Archive - January 2010

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Thirty Days That Built The Peace Corps:Part Five
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Thirty Days That Built The Peace Corps:Part Four
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Thirty Days That Built The Peace Corps:Part Three
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Thirty Days That Built The Peace Corps:Part Two
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Chris Dodd Leaves The Senate
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Thirty Days That Built The Peace Corps:Part One
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Peter Hessler On China
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Peace Corps Worldwide One Year Later
9
Review: Buffaloes By My Bedroom: Tales of Tanganyika

Thirty Days That Built The Peace Corps:Part Five

The Ugly American One of the most important books of the late 1950s was The Ugly American by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick. The book’s hero was Homer Atkins, a skilled technician committed to helping at a grassroots level by building water pumps, digging roads, and building bridges. He was called the “ugly American” only because of his grotesque physical appearance. He lived and worked with the local people and, by the end of the novel, was beloved and admired by them. The bitter message of the novel, however, was that American diplomats were, by and large, neither competent nor effective; and the implication was that the more the United States relied on them, the more its influence would wane. The book was published in July 1958. It was Book-of-the-Month Club selection in October; by November it had gone through twenty printings. It was so influential that in later . . .

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Thirty Days That Built The Peace Corps:Part Four

Then came Ann Arbor, Michigan. On October 14, Kennedy flew into Michigan from New York, where he had just completed his third debate with Nixon. He had agreed to say a few words to the students at the university. Ten thousand students waited for him until 2 am, and they chanted his name as he climbed the steps of the student union building. Kennedy launched into an extemporaneous address. He challenged them, asking how many would be prepared to give years of their lives working in Asia, Africa and Latin America? The audience went wild. (I know, because at the time I was a new graduate student over in Kalamazoo. I was also working part time as a news reporter for WKLZ and had gone to cover the event.) According to Sargent Shriver, “No one is sure why Kennedy raised the question in the middle of the night at the . . .

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Thirty Days That Built The Peace Corps:Part Three

Kennedy’s Involvement JFK’s first direct association with the idea of what would become “the Peace Corps” came on February 21, 1960. He was on a college television show called “College News Conference” and someone asked about the “Point Four Youth Corps.” Kennedy said he didn’t know what the legislative proposal was. Afterwards, he told aide Richard Goodwin to research the idea. Goodwin, who was the Kennedy link with the “brain trust” at Harvard, wrote to Archibald Cox at the university’s law school about the idea. Then in April and May of 1960, when Kennedy was running against Humphrey for the nomination, the idea was discussed further. Humphrey introduced his bill for a “Peace Corps” in the Senate in June, but after Kennedy won the nomination in July, Humphrey transferred all his research files to Kennedy’s office. The Cow Palace speech made by Kennedy right before the election, which revealed his growing commitment . . .

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Thirty Days That Built The Peace Corps:Part Two

A New Frontier There was also, as there has always been, a search for a new frontier. That feeling was loose in America. The historian Frederick Jackson Turner has written about how America has continued to grow because of this search for another frontier. The Peace Corps gave young people a New Frontier. A new generation The Baby Boom had struck. 50 percent of the population in 1960 was under 25. For the first time a college education was within the grasp of the majority of young people. Unprecedented material wealth freed this new generation to heed their consciences and pursue their ideals. This spirit of generosity and participation had been sorely missed under Eisenhower. As one Peace Corps administrator puts it in Gerry Rice’s book: “The 1950s made ancient mariners of us all – becalmed, waiting and a little parched in the throat. Then we picked up momentum on the winds . . .

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Chris Dodd Leaves The Senate

Senator Chris Dodd (Dominican Republic 1966-68) of Connecticut puts it this way: “The Peace Corps took a nice kid from suburban Connecticut, whose father was a United States senator, and sent him to a remove part of the Dominican Republic to ‘do something good.’ I may have done some good, but mostly I learned. I learned about the complexity of a culture that is close to us geographically, but far, far away from our understanding. I learned to speak Spanish, the language of our neighbors. I learned to teach others some of the skills most of us take for granted. I learned to organize people to help themselves. Most important, I learned that one person can make a telling difference in the lives of those around him.” Dodd, who is 65, sounds like almost any other RPCV, but isn’t. As a Senator and Congressmen of Connecticut since 1974, he is . . .

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Thirty Days That Built The Peace Corps:Part One

The day after his inauguration in January 1961, John F. Kennedy telephoned Sargent Shriver and asked him to form a presidential Task Force “to report how the Peace Corps should be organized and then to organize it.” When he heard from Kennedy, Shriver immediately called Harris Wofford who had worked with Shriver during Kennedy’s presidential campaign. The two men rented a suite of rooms in the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue in downtown Washington, D.C., a few blocks from the White House. Here, they began with a new phrase–the Peace Corps–a few lines from Kennedy’s speeches, and a laundry list of names of people involved in international affairs. They  began to craft what would become, according to a 1962 article in TIME Magazine, “the greatest single success the Kennedy administration had produced.”  Over the next few blogs, I’ll tell the story of those 30 days in Washington, D.C. when the Peace Corps became a reality, . . .

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Peter Hessler On China

I came across on the web an hour long talk by Peter Hessler (China 1996-98) at Politics & Prose Book Store in Washington, D.C. It was originally broadcast on C-Span. In this hour presentation, Peter talks about his Peace Corps years and his second book, published in 2006, Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present. This title is derived from an archaeological site in China where the earliest form of writing was found inscribed on shells and bones. Peter also reads letters from his Chinese students who migrated from the countryside to the rapidly growing cities and talks about what it was like to teach in China. Peter was with the third group of PCVs to the country. After his tour Peter worked for the New York Times in China and now is a writer for the New Yorker. His Peace Corps book was called River Town. If you have time, (and you . . .

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Peace Corps Worldwide One Year Later

When I first came back from the Peace Corps and was living and working (and writing) in New York, I invited a young book editor out for dinner and she said to me, “I’ll go to dinner with you, John, but I won’t read your Peace Corps novel.” Well, we have been married thirty plus years now and she still hasn’t read my Peace Corps novel! It has always been difficult to find anyone who will read a book about the Peace Corps as many of you know from having finished your own book. When I first started to track “Peace Corps writers,” and publish with Marian Haley Beil Peace Corps Writers & Readers, I thought the publishing world had had enough Peace Corps first-person-experiences and I am as surprised as anyone that there continues to be published every year very important and well written accounts of life in the developing world written by RPCVs. We have had about . . .

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Review: Buffaloes By My Bedroom: Tales of Tanganyika

Jack Allison served a 3-year tour with the Peace Corps in Malawi, Central Africa, where he was a public health Volunteer in the bush.  He is best known as a singer/songwriter there, having recorded arguably the most popular song with a message in Malawi — Ufa wa Mtedza (Peanut Flour in Your Child’s Corn Mush).  After Peace Corps, Jack went to medical school, and recently retired after a 30-year career in academic emergency medicine.  He has done three public health stints in Africa — a USAID mission in Tanzania in ’82, a Project Hope Mission in Malawi in ’94, and US State Department mission in Malawi in ’05 — the latter two involved helping to eradicate AIDS in that Central African country.  Since 1967 Allison has raised more than $150,00.00 with his music, and he and his wife, Sue Wilson, have donated these monies to various charitable causes.  (For more . . .

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