Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Standards of truth

I've been reading Gunter Grass' memoir of growing up in Germany just before and during the Second World War. At one point, he recalls the songs the Hitler Youth kids sang in school: "Onward, onward! Trumpets are blaring their fanfare! Onward, onward! Youth knows nothing of danger! Etc."

Claiming "They seduced us!" does not excuse the youths who sang the songs, says Grass -- they seduced, he let himself be seduced. Grass' remorse is commendable, but he may be overstating a child's capacity to resist indoctrination.

Now, without making too much of the parallels, as I read the passage I could not help but recall standing at attention beside my desk in parochial school in the late 1940s and singing lustily with my schoolmates:
An army of youth flying standards of truth
We're fighting for Christ, the Lord.
Heads lifted high, Catholic Action our cry,
And the cross our only sword!
On Earth's battlefield
Never a vantage we'll yield
As dauntlessly on we swing.
Comrades true, dare and do,
'Neath the Queen's white and blue,
For our flag, for our Faith, for Christ the King.
We were not, of course, any danger to society -- pink-cheeked scampers in white shirts and scuffed shoes. No sooner had we sat down than we had forgotten what Catholic Action was all about, if we ever knew. But six decades later I remember the words of the song and the martial tune. I could sing it for you now. Which just goes to show that if you want to seduce children -- or adults, for that matter -- into the TRUTH, a jaunty marching song is just the ticket.