To educate is to open people’s minds to endless opportunities, but without a moral ‘lens’ with which to evaluate the appropriateness of these, much mischief can result. It is not simply that the devil finds mischief for idle hands to do, it is because “if we are to have criminals in our society, then pray god they be not too clever”1.
by the 1880s, having got virtually all eleven-year-olds and most of twelve-year-olds into school, observant Englishmen were noting that young people with their ever more obvious physical, if not emotional, maturity, were in the first years of employment vulnerable to exploitation at the workplace, and prey to the perversion of certain adults. Clergy, doctors and J.P.s recognised the ever-present threat of child abuse. The age of consent was raised from fourteen to sixteen. Within a few years of the founding of the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children2 were investigating an average of 10,000 cases of cruelty a year. Headmasters felt it necessary to rein in the sadistic floggings so beloved of the mid-Victorians. In 1898, fifty years before the use of the term teenager, their behaviour was called that of ‘hooligans’ (after an Irish music hall character) while in London the newspapers became preoccupied with what they called ‘Flappers’ — boisterous, over-indulged young girls of whom it was ambiguously said “their hair is not yet up, while their skirts have just been let down”. In 1907 Baden-Powell, the hero of the Boer War who had introduced into the army successful strategies for surviving in the wild, held his first camp for boys on Brownsea Island3.
The growth of the Scout organisation was phenomenal, and spoke to society’s realisation that, as with the Flappers, all was not well with what was shortly to be called adolescents. While the attention those early Scouts paid to accumulating badges may now seem somewhat naive how many of those, reading this Thesis, have themselves performed their good deed for the day? And what do we make of Baden-Powel’s injunction about fair play, “If you should knock a man down in a justifiable fight, you shouldn’t kick him to the ground: there’s no law that says that — it’s just ‘fair play’4.
The war that should never have been broke out on August 4th 1914. So confused were its origins, and so often had the great powers played war games, and so tortuous had diplomacy become, that the war caught everybody who should have been involved in making decisions, off their guard. The Foreign Secretary was on holiday; the Prime Minister was away from London, and the King was in Scotland. By the time the war was over fifty-two months later, Europe was in tatters. In one of the numerous books, “The Loom of Youth”5, written by public schoolboys, about themselves and about their schools, Alec Waugh recalled his hero’s feelings when he heard the news; “Glorious, glorious! A war is just what we need. It will wake us up from our sleeping. There’s a real chance now of sweeping away the old, out-warn traditions. I wish I could go and fight. If I could go, by God, I would have my shot at the bloody Germans”. In a spate of patriotic zeal 2.5 million Britains joined the armed services in the first twenty months. At the Battle of the Somme in 1916 120,000 infantrymen “went over the top” on the 1st of July. Four months later after near continuous fighting the allies had lost 600,000 men, many of them having been dedicated scouts in love with excited Flappers only a few short adolescent years before6.
It was an open question well into the middle of 1918 as to whether the Germans would be able to beat the allies before the Americans were able to build up their own armies in Europe, in which case it would have been the allies who would have been enforced to sue for peace. When the end came Germany collapsed quickly. The armistice was declared on November 11th. On that day there occurred simultaneously two tiny, virtually insignificant events that would lead the world into a still more terrible conflict a generation later; one was in Downing Street, and the other in a military hospital in Germany. Winston Churchill, in a state of generosity, proposed to his cabinet colleagues that, as many Germans were close to starvation, it would be an act of clemency to “rush a dozen great ships full of provisions” to Hamburg. His proposal was coldly rejected, his colleagues preferring to speculate about calling a rushed general election7. It seems that not only did these ex-public schoolboys have a deplorable ignorance of science, they had an even more deplorable lack of understanding of the basic Christian doctrine of forgiveness. The search for revenge (Germany was to be forced to pay for all the costs of the allied armies) drove the whole world into an even more terrible war twenty years later.
And it happened like this. At the very same moment as Churchill was making his proposition in Downing Street a German twice-decorated non-commission officer was recovering from a gas attack. Years later he wrote, “I knew that all was lost… only fools, liars and criminals could hope for mercy from the enemy. Hatred grew in me, hatred for those responsible… in the days that followed, my own future became known to me… I resolved to go into politics8.” That soldier’s name was Adolf Hitler. Could Dr. Arnold, even in his blackest mood, have ever envisaged what would happen when you had strong, clever men armed with all the technologies of modern warfare, but with forms of diplomacy that hadn’t evolved since the days of Wellington and Napoleon?
Thesis 58: 24th August 2006