Discussion on “How the US Government sold the Peace Corps to the American Public”
Bill Josephson Responds to Wendy Melillo’s “How the US Government Sold the Peace Corps to the American Public.”
I have tried to make sure that what I have received is the complete document that she published in Conversation. I’m not sure that I have succeeded.
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.
“Fighting communism” was not a theme 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 cite 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 concerning 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.
General Counsel of the Peace Corps
Co-author of A Towering Task
An attorney with Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP
Wendy Melillo Replies
I want to thank Mr. Josephson for his insightful and constructively critical comments regarding my article in The Conversation. I think this is a lively conversation that is worthy of further discussion and study. However, Mr. Josephson made a few points that I respectfully disagree with.
There are three sources in The Conversation article that were used to support President Kennedy’s use of the Peace Corps in foreign policy to fight communism:
- The U.S. National Archives — https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2010/09/22/the-peace-corps-not-so-peaceful-roots/
- The Cold War Logic of the Peace Corps article published in The Atlantic — https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/08/the-cold-war-logic-of-the-peace-corps/309483/
- A quote from historian Elizabeth Cobbs, from her article “Decolonization, the Cold War, and the Foreign Policy of the Peace Corps,” published in the academic journal, Diplomatic History in the January 1, 1996 issue. (Vol. 20, No. 1, Winter, 1996)
The role of the Peace Corps in American foreign policy, which has been firmly established in the historical literature, was not the point of my academic study. My article in The Conversation was based on my study of the Peace Corps advertising from 1961 to 1970 only.
“The toughest job you’ll ever love” slogan was not part of the early Peace Corps advertising during 1961 and 1970. According to this Peace Corps volunteer writing in Peace Corps Worldwide, the slogan came into existence after Carolyn Payton became the director of the Peace Corps in 1977.
Regarding Mr. Josephson’s comments that the early ads did not emphasize myths, heroes and adventures, I hope that he has an opportunity to read my original academic article published this month in Journalism History. Because full access to the academic article resides behind a paywall, I would like to make this link available to Mr. Josephson so that he can read the original study. I think he would find that an examination of the study, including the sources that were used, would be of interest to him.
In my study, I consulted the original memos that the Ad Council used to send the ads to media outlets for publication, what advertising messages the Ad Council emphasized, other internal Ad Council documents and internal Peace Corps documents. Material from four historical archives were included in the study.
I don’t think academics construct “a contrarian thesis for the sake of being contrary.” No evidence has been provided to support such a sweeping generalization.
While I don’t agree with all of Mr. Josephson’s points, I have absolutely enjoyed reading his comments and those of others. I believe the range of comments have richly contributed to this discussion.
Given the widespread debate about the origins of the Peace Corps and what role it played in American foreign policy, I invite any interested Peace Corps volunteer to join me in further research on this particular point at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland (Archives II) when that facility opens again.
There is always more that we all can learn about the Peace Corps and its fascinating history.
School of Communication
21 CommentsLeave a comment
One thing is an inter-office memo and another thing is an advertisement campaign via newspaper, magazine, radio and television. I do not remember a single instance when the mass media used “fighting communism” as a selling point. and I’m actually old enough to remember. This seems to me just another PhD taking liberties based upon obscure memos and articles in journals that nobody ever read. My self-published books probably have more readership than some of those sources. I’m sure the author will find a new job with some right-wing think tank now. Phewy!
Thank you to Bill Josephson, General Counsel of the Peace Corps Co-author of A Towering Task. It was good to hear from someone who actually was there at the creation. Josephson begins to correct the history of the beginning of the Peace Corps. It is distorted, in my opinion, by the article. But this is by no means, the only “academic” article by “members of the academy” who never served in the Peace Corps and do not hesitate to paste their own specialty on its efforts. I am an RPCV who served from 1963 to 1965.
Thank you, too, to Wendy Melillo. for graciously posting the link to her article. In my original comment to the summary of her article, I noted that it was impossible to critique the article without seeing the citations. I noted that the Paywall to read the article was $44US to download the article for 24 hours. I have now read the original article and the citations.
Melillo is an associate professor of communication at American University. In her acknowledgement is this statement:
“I wish to thank Bill Harder of American University’s Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning for his consultation on the research methodology used in this article.”
This information is very important to the RPCV community. Meilillo does not cite any information from actual Volunteers, (now RPCVs) in her article. Yet, American University is the home, since 2012, of the Peace Corps Community Archives. The archive solicits material from RPCVs about their service. It is obviously not considered an essential resource for writing about the history of Peace Corps or the motivation of Volunteers.
I would presume that neither Melillo nor Harder is even aware of the archive. Of course, if one assumes, as I think Milillo does, that Peace Corps Volunteers in the 1960s, were mere products of American advertising, why would their opinion matter?
Professor Melillo manganously offers to escort RPCvs to the Archive II at College Park. I would be more than happy to suggest many RPCVs who would be delighted to escort Professor Melillo and Professor Harder to a tour of the Peace Corps Community Archives at American University.
This statement from Melillo’s article is without citation:
“The Ad Council knew that young Americans would not be motivated to join the Peace Corps to fight communism, so it therefore framed the advertising around a sense of heroism, adventure and the opportunity for career advancement.” Knew how?
Melillo cites Kennedy’ speech at the University of Michigan but fails to report the overwhelming response of college students to that speech and the flood of applications to the Kennedy White House, when the Peace Corps was just a gleam in somebody’s eye.
This statement also needs more historical perspective:
“A second government motivation involved halting the spread of communism, which posed a serious threat to America’s economic system of capitalism.”
She does not mention the military threat posed by Communist Russia and China to world peace and the very existence of the United States. A brief timeline of some Communist military aggressive would include: The “Iron Curtain” dropped over Eastern Europe by Russia in the 40s, after WWII; the invasion of South Korea by North Korea in 1950; the brutal suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in f956, in which the tragic calls of the Hungarian “rebels” for help from the US could not be answered; the successful Cuban revolution in 1959 and the placement of Russian nuclear missiles resulting in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
Men and women who had seen war “tried to stop it”. The early Volunteers were the sons and daughters of the GIs who had won WWII. We studied in college the causes of war which included economic desperation. Kennedy envisioned a peaceful competition between nations to deal with the causes of war in order to promote a more peaceful world. The competition was not only economic it was between democratic and non-democratic systems of government. Those of us who joined the Peace Corps in the 60s did not need the Advertising Council campaigns to be motivated to work toward a better world.
I agree with Bill. I never heard or saw a word about PCVs role to fight communism the 4 years I was on staff, initially at headquarters then two years in Nepal. In fact the strong orientation was to avoid any appearance of such political perceptions, the job was always about “people to people”. Thus the on-going fight to keep the PC out of State or AID so not to appear political, up to this date. My husband who was also a PCV and on the staff agrees with this view. The professor’s material never mentions any successes the PC has had in so many parts of the world and the positive impact it has had on many PCVs & staff, which is really what’s important, not what any particular Ad might have intended so long ago.😃
Not sure which side of the debate this supports or if it supports either. It is quoted in my soon to be released book entitled “Every Hill a Burial Place: The Peace Corps Murder Trial in East Africa.” It is a letter to the PCVs coming to training at Syracuse University in 1964.
The welcoming letter from the dean at Syracuse in June 1964 described the goals of the training program as follows:
(1) to provide you with a sound introduction to the environment in which you will live and work during your assignment; (2) to provide you with the technical skills you will need to perform effectively in your assignments;
(3) to produce informed and knowledgeable students of African and American affairs, the machinery of international relations, and the significance of the international Communist movement;
(4) to enable you to achieve fluency in the languages of Malawi and Tanganyika [Tanzania]; (5) to develop an awareness of health and medical problems in the host countries; and (6) to provide you with an understanding of the purposes and objectives of the Peace Corps
As I have written before in your ‘comment’ section, in my three years in Colombia as a Volunteer, I cannot recall that we were there to ‘fight communism’. Then, in five years on PC/W staff in its Office of Public Affairs, I cannot recall any survey we ever conducted on the effects of the Ad Council’s advertisements and its contributions to