when I do this, but anyway…)
Our fathers, they left us their blessing
They taught us and groomed us and crammed
But we’re shaking the clubs and the messes
To go and find out and be damned, dear boys
To go and shot and be damned, dear boys.
loyalty–loyalty to boys, loyalty to young men,
and brotherhood, and so it starts like that.
Can I barely go on?
Out from the woods of the Great
Northwest Under the austral sky
From the south and the north, they’ll come forth
At the sound of the mother’s cry
And each at his post where the danger is most
Will stand as a sentry then Britishers all to stand or to
fall The Empire’s frontiersmen.
Now, Baden-Powell is his own
best publicist, even better than Wild Bill Cody
had been. He helps plant newspaper
articles about him. Here’s one from 1900.
“It has been suggested
that Major-General Baden-Powell’s unrivaled skill
as a cavalry scout forms a quite remarkable inheritance of
heredity that he’s descended from Pocahontas,
the American Indian princess,”
which he was clearly not. But how does he become so
popular? How do these God-awful poems
that I’ve just read, how do they become popular?
They become popular because
they become the stuff of boys literature of the culture of
imperialism. They were the British
equivalents of Boys’ Life.
I’m not knocking Boys’
Life. I don’t know if that existed.
I strongly preferred Sports
Illustrated and the sporting news to that.
They become the stuff that
people are reading as they’re looking at these maps of Africa
gradually becoming painted British.
Now, how did he become well
known? Well, because he’s an
imperialist. He’s fighting.
In 1896 he fought in the
Matabele War, which I sent around,
not the war but the name, a skirmish against about 1,000
indigenous fighters. It’s at that point where he
starts coming up with his own freelance uniform that would
become that of the Boy Scouts. In military units people that
were scouts, again the idea of tracking.
you’re seeing where the Indians have been.
The Indians can see where
you’ve been now. You learn how they do it.
How the blades of grass turn
and all of that. I couldn’t scout anything.
You see how they do it.
They become known as scouts,
which is sort of an Americanization of a term.
This is what he likes to do.
there’s a good example of that. Talk about that kind of
narcissism of the colonial imagination and the imperial
imagination, “Rough, rough, we’re the stuff.
We want to fight and we can’t
get enough.” Whoopie!
That’s the song of the Rough
Riders from the Cuban-American War of Teddy Roosevelt,
so it’s part of the hysteria of the U.S. Spanish War.
But again, it’s the frontier
spirit. Baden-Powell helps create his
own myth, which I’ve said. He drew pictures of the people
that he had allegedly shot. These pictures end up being in
the tabloid newspapers. Again, the role of the tabloids
in spreading all this stuff is terribly important.
I said before there’s
twenty-one daily newspapers in Paris at the time.
I don’t remember how many there
are in Britain, but there are an awful lot of
them. He sketched a last stand of
eight people, supposedly until they get
rescued, against the indigenous people.
He claimed that the Zulus,
against whom the British War, the Zulus called him,
this sounds unlikely, “the man,
he who likes to lie down to shoot.”
The Ashanti called him,
in awe, this was his term for himself, “he of the big
hat.” And that in this war in 1896,
they called him “the wolf,” in awe again,
his opponents. “The beast that does not
sleep but sneaks around at night.”
So, he became “the wolf
who never sleeps.” There’s a slight problem with
this invention of a term to describe himself as “the
wolf who sneaks around,” is there aren’t any wolves in
Africa. There are not any wolves at all.
He made it up and made it up
rather badly, having taken it out of some
book somewhere else. But that doesn’t stop the
tabloids from referring to him as “the wolf who never
sleeps.” The Boers understand that in
the Boer War, that is the Dutch Afrikaner
opposition opponents, who by the way–the British
created the term “concentration camp.”
Again, I’m not looking back
from history. They’re separating children and
women from the men, and trying to avoid that they
receive provisioning out in the bush.
They create the term
“concentration camp” in the Boer War.
The Boers actually lived there
and had for a long time, though they’re not an
indigenous people. They know there aren’t any
wolves there. So, they start mocking
Baden-Powell. But “he of the big
hat” did not slow down at all.
So, in 1899,
he has the good luck to be at the siege of Mafeking,
where they are surrounded by a force, but not a terribly
aggressive force. Again, he draws pictures of
people on duty and all of that, night duty.
And the town had resisted 217
days stationed on the railway line that runs between the Cape
and Rhodesia. This was a big takeoff for his
reputation. Just the name Baden-Powell,
the initials B.P. become identified with British
imperialism. B.P, “He loves the night
and after his return from the hollows of the veldt,
where he has kept so many anxious vigils,
he lies awake hour after hour upon his camp mattress in the
veranda tracing out in his mind the various means and agencies
by which he can forestall the Boer move,
which unknown to them he has personally already watched.
He is the wolf who never
sleeps.” Now, B.P., those initials also
become British Pluck, the idea that the British are
mudders. This is kind of the image that
would come out of the very heroic Battle of Britain under
the bombs of German Luftwaffe in World War II.
also B.P., British Peerage, British Peers,
the upper classes, the title British Peers.
He becomes identified with all
of this, the wolf who never sleeps.
His advice to his own garrison
is to “sit tight and shoot straight.
All is well here,”
he writes. They were able to get messages
out to the newspapers who are covering this.
