What is the Kennedy Legacy? And, is the Peace Corps an integral part of the Kennedy Legacy or just a footnote to history? Larry J. Sabato attempts to answer the first question with this comprehensive book that begins with the Kennedy era but continues to analyze how Kennedy influenced politics and culture for the fifty years after his death. To sign up for the course, the text to link to is: https://www.coursera.org/course/kennedy
The University of Virginia, where Larry J. Sabato is the Professor of Politics, and founder and director of the Center for Politics at the University, has offered this online course based on the book and narrated by Professor Sabato. The course is free. The course is in its second week, but it is easy to go back and view the first short lectures. Sabato offers commentary, but the lectures are dominated by videos from the times. It is fabulous to watch the 1956 Convention where Kennedy nominated Stevenson and almost won the Vice Presidential nomination and electrified the country with his speeches. Then film from the 1960 convention, campaign, election and inauguration documents how the “torch was passed to a new generation.” The assassination and funeral are also featured, but I suspect that the media will be saturated with such footage in the coming weeks. I think Kennedy’s life is more important than the tragedy and pageantry of his death. The course provides discussion boards where participants can offer opinions and insights. I urge RPCVs to sign up for this course and share their experiences.
So, does the book answer the second question: “ Is the Peace Corps an integral part of the Kennedy Legacy or just a footnote to history?” I have not read the whole book and the course is just beginning, but I am sadly afraid that Peace Corps is but a footnote, an iconic and important footnote, but still just a footnote. Certainly, the Peace Corps is cited as important part of the Kennedy agenda. The Executive Order establishing the Peace Corps is displayed as are pictures of Sargent Shriver. The list of books for further reading includes two about the Peace Corps; The Bold Experiment: JKF’s Peace Corps by Gerald T. Rice and Keeping Kennedy’s Promise: The Peace Corps: Unmet Hope of the New Frontier by Kevin Lowther and C. Payne Lucas.
Kennedy speaks to what he thinks is important for foreign policy in a 1957 television interview. He had just been appointed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.He talks about the need to support the universal desire to be free and cites the unsuccessful 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the aspirations of colonized peoples in Africa. Kennedy talked about the need to reach out to the “undecided” in the developing world and show that democratic means could lead to freedom. He acknowledged the power of the communistic arguments, as well as the dilemma created because our Western Allies were also colonial powers.
There is a linear eloquence to Kennedy’s thinking. In 1957, he said it was important to reach out to newly emerging nations and prove that our democratic way was productive. Then came his Peace Corps in 1961.The first goal was to meet the need of interested countries for trained manpower. Peace Corps has been faithful to that goal for over fifty years. One prime examples is Africa. Peace Corps has sent teachers to that continent since 1961.To document the number of teachers, school by school, site by site, country by country, would take not a book but an archive. To document all the Volunteers sent to all countries over all the decades that encompass the Kennedy Legacy would take a Library. Peace Corps doesn’t have a library. It doesn’t even have those records. Until or unless, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers insist on the monumental task of recreating those records and making them accessible to historians, like Larry J. Sabato , as well as the public, Peace Corps will be just an iconic footnote to the Kennedy Legacy.