President Bush yesterday told more than 30,000 Boy Scouts of America gathered at their annual jamboree not to waver from their moral conviction or their duty to God and country, telling the boys that “there is right and there is wrong, and we can know the difference.”
Just days after tragedy struck the Virginia gathering — four Boy Scout leaders died last Monday when a metal pole they were hoisting to pitch a tent touched a power line — the president used his visit to buck up the boys.
“The men you lost were models of good citizenship, leaders who stepped forward to serve a good and selfless cause,” the president said at Fort A.P. Hill, about 60 miles south of Washington. “As Scout leaders, they devoted themselves to helping young men develop the character and skills they need to realize their dreams. These men will always be remembered for their leadership and kindness. And you Scouts honor them by living up to the ideals of the Scouting they served.”
The president urged the boys to stay true to their convictions, despite cynicism they will face in the future.
“Always remember where you come from and what you believe. At times, you may come across people who say that moral truth is relative, or call a religious faith a comforting illusion,” he said. “But remember, lives of purpose are constructed on the conviction there is right and there is wrong, and we can know the difference.”
In a half-hour speech that put into language for youngsters what he has said for two years to their parents, Mr. Bush took aim at critics of his war on terrorism and his decision to invade Iraq.
“In the years ahead, you will find that indifferent or cynical people accomplish little that makes them proud. You’ll find that confronting injustice and evil requires a vision of goodness and truth. You’ll find that many in your community, especially those younger than you, look to you as an example of conduct and leadership. For your sake, and for the sake of our country, I hope you’ll always strive to be men of conviction and character,” he said.
“Your generation is growing up in an historic time, a time when freedom is on the march, and America is proud to lead the armies of liberation. I believe we’re laying the foundations of peace for decades to come.”
Mr. Bush’s visit twice was rescheduled. A planned stop Wednesday was canceled because of severe thunderstorms. The visit was rescheduled for Thursday, but then was postponed until yesterday at the request of the Boy Scouts.
The president thanked the boys — who greeted him with chants of “USA, USA” — for their perseverance. Eagle Scout Daniel Valela of Troop 1707 from Dallas introduced the president by saying: “I guess being a Scout really pays off.”
Mr. Bush said that “the first person I see in the morning is a Scout” — Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff — and said Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were also Scouts. He said that he himself was once a Scout — and even had a famous leader.
“When I was a Cub Scout, my mother was our den mother. It’s about the time her hair turned white,” the president said.