I disagree with Ms. Melillo’s statement that “Peace Corps advertising emphasize myths about heroes, adventure . . . But fighting communism was among the agency’s original foreign policy purposes, according to Peace Corps historians and other scholars.” Ms. Melillo cites virtually no authority for that statement.
The origins of the Peace Corps include the bills sponsored by then Senator Hubert H. Humphrey for a Point Four Youth Corps, Representative Henry Reuss and others, particularly Congressmen who had had missionary experience.
Point Four, of course, was President Harry S Truman’s proposal for technical assistance worldwide, particularly the developing nations.
“Fighting communism” certainly was not the point of the University of Michigan students who urged President Kennedy, as a candidate, to create the Peace Corps.
“Fighting communism” was not mentioned in President Kennedy’s Cow Palace speech formally proposing a Peace Corps.
“Fighting communism” was not a theme of Warren Wiggins and my “A Towering Task.”
At the very first Peace Corps National Advisory Committee meeting in the Spring of 1961, Secretary of State Dean Rusk astounded Warren and myself with his statement, which I approximate, not having access to the actual quote here in Nebraska, “To make the Peace Corps and instrument of foreign policy would rob it of its contribution to foreign policy.” This statement became a touchstone of Peace Corps policy quoted repeatedly.
Peace Corps overseas staff did not live in compounds as did other United States government overseas personnel. They did not have access to commissaries or post exchanges. A Peace Corps director was not part of a country team.
From the very beginning, the Peace Corps tried to build a wall between it and United States government intelligence agencies. CIA Director Richard Helms instructed CIA personnel to stay away from Peace Corps volunteers and staff.
Peace Corps applicants, who during their military service had served in military intelligence, were not eligible to join the Peace Corps.
None of the ads cited by Ms. Melillo, as she concedes, supports her thesis.
She does not appear to cite the earliest ads, like the classic “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”
The only direct support for her thesis that she cites is the quotation from the Peace Corps Handbook for volunteers about studying communism. What she does not note, and may not know, is that this was a requirement, like the Peace Corps volunteer oath, that was imposed upon the Peace Corps by Congress, over the Executive Branch’s objection.
As the war in Vietnam heated up in 1965 and 66, Warren Wiggins and I seriously proposed sending to Vietnam, North and South, thousands of volunteers from as many countries as would join in order by their presence, to try to stop the war. This proposal was seriously considered by President Kennedy’s National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy, and me, in a long conference, but was never implemented.
The State Department and the Agency for International Development circulated a cable airgram advocating the recruitment of former volunteers to serve in rural development in Vietnam. Sargent Shriver refused to sign it, but it went out without his signature.
Some former volunteers did respond affirmatively and went to Vietnam under the auspices of international voluntary services. Three were captured by the North Vietnamese. The woman was fairly soon release, but the two men were not released until peace came to Vietnam. This story is recounted in IVS’s official history.
I have to wonder if Ms. Melillo, as many academics do, has constructed a contrarian thesis for the sake of being contrary.