As we know the Peace Corps was crafted by 20-24 men in two rooms of the Mayflower Hotel in thirty days following Kennedy’s inauguration. Using Warren Wiggins and Bill Josephson’s “The Towering Task” as the blueprint, the agency was established by Executive Order on March 1, 1961.
Shriver and a half dozen staffers then left on a round-the-world tour to get nations to take PCVs, now that we had an agency. When they reached India, Shriver received word from Wiggins that a draft of Kennedy’s Special Message to the Congress on Foreign Aid indicated that the President believed the Peace Corps should be part of the new Agency for International Development (AID). It should not be an independent agency.
Shriver called Wiggins and Moyers to get to Lyndon Johnson, who supported the Peace Corps, and have him “plead their case” to Kennedy. Johnson did corner the President, and Kennedy is alleged to have said, “Let them [i.e.Shriver] put the son of a bitch [i.e. Peace Corps] through Congress.”
And Shriver did. Famously walking the halls of Congress with Moyers late into the night, Shriver convinced Congress and the Senate of the value of the Volunteers. The Peace Corps was approved as an independent agency by a wide margin on September 22, 1961.
Gary May writes in his article on the Peace Corps. “Within twenty-seven months, there were almost seven thousand volunteers working overseas in forty-four countries….More than 50 percent were involved in education….Education was the Peace Corps ‘biggest activity’ during the Kennedy years because the agency’s political, bureaucratic, and ideological interest coincided with the needs of many Third World countries. Nowhere was this more true than in Ethiopia.”
That said, the Peace Corps is famous for picking on its own scabs. In an Evaluation done in 1967, Bennett and Carroll (five years after the arrival of the first teachers in Addis Ababa) said that it had all been a big mistake. They accused the Peace Corps of “misunderstanding Ethiopia’s fundamental need for agricultural assistance.” Bennett and Carroll argued that the agency had chosen the ‘institutional answer-the secondary schools-to the problems of Ethiopia.” These two Evaluation did not believe, as earlier Peace Corps directors, especially Wofford, had: that education was “fundamental” to Ethiopia’s progress.
More than a few Ethiopian PCVs agreed, Paul Koprowski, who was stationed in Asmara, wrote a letter home in May 1964, saying, “The sadness of the Peace Corps is that we are educating these people for nothing. Our students have nowhere to go, no jobs, no hopes of any.”
When a student-led revolution finally toppled Selassie’s government in 1974 and a Marxist regime sympathetic to the Soviet Union took power, many volunteers wondered,” May writes, “if the Peace Corps by commission or omission had contributed to the outcome.”
Bob Savage, and Ethie 1 PCV joked to Gary May in 1987, “We did such a good job that a few years after we left the whole place went Communist. It’s amazing what a group of determined amateurs can do when they really try.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the Ethiopia I Volunteers had to go through Training at Georgetown University in the summer of ’62. Now that’s a story!
End of Part 2