The lively exchange between John Coyne and John Turnbull about the Peace Corps, Vietnam, Jack Vaughn and LBJ impells me to add my two cents.
I was in the same Peace Corps group in Ethiopia as Coyne, as a first tour American diplomat I had the pleasure of meeting Jack Vaughn as his contact officer when he came to Panama to watch horse racing and have other fun, I have my draft notice from LBJ carefully filed with the one line letter from the SSS saying, “Your draft notice is hereby rescinded,” in spite of beating the draft I still wound up as one of those RPCVs in the middle of the Vietnam War - so I feel qualified to enter the fray.
The issue is to greatly increase the Peace Corps, one that I have written on in some length. I am not safisfied with doubling the Corps, I want to see 100,000 PCVs around the world. The crunch question is not if there is funding, but if there is the will and the way.
John and John discuss the “will” with the suggestion that nothing like a huge army call-up to stimulate youngsters to volunteer for the Peace Corps. I would answer this by noting that even when I was in the Corps, women comprised a large share of volunteers and I have read they account for more than half today. Obviously they were not motivated by the “hot breath of the draft.”
No, as I have stated many times, I believe the reason for the substantial decline in the Corps from 15,000 or so in the 1960s to half that number today is the result of policy decisions to make the Peace Corps a professional development group, what I am given to calling a “junior AID.” This is why 80% or more of the Peace Corps budget is spent at headquarters on staff and contractors busily working on making sure the “right person” is placed in the “right job.”
I say pay more attention to getting Americans abroad under the Peace Corps banner to improve understanding between ourselves and other peoples. I am not so concerned by the job they do, but that they have the direct, personal contact on which we can build closer relations with others. This does not require specific skills applied to specific jobs. To use an analogy, I believe the Peace Corps should be more “Habitat for Humanity” than “Doctors Without Borders.”
Now I am sure I will hear from many who insist that the Peace Corps be a “professional” service. But remember, this is a two year assignment, not a career. The original goal of JFK was to have as many Americans as possible meet as many foreigners as possible in the context of mutual cooperation in order to forge better mutual understanding. This is what I still hope the Corps can do.