"Reflections at the End of an Era"

"Reflections at the End of an Era"

“Reflections at the End of an Era” by Bob Dodds


One year ago twenty-six men arrived at Patapsco for the official opening of the first Civilian Public Service camp. Of this group there are now ten men left at Patapsco who can tell the story of their hectic reception and the days of initiation that followed.

Trying to recapture the memories and two pre-arrival expectations that were uppermost in our minds. First, we expected an atmosphere of ‘hyper-pious religiosity’ and were resigned to being Quaker-good for a year. Second, we were looking forward to the work project as a way to develop skills for reconstruction. We had faithfully read, and were impressed with, Work and Contemplation and Creative Pioneering. We were looking forward to doing manual work of National Importance for one year; we were expecting a degree of choice in the work we could do.

Our first reaction after our arrival in camp was to our colleagues, and that was a pleasant one. Our now friends were intelligent, human, liberal, likeable. Those first few days were the honeymoon era of Patapsco, and the reports of them are not entirely without foundation. There was an amazing degree of cooperation between campers. Volunteers, even for the odious jobs, were popping up all over the place. In the small camp we felt like members of a large family and had lots of time in the afternoons and evenings for discussions and ‘camp life.’ We were even impatient for the first work project to begin; and, when it did, we pitched in with a sincere desire to do the maximum job.

Then came war with its inevitable complement of added restrictions, strained ‘public relations.’ Our hopes and attitudes were naturally affected when one year of service was to be lengthened indefinitely. In size the camp grew away from the family into a large mob. Directors and personnel changed too rapidly for us to assimilate them into the group.

But how do we feel after having been here a year? The possibility of foreign reconstruction is in suspension in the State Department. Our high hopes of promotion to other fields of service—on the basis of work well done—, our first fine flare of optimism has been tempered. We consider our approach now more ‘realistic’ than in those dreamy days. We hope still, and fervently. We now are thinking with caution and with sensitivity to the hazards and hurdles of public opinion in a nation at war.

And how about the more immediate problems of this camp and this project? The work hours have been lengthened and the time for camp group life severely cut. It seems that a ‘system’ has replaced much of the original volunteer spirit. But why? Why is it, some of us ask, that we must now be told to observe details of group living where we once had spontaneous observance? Haven’t we, after a year of camp experience, even greater potentialities, even more abilities to develop a creative life together? Are we not right to question? If at one time the ideal of camper-generated initiative was worth the risk of entrusting it to freshman campers, is it not still worth the risk with experienced men of more developed ability? The difference we are aware of is one of attitude. Whereas once the responsibility for camp success was on our shoulders and the director made himself our matured counselor, now the responsibility seems to be on other shoulders. Once we responded to the trust that was put in us. Naturally we made mistakes, but as long as we were trusted we were cooperative, responsible citizens. When the trust appeared to be removed, we relaxed our high spirit of cooperativeness. Is not that a natural human reaction—to be fine when that is expected of us, when we are allowed to choose for ourselves? Is it not part of the pacifist desire behind this camp to create strong, eager men, responsive and responsible? Is not the ideal worth the risk of our mistakes? Worth the effort of proving that a trust ought to be placed in our hands? And the burden of proof remains always with the administration, namely the staff and ourselves. If these ideals are worth forwarding, are not the problems of a larger camp simply technical? Is it not wise and desireable [sic] for us to try to recapture our original spirit?

Yes, we are all different men from those we knew a year ago, probably wiser, more capable, and more mature, possibly more tolerant—certainly a year older.


--Taken from The Patapsco Peacemaker: Anniversary Issue. Vol. II, no. 14. May 16, 1942. p5, 8.