Now, again, the British
newspapers covered another siege which ends rather badly,
which is at Khartoum, with the death of Charles
Chinese Gordon. He was called Chinese Gordon
because he slaughtered the Chinese, and he gets his at
Khartoum. Of course, school children,
there’s an enormous, enormous outpouring of tears
over the death of this man. The newspapers,
because of these modern techniques, they can follow all
of this stuff pretty much how the siege is going,
etc., etc. So, B.P.
the prince of good fellows,
prince of scouts, here we go.
They emphasize his youth.
He’s forty-three but he’s
youthful. He’s cheerful.
He’s always whistling and
telling stories, even when things are going bad.
He loves pranks,
childish pranks. This is from some of the
newspapers. “Life was a game,
but you have to play it honorably.”
It was a game that silly women,
as he called them, could not play.
He becomes known again as
sports, mass sports is starting just at this time.
The Olympics are starting just
at this time. Again, there’s a reassertion of
virility in these Olympics. He’s called “the gallant
goalkeeper,” “the goaltender of
Mafeking.” So, a sports analogy becomes
part again of this imperial thrust.
They print patriotic letters to
him, which can be signed and can be sent.
You can send a postcard.
You could send a postcard home.
Your parents have left after
parents’ weekend, if they came.
You can send them the following
postcard: Dear Parents, Dear Mom and Dad,
We have shouted “Rule Britannia!”
We have sung God Save the
Queen. We have toasted gallant Baden a
half a score. We have sent our best respects
to Plucky Mafeking and we have hoisted flags and bunting in
galore. With a wild and frenzied
madness born of joy the empire cheers, while we Britishers
rejoice through the land. In this hour of jubilation I am
sending you a line with the wish that I could warmly shake your
hand. Yours exultantly.
Then you sign your own name to
it. So, scouting,
as someone said, I can’t remember whom,
was an attempt to make these “values”
of Mafeking permanent and to trace them on the map of these
countries of these peoples all over the world.
A 1909 newspaper said:
It may be that he is not a great soldier of the sort which
Napoleon, or the Maltese, or the Kitcheners are made.
He is the frontiersman,
the born leader of irregulars, a maverick, and the empire has
need of such. Furthermore,
he has the knack of seizing the imagination of boys and a deep
sympathy with them. He is doing his day’s work for
the empire by training a number of manly little fellows to keep
their wits about them and their eyes skinned.
We shall profit another day in
a much greater affair than Mafeking.
That, of course,
is preparing for the war against those other peoples who
might contest British domination,
not the indigenous peoples, but the other powers in Africa.
So, be prepared,
B.P., the same thing, the same initials.
Anybody here a scout?
I had to memorize that stuff.
I didn’t get a single badge,
but a scout. Be prepared.
You’re supposed to do that.
He creates these jamborees.
Also, at the same time,
and I don’t have time to talk about this,
but this is the same time when Arthur Conan Doyle,
the idea of sleuthing, but it was sort of an urban
sleuthing for evildoers in London.
It kind of merges with all of
that. Of boys who risked their life,
he says, “I said to one of these
boys on one occasion when he came through a rather heavy
fire, ‘You will get hit one of
these days riding about like that when shells are flying.’
And he replied,
‘Sir, I pedal so quickly, they’ll never catch me.’
Those boys don’t seem to mind
the bullets one bit.” Of course, millions of them
would catch bullets that ultimately they minded.
“I will do my best to God
and the king. I will do my best to help
others. Whatever it costs me.
I know the scout law and I will
obey it.” Again, I am not knocking doing
good things for people. Please do understand.
But I’m just trying to place
the origins of whatever you think of the Boy Scouts in the
context of the culture of imperialism,
because that’s where it belongs and that’s where it started.
In 1912 in August a boat
capsized off the coast of Devon, I think.
Nine boys from eleven to
fourteen drown. They were scouts.
There was an enormous,
enormous national funeral service in London in which
millions of people saw at least parts of it.
and many more deaths would follow, helped tie together the
idea of scouting with service to the nation.
A magazine called The
Captain–again, this is part of the culture of
imperialism and of aggressive nationalism–had a troop of
mobile scouts on bikes fitted with a rifle bucket and a clip
to carry a carbine, a rifle.
So, it shifts.
The image of all of this shifts
from Africa, where much of the fighting was
already over, and indigenous people destroyed
or pacified, to the European enemies against
whom the next war would be fought.
There’s a famous cartoon in the
British magazine Punch which showed a Boy Scout
complete in uniform being prepared, taking
Mrs. Britannia, that is the image of Victoria
who was dead, but the female image of the
empire, by the arm. It says, “Fear not,
grandma. No danger can befall you.
I, after all,
remember I am with you now.”
Boy Scouts played an enormous
role in 1914 and in the subsequent years.
I’m off to war.” There was a caricature in the
newspaper as Boy Scouts joined up along with lots of other
people who weren’t scouts in the war.
As you well know,
they don’t come back, or a lot of them don’t come
back. It’s part of the mood of
nationalism and of imperialism, of the New Imperialism.
Those two things are tied
together and the expectation, indeed in many cases,
as in the case of Baden-Powell, joyous expectation.
You could test your virility in
a more meaningful combat than simply slaughtering indigenous
people, or picking off Boers with
greater numerical superiority. By the way,
Robert Baden-Powell died in Kenya, in 1941,
from which he had just sent his last patriotic message to the
Boy Scouts, in what was a very different
war. Thank you.
I’ll see you on Wednesday.
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