Information operations · Public Diplomacy · Strategic Communication

Dirty Jokes and the Boy Scouts

English: Uniform of the Boy Scouts of America ...
Boy Scout in 1974. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here I sit, brokenhearted.  
Tried to poop but only passed gas. 

It doesn’t sound right, that joke? If you’re in China, Russia or Outer Carjackistan (my favorite mythical country), chances are you’re never going to get that joke.  If you really want to know the joke, leave me a comment and I’ll reply with the pure, unedited joke.

I learned that joke many years ago.  I believe I read it on the walls of an outhouse when I was in the Boy Scouts.  If you’re not American, perhaps you aren’t familiar with the Boy Scouts, a la Baden Powell.  I actually had the pleasure of reading about the American Boy Scouts when I was traveling in another country and they were likened to an introductory course for entry into the military.  I had to laugh, because that is so out of character for the Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scouts of America, or the BSA, is this great program teaching self-reliance, how to be a responsible person who can help others, how to be at home in the forests, how to camp with tents and campfires, how to save the environment, how to hike and how to be comfortable around the water.  I learned to swim very well, I learned to canoe, I learned basic survival skills, first aid, all sorts of things.   I went on countless camping trips, to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico, to a National Scout Jamboree, spent many weekends at the Daniel Boone Homestead, became an Eagle Scout and became as comfortable in the woods as I was in the gym or the classroom.  My confidence in life soared through the roof.  I also became what I consider a good person.  One of the most vile comments made to me in recent years was that I was too much of a Boy Scout, that I was too altruistic.  I knew, at the moment it was said, that it was meant as an insult. I chose to accept it as a compliment, but I also chose to terminate that friendship.

Years later I was in the US Army and I was accepted into Special Forces testing and qualification.  I can say it now, because it was over 35 years ago, but I thought Special Forces testing, called the Qualification Course, was fun.   Here I was, alongside a whole slew of Vietnam Vets, who had been on patrol in the jungles of Vietnam, had met with and closed with the enemy and survived.  I was one of the few non-Vietnam vet soldiers.  …and I was comfortable in the woods, the jungles, the mountains and the swamps.  I could navigate using a map and compass and for me, once I looked at a map, looked at the terrain around me and used a compass to put myself in the right direction, it was like I had already been there.  I knew to expect a slight raise in the terrain on my right, encounter a stream in about ten kilometers, I’d box-navigate around a swamp, keep a hilltop to my right and so on.  Survival training was almost a pleasure.  Later I learned advanced radio communications skills and medical skills, again, only a slight improvement on what I learned in the boy scouts.  My Boy Scout background almost gave me an unfair advantage.

But the Boy Scouts did not teach me about warfare.  It didn’t teach me about passing covert communications or using encryption/decryption.  The BSA didn’t teach me about foreign weapons, how to make field expedient explosives, about jumping from an airplane with a parachute, weapons and explosives, about martial arts nor how to set up an ambush.  But somehow at least one foreigner seems to think that was the purpose of the Boy Scouts.

This past weekend two things happened that brought that lesson home.  One, the tailgate of an SUV was dropped on my head and I suffered a concussion.  I know a concussion results from my brain bouncing around inside my skull, causing it to swell.  I had the increased tinnitus, the blurred vision, the sprained neck (related but not directly tied to a concussion) and slight disorientation.   I posted my symptoms on Facebook and all my friends called me an idiot and told me to see a doctor (and I still love them as friends!).  But I have a distrust of doctors after a series of misdiagnoses where I made the call and the doctor made another, and on all those occasions I was right.  I suffered from their indifference, their arrogance and their lack of experience, in most cases.  In this case I knew how severe my concussion was and how to treat it.  The second thing was meeting my old Scoutmaster from Boy Scouts at a funeral in my hometown of Reading, PA.  The years faded away quickly as we talked and I made a promise to stop by and visit him in the future.  I realize how much he really taught me and how much he was a truly positive force in my life.

Today I was caught up in a discussion about Public Diplomacy and it hit me.  The United States is doing Information Operations, Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication based on a gut feeling, not based on scientific study.  We ‘feel’ the way to influence leaders, the public and the seniors of another nation is by providing them information which leads to a change in attitude and, therefore, will cause them to support the United States or at least not stand in the way of what the US wants to do.

Then it occurred to me that this approach is like telling a dirty joke and not using the right words.  Using a behavioral approach to IO, SC and PD leads to behavioral change, where one initially determines the conditions under which a behavior will change.  By providing a job to Achmed, he will stop making bombs designed to kill Americans. The condition being he gets a job, resulting in a changed behavior: stopping the bombs.

Read this paper:

I could have stopped writing right there and left you, dear reader, with a very sloppy ending.  I haven’t written this blog in a while because illness, being way too busy and now a concussion have stopped my fingers from tickling the keyboard.  I hope you know I want so badly to tell a dirty joke.  So I’ll end this blog with a not so dirty joke:  A little boy went up to his father and asked, “Dad, where did my intelligence come from?” The father replied, “Well, son, you must have got it from your mother, cause I still have mine.”  In the immortal words of Mork: Humor, har, har.

3 thoughts on “Dirty Jokes and the Boy Scouts

  1. Joel, interesting as i read through same little ditty on the wall of an overpass in San Diego’s Balboa Park in the 50’s….

    Surprising how these little colorful prose get around… One of the most famous is Kilroy …

Comments are closed.