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Keeler: Excuse me if I badger the Boy Scouts

Boy Scouts salute during New Jersey's Boy Scouts

Boy Scouts salute during New Jersey's Boy Scouts Camporee in Sea Girt, N.J. Credit: AP

This rant about the Boy Scouts of America has nothing to do with the sad lack of dexterity that caused me to leave scouting almost as soon as I had joined. The little matter of tying knots, it turned out, was beyond me. So I left, but I bore no grudge. It was my failing -- not theirs.

Lately, though, the Boy Scouts are beginning to get under my skin -- even before last week's stunning revelation of files revealing the organization's handling of sexual abuse allegations. It seems the Scouts took the same approach in too many cases as Catholic bishops: not reporting allegations to authorities and doing more to cover for molesters than to protect children from them. The Los Angeles Times and other papers have done an admirable job reporting on it.

This news is sad, but hardly unexpected. In organizations where powerful adults have access to young people, some grown-ups will use that power to "groom" children -- giving them gifts, granting them favors, and finally getting to the real point of the relationship: sexual abuse.

My gripe with the Boy Scouts came even before this revelation, however. It was three weeks ago, at the supermarket where we do our Saturday morning food shopping.

A group of Scouts stood at both entrances, selling popcorn and other snacks. On the way in, I told them to ask me again on my way out. In all that time, I should have been thinking of a way to say politely to their mothers that I can't support an organization that bans gay folks as scouts or scoutmasters. That sort of discrimination is just plain wrong.

Still, I got all caught up in the shopping and didn't give it a second thought. Mea culpa. Besides, though I don't exactly love the cookies-and-popcorn barrier that we have to cross too often on Saturday mornings, it's hard to say no to kids standing outside a supermarket, selling stuff.

So I paid $9 for a bag of caramel popcorn. That was not only a bad dietary choice -- though, God help me, I love the stuff -- but a bad investment.

Just to be polite, I asked what they were raising the money for. One of the moms said brightly that it was to pay for a trip to the aircraft carrier Intrepid. I quietly lost it.

"You mean to tell me I'm paying $9 for a bag of popcorn, so you can take these kids to a war museum?" I asked.

Then I got my $9 worth of airtime, with a polite but passionate mini-lecture on the 11 carrier strike groups our nation keeps afloat, at great cost -- money we could use at home.

To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker, wouldn't it be great if schools had all they need, and the Navy had to sell popcorn to buy carriers?

Though I didn't say it then, it's not just pacifists like me who raise the issue. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also questions whether we need these 11 carriers and the attending ships. They're not only costly and irrelevant to the new threats our nation faces, such as people in caves, but vulnerable to an anti-carrier missile that China is developing.

OK, you're thinking, how crazy is this guy to lecture popcorn-selling Scouts about aircraft carriers? Glad you asked. My question: How crazy is it that the Scouts are subjecting kids to our nation's sail-around-the-world-and-dominate militarism at such an early age -- in addition to the deeply unfair message that gay people are not welcome? Oh, and by the way, shouldn't the Scouts be protecting kids?

If I hadn't been so stunned, I should have been intrepid enough to say to those earnest Scout moms: If the Boy Scouts love the military so much, why not emulate the military -- and the Girl Scouts -- in a healthier way, and welcome gays? Next time, I'll ask just that.

Bob Keeler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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