Archive - January 4, 2012

1
Why the Peace Corps? Part Six
2
Why the Peace Corps? Part Five
3
Why the Peace Corps? Part Four

Why the Peace Corps? Part Six

Congressman Reuss was not the only U.S. legislator intrigued by the idea of youth service for America. Another Midwesterner, Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, had observed the volunteer work being done by the American Friends Service Committee. He, too, like Congressman Reuss, had given talks on college campuses in the late 1950s and received the same sort of strong, enthusiastic responses that Reuss experienced at Cornell University. Humphrey would say later that no one in ‘official government Washington’ would take him seriously, but he went ahead anyway and assigned a young member of his staff–a Stanford University foreign relations graduate named Peter Grothe–to research the idea for him, and what Grothe uncovered convinced Humphrey that the idea had merit. Grothe spent six weeks interviewing private agency workers and digging through available material. In his final report, Grothe conservatively estimated that 10,000 volunteers could be sent into the field within four . . .

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Why the Peace Corps? Part Five

Congressman Henry S. Reuss of Wisconsin, representing the Milwaukee area, went to the Far East in the fall of 1957 on a foreign aid inspection tour. The U.S. government had recently paid thirty million dollar to build a highway through the Cambodian jungle that Reuss realized when he arrived in Cambodia was a road to nowhere. One day he drove for miles along the new highway without spotting a single motorist. He spotted a solitary farmer trudging down the edge of the deserted road, his water buffalo in tow. The road, and the $30 million spent on it, was all a waste of money. But then, and by happenstance, in the same jungles of Cambodia, he came upon a village, and a new elementary school being built in the clearing by four young American school teachers. They told Reuss they had built the school with primitive tools and manual labor. . . .

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Why the Peace Corps? Part Four

Some Peace Corps historians, including early Peace Corps staff, trace the idea for such an organization as ‘the Peace Corps’ back to the nineteenth-century American philosopher and psychologist William James, and his “moral equivalent of war” statement. Bill Moyers, who was around the agency at the very beginning, was still saying in 2011 in an interview in Vanity Fair that he considered the Peace Corps his greatest professional achievement, adding, “We were making a statement to the world about America that is still valid half a century later. Remember, there is a moral alternative to war.” William James wanted a “conscription of our youthful population” to form “an army against Nature.” Once conscripted, the young people would be assigned “to coal and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dishwashing , etc.” James’ idea wasn’t entirely altruistic. He felt that assigning young people into disciplined service would . . .

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