Thank you, Ken, and thank all of you for being here today in Plainview Minnesota to celebrate and honor the 50+ year history you have with the United States Peace Corps. Before I go any further I want you to know I bring greetings from my father, Skip Humphrey and all the Humphrey family. I also want to recognize and thank my uncle, Judge William Howard for joining me here today. Bill’s mother and Hubert Humphrey’s sister, Frances Humphrey Howard was instrumental in many aspects of my grandfather’s life, but especially foreign affairs, the State Department, the Foreign Service and the Peace Corps, so thank you Bill for being her today.
When Ken called me up and asked if I would come down to help commemorate the placing of a historical marker to honor and celebrate the founding of the US Peace Corps and the very real connection Plainview residents have to the initial and ongoing success of our Peace troops, I wanted to learn more about why Plainview, Minnesota. When Ken told me of the many Peace Corps volunteers, including several of the first Peace Corps members were not only from Minnesota, but from Plainview, I wanted to know more. I have come to now know that in the early years of the Peace Corps, Minnesota was consistently one of the top 5 recruiting States and that Plainview’s involvement is the essence of what my grandfather, Senator Hubert Humphrey, had envisioned when he first thought of the idea of a US Peace Corps.
Having been elected to the US Senate in 1948, just after World War II, Hubert Humphrey was of a generation that were doers, thinkers and he was someone who understood that public policy and specifically foreign policy had to first be about providing stability throughout the world. He knew that meant building new economies where there were none and repairing economies and societal institutions that had been destroyed or severely destabilized.
He also knew that the US had a new (and I dare say current) enemy in the former Soviet Union, today’s Russia. He also understood that a great defense would only leave us with half the equation. The US foreign policy must be offensive as well and so ideas, institutions, economic and food resources and most importantly, he believed, that the greatest capital we had to offer the world was our human capital.
Hubert Humphrey believed that if people around the world began to rely on each other more economically and socially, the fabric of stability would be woven. Whether it was the Food for Peace policy, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or building up institutions like AID and working with the UN and other international organizations. One the greatest ideas that he envisioned and championed in Congress through to enactment under President Kennedy was his idea of a Peace Corps.
57 years ago Congress passed the Peace Corps Act. Hubert Humphrey considered it one of his greatest accomplishments along with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Voting Rights Act of ’64 and the Civil Rights Act of ’65. When Hubert Humphrey was appointed to Chair the Advisory Council of the Peace Corps, President Johnson summed up the reason we must have a Peace Corps, he said: “the Great Society requires first of all great citizens and the Peace Corps is a world-wide training school for great citizens.” In paraphrasing First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, Senator Humphrey said: “to enable people to develop their potentialities to the maximum is the highest purpose a government can fulfill.” He like Roosevelt believed that government could and should develop its citizenry and provide opportunity to citizens to fulfill their highest potential. Both Humphrey and Roosevelt and certainly Kennedy and Johnson as well as Reagan and the Bush’s all believe that the US government should foster common good development and security for all…the Peace Corps was and is that manifestation.
They also believed, somewhat selfishly, that the Peace Corps would be the training ground for future careers in the foreign service, international organizations and in public service for many of the Peace corps volunteers.
Hubert Humphrey, while Vice President, said to a conference of returning Peace corps volunteers “You have demonstrated that there exists a moral dimension of service beyond that of self service. You have given of yourselves and in doing so you have demonstrated to the world this is the real America.” He also went on to say, “We ought not to be doing things in this world just because the Communists are frightening us into it. We out to be doing things because we know it is right to do them. We don’t need a red devil to make free people act like just people!”
It goes without saying that were it not for Sargent Shriver, President Kennedy, Wisconsin Representative, Henry Reuss and many others in the beginning of the Corps or the countless of bipartisan supports the Peace Corps has received over the years that this incredibly successful program would not be where it is today. However, in the end, the Peace corps is only as successful as its Volunteers and that is why Plainview Minnesota and so many towns and cities across the United States that have sent their young men and woman to help our neighbors around the globe are and forever will be the bedrock of a free and stable world and a beacon of US global power and moral responsibility to the betterment of mankind.
While the goals of President Kennedy and others like my grandfather, to have up to 100,000 Peace Corps troops around the globe at any given time, have never been realized, the Peace Corps has to date, dispatched more than 220,000 men and women to 139 countries ranging from Bahrain to Brazil. These days, around 8,000 members actively volunteer each year and there is support for additional members.
Hubert Humphrey would be so proud of the work that has been done by the Peace Corps Volunteers and the program. I look forward to the Peace Corps being at the center of our foreign policy and as our ambassadors of the United Sates for generations to come. Today we thank Plainview for its citizens service, we thank Volunteers like you Ken and we devote ourselves to ensuring that the Peace Corps thrives for at least another 57 years! Thanks for inviting me.