Former President Obama Mentions the Peace Corps in University of Illinois speech today. A First!

And from the wreckage of world War II, we built a post-war architecture, system of alliances and institutions to underwrite freedom and oppose Soviet totalitarianism and to help poorer countries develop. American leadership across the globe wasn’t perfect. We made mistakes. At times we lost sight of our ideals. We had fierce arguments about Vietnam and we had fierce arguments about Iraq. But thanks to our leadership, a bipartisan leadership, and the efforts of diplomats and peace corps volunteers, and most of all thanks to the constant sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, we not only reduced the prospects of war between the world’s great powers, we not only won the Cold War, we helped spread a commitment to certain values and principles like the rule of law and human rights and democracy and the notion of the inherent dignity and worth of every individual.

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  • Bush promised 15,000 PCVs and didn’t make it. The Obamas campaigned on a 15,000 PCV force as well as an increased AmeriCorps and didn’t deliver. While we were in The Library of Congress celebrating 50 years of service, the Obamas were overseeing a carnival on the White House lawn to celebrate Nickelodian (a PBS kid’s show). Barack gives a great speech but he does not walk the walk.

  • Yes, I’m afraid that talk is cheap. contrast the value of all those thousands of PCVs, compared to the billions of dollars spent on the military, and on the State Dept. One BIG difference is that unlike those American GIs, like JFK, who understood war, and why we don’t want to do it, today starting with Bill Clinton, then Dubya, then Obama, and now The Orange Menace, NONE of these “leaders” ever were involved in war, understood what it was about, nor knew what they were talking about.

    It’s been a long time since JFK committed himself to the alternative of understanding. “How many of YOU, are willing to spend two years serving in Ghana !? ” I think people back in 1961 viscerally understood that HE understood what he was talking about — and the Peace Corps was launched with great public support.

    I sometimes wonder if the time of JFK can ever happen again, or whether this country is cynically past that kind of idealism.

    I still remember, one evening as a PCV in Ghana, listening to the short wave radio, under a squeaky ceiling fan and flickering yellow light bulb, I heard through the static, from the BBC Overseas Service, that JFK had been assassinated. I didn’t sleep that night. The next morning, villagers, who also had heard the news, appeared at our cottage, to offer their condolences. It was a time for recommitment.

    THEN, three years later, the country I returned to was NOT the country I had left. Far from the heartfelt send-off I remembered, and still taking my malaria suppressants, my “home-town” draft board called me a draft dodger. But, it was a Bird Colonel TDY to the Selective Service System, who understood, and kept me out of Vietnam. I still remember his words over the phone, so long ago: “Believe me, son, they don’t want people like you over there. I’ll see what I can do.” And he was as good as his word. May God bless the old man. The sort of guy JFK might have hired to help organize that original Peace Corps.

    It was a different time, in the 1960s, I wonder if it can ever come again. John Turnbull Ghana-3 Geology Project and Nyasaland/Malawi-2 Geology Assignment.

  • In 1965, I attended the first Conference on the Returned Volunteer. At the time, the number of RPCVs was less than 5,000. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara addressed the conference and said: ” . . . I am indebted to each of you. We have three and three quarter million people in the Defense Department today but I doubt very much that we have influenced the peace of the world as much as the small handful of you in this room and your colleagues have.”

    Twenty years later, while working on a project to improve the health care system in Niamey, Niger I attended a U.S. sponsored TGIF get together. A handful of young men sported T-shirts with a profile of an automatic weapon and stencil-style letters that read: “Peace Though Greater Firepower.“

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