Americans want to disengage from the world is the word from a new poll done by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News. Half of those surveyed want the US to be less active on the global stage. The poll also shows that approval for Obama’s handling of foreign policy sank to the lowest level of his president, with 38% approving.
Well, what does that mean to the Peace Corps?
Well, it means a lot.
The first question we all hear: Is there still a Peace Corps?
The second question: Are Volunteer women still being raped and murdered overseas?
The third question: Why do we still have a Peace Corps?
The tide is against Americans who thinks he or she can change the world.
Of course, we all know that we can’t change the world. In fact, all we can do it change conditions at little bit in two years.
The WSJ article two days ago (4/30/14) says in bold headlines: Americans Grow Weary of World Stage.
Of course, most Americans see the involvement of the U.S. in wars as fruitless, see the Russian intervention in Ukraine as another example of how no one is afraid of America, and no one listens to what America’s preaches, or cares what we think.
Still, everyone wants to live in America! The Russians are buying up properties in Manhattan, forcing wealthy Americans to Queens and Brooklyn.
On our side, we are divided over the benefits of international trade and globalization. In fact, 48% viewed globalization as bad for our economy according to this latest poll.
Instead of Yankee Go Home…It is more like: Russians Go Home! (Or Chinese…Japanese…etc.)
Still, why does all of this matter to the Peace Corps?
It matters because the groundswell of Americans being interest in, or concerned about, the ‘other half of the world’ is no longer part of our DNA.
In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy challenged us: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
And then Kennedy and Shriver gave us the vehicle, the Peace Corps.
We have the ‘vehicle’ in which to “do something for our country” But do Americans still want to ride on it?
We all did for decades.
Now Kennedy is a footnote in history. How many college students graduating this spring turn to their parents and says, “I want to do something for my country.” More likely, the Grad will wonder, “Do you think I can get a job at Google?” Or. “I hear they’re hiring lawyer again. Maybe I’ll go to law school.”
Theses Grads aren’t alone. Read the polls. Americans want to turn their backs on Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and say: “We’re done being No #1. We’re folding out tents and we’re locked out boarders behind us. It’s your turn China to lead the world.”
The Peace Corps certainly isn’t getting much support from the Obama Administration (or Congress!) to change the world. Our President was even afraid to meet with RPCVs (who, by the way, mostly voted for him) at the 50th anniversary in Washington, D.C. Afraid to meet with an agency because of the ‘bad’ press when a PCV had her throat cut when she went out on her own to defend girls being sexually abused by their teachers.
If we can’t honor this courageous PCV, then who should we give all our Peace Corps and NPCA awards to? The last time I looked, there was no place of honor for Kate Puzey in the Peace Corps building. No photograph of this woman in the lobby. Bad PR, I guess. At least at the State Department, they recognize the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens.
So is this the way the Peace Corps ends? “Not with a bang, but a whimper,” to steal the line from T.S. Eliot.
I think not. And here’s why.
Regardless of the WSJ/Washington Post poll say, and the fatigue of so many Americans who just want to call it quits, there’s hope in this new generation, the Millennials. In my mind, many will be as bold as we once were, all of us Silent Generation (didn’t we show them?) and understand that the Peace Corps is the way to be in touch with the world that awaits them, whether they know it or not standing around in their caps and gowns on the college quad still smoking grass.
This generation, these Millennials, will see that a Peace Corps ‘engagement’ is their salvation. The more they know, the more they travel, the more they are in touch with other nations, will enrich their lives and make them, as Bill Moyers said decades ago, “citizens of the world.” By leaving America and going to where the world needs them, not with a gun, but with a helping hand, they will changed their lives. They will be, as we all were, enriched and educated by the experience. I’ve come to that conclusion from raising a Millennial kid and by working at a college for the last ten years.
So if the Obamas and Boehners and Bushes, all those Tea Partiers, as well as the Isolationists, and even the Liberal Elites, don’t recognize the value of having a new generation schooled in the developing world, these Millennials will join the Peace Corps, and they will come home changed by the world and be better citizen than those of their generation who were afraid to leave America.