"Murray said, 'I don't trust anybody's nostalgia but my own. Nostalgia is a product of dissatisfaction and rage. It's a settling of grievances between the present and the past...War is the form nostalgia takes when men are hard-pressed to say something good about their country.'"
from White Noise by Don Dellilo.
Nostalgia is never ending. Lord Baden Powell founded the Boy Scouts at the turn of the century in order to return boys to the notion of chivalry and honor. We look now back to the turn of the century Boy Scout movement as a golden age, a halcyon era of small towns and good will, a million boys walking a million grandmas across the street. But Lord Baden Powell saw a generation of profligate delinquents riding bicycles too fast, wasting their youth watching motion pictures and reading cheap dime novels. He saw a wasted generation, lost to lust and gambling and vice.
He saw, in short, what every waning generation sees in "the youth of today."
He saw his own regret, his own sorrow, his own misspent life. He saw, in their fresh and eager faces, a grinning skull. And so he dressed them in little brown uniforms and took them on hikes in the countryside. They wore felt hats, knickers, socks with tassels, scarves. They carried little tin mess kits and pocket knives with carved wooden handles. He wrote guide books and rule books. "Cooking Fires in Wet Weather" "Orienteering for Beginners" "Fly Fishing in Four Lessons." And along with the scouting craze came a host of "Boy's Own" books: The Boy's Own Book of Pirate Tales. The Boy's Own Book of Chivalry. The Boy's Own Book of Science Experiments. The Boy's Own Book of Adventure.
Boy's with pluck and good will at heart who stopped crimes, survived jungle excursions, assisted great knights on the fields of Agincourt. Boy's who never existed, but whose stories inspired a generation of parents to dress their little sons up like tin soldiers to be set safe and secure on the mantle piece.
Stories which inspired a million men to sign up for the service in 1916.
And the walls of the trenches were fortified with the legs and arms and torsos and heads of scouts from all over Europe. Hitler was a camper in his boyhood. He fought in the trenches with those other fresh faced lads. He marched to the trenches in a great coat, a jaunty hat, a thick handlebar mustache that he was just old enough to have grown. His parents were dead. Most of his siblings were dead. Diptheria, heart diesease, small pox, flu. But the honor of Germany, of the Deutsch people, of the great Kaiser Wilhelm, was at stake in the fields of Europe.
Hemingway drove ambulances behind the lines, carrying stretchers of body parts, of mangled men, of the dead. Harry Truman stalked the trenches in circle glasses and a jacket. Churchill bribed his way to the front where Tolkien had already been sent. Hitler on the other side, a private who missed his mother.
Ernest went mad, shot himself in the head. Churchill gave birth to cold war. Hitler skinned people alive, made shoes and lampshades and soap out of them. Harry Truman had seen the fields of Europe, and he dropped two atomic bombs to prevent it from ever happening again.
And Tolkien, touched like Hemningway, but also in another way, retreated to a green and grassy land of fictitious youth. A land where boys alone, hiking through the forest, camping and making campfires, building tents and canoeing down rivers might, through pluck and determination save the world.
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