Bill Josephson on the Lost Essay of Warren W. Wiggins

I’ve already profusely thanked Karen Wiggins-Dowler for reappearing, with an essay by Warren to boot!

Without necessarily disagreeing with anything Warren Wiggins says, let alone with the great quote from Scottie Reston, I do need to say something about context.

Wiggins was the relatively new deputy in the International Cooperation Administration’s Far East Region under Bill Sheppard.  Warren was an all-but-dissertation Harvard Ph.D. economist.  He served in Norway in the Marshall Plan, in the Philippines, in Bolivia.  He had been the famous airsick pilot of DC 3s, flying supplies over the Himalayan Hump from India to China and back.

Bill Josephson

I joined ICA as Far East Regional Counsel in November 1959.

We bonded immediately.

In November/December 1960 we wrote a paper on foreign aid reorganization.  I still have it.

With the ICA Vietnam desk officer, Sherwood Fine, we wrote a paper on the impending crisis there.  To dramatize the crisis, Warren stopped all ICA dependent travel to Vietnam, an order quickly reversed after January 20, 1961.

New Frontiers people were not interested in our opinions.

Ever resourceful and creative, Warren was not daunted.  They knew they had to create a Peace Corps but they had not known how.  We would tell them how to do it.  And so what became “The Towering Task” was born.

Statements Warren made with which I disagree, “the originally designed Peace Corps. has less and less relevance to this lines, to their lives [Third World] countries.”

“[B]ut the investment in that role by the president was minimal.”  Warren talks much about risk.  Consider the risk the President took. Consider just the international furor over Marjorie’s postcard.

“[I]n February 1961, it clearly was FIRE, AIM, READY.”  Well, it was not READY, AIM, FIRE, that’s for sure.

But, if only speaking for myself, it was AIM, READY, FIRE.  How else does one get an Executive Order drafted, cleared in ICA, State, Budget, White House counsel and signed in three weeks?  How does one get legislation out of the Executive and to the Congress in two or three months and enacted in six?

For the last three academic years, I’ve been teaching the creation of the Peace Corps as an example of public administrative creativity to selected University of Chicago undergraduates at its Institute of Politics.  As I told Karen, Warren is alive in these classes.

Warren makes no reference to Sarge.  True, he was the President’s brother-in-law.  True, he had outsized influence because of that.  True, he sent the President weekly reports.  Warren may not have known that.  Few people did.

But Sarge was his own man, of intelligence, values, principles, energy, optimism, persuasion, honesty, never-say-die, demanding of himself and as well as of others.  He is also alive in my classes.


William Josephson is a retired partner of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. He is the senior advisor for the Sargent Shriver Peace Institute and a long-time partner, friend, and colleague of Sargent Shriver. In late 1960, with a State Department colleague, Warren W. Wiggins, Mr. Josephson co-authored The Towering Task. Josephson worked at the Peace Corps until 1966, holding positions as Special Assistant to the Director and then the General Counsel.

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  • Thanks, Mr. Josephson, for all you, and Mr Wiggins, did, back in 1961. I’m sure I speak for all of the volunteers who comprised those first PC groups, and later volunteers as well.

    As one of those early volunteers who would be drafted after PC service, for the dismal Vietnam War, and who spent a lot of time on the rifle range, the sequence is “Ready, Aim, Fire”. The ready part was to make sure you had a round in the chamber, the safety was off, and only then “Aim”. No point aiming, if nothing is going to happen.

    Good fortune with your current classes. Third Goal effort if there ever was one ! Let’s all dedicate ourselves to PC principles — and as the now elder generation, with the perspective that that gives us, make sure that another Vietnam War never happens. I think Mssrs Lederer and Burdick would agree. John Turnbull Ghana-3 Geology and Nyasaland/Malawi-2 Geology Assignment -63, -64, -65.

    PS: With your historical perspective, can you clarify if, as believed, the 1958 novel “The Ugly American” really defined, in the minds of the decision-makers, what the Peace Corps should strive for ?

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