A statue erected in 2008 in the United Kingdom of the founder of the Boy Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell, has come under a great bit of controversy. The core of this controversy is around his alleged relationship with fascist leaders, racism, and homophobia. Much like all historical figures, the truth about Baden-Powell’s beliefs is probably somewhere in the middle.
The articles below give a mixed account of the history of the man. On one hand, according to a biography of Baden-Powell, he was generally against Hitler but also praised his views on the education of boys. In the BBC article it is also stated that he was a closet homosexual who moved or removed homosexual men from the Boy Scouts rather then call the police in them.
On the other hand, his history shows that he was pro-fascist, at least early on. Baden-Powell stated that, upon reading Mein Kampf, there were many good points there in. And that his fascism is based on his deep anti-communist views (not unusual for imperial anti-communists of the time). Even if they were focused toward his admiration of Hitlers view on education, that admiration is tainted by the knowledge that this education has fascist roots. Ideals of duty, purpose, and nationalism (in the form of unwavering patriotism), are all principles that fascism shared with Baden-Powells view of education.
So what could possibly be the middle ground? I’ll argue it this way. A way in which will likely anger those on both sides of the topic.
Baden-Powell was likely homophobic. But that sense developed out his need to hide his own homosexuality. He covered up his own by ensuring that his organization was free of it (a history of discrimination against homosexuals is long within the Scouts). He probably had a certain level of racism, at least equal to the men of the time that was common at the height of Great Britain’s imperialism. That general belief that the non-white world need to western whites to elevate them into the modern world. And he likely did agree with certain aspects of fascism. Likely not the anti-semitism and gross eugenics, but at least the nationalist, and imperialist, ideals that would have been popular at the time.
Baden-Powell was a complicated man. Certainly not the vial fascist that his detractors would paint, but also not the saint his supporters would lift him up as. So what of the statue? Should it be removed? Maybe it should. I say this because of this: a level of harm is not measured by supporters, a level of harm is measured by those that have suffered the harm. To this day the royal family in England is required to answer question about its relationship with fascism pre-war. Why should we not level the same questions toward a man like Baden-Powell too?
Historical figures, especially those that form organizations with long histories, often take on an air of myth. This myth surrounds them and is formed in a way to color the individual in the best light. The supporters of these figures treat the myth like religion and are reluctant to accept information to the contrary of the myth. But to get to truth the myth must be fractured and reality built anew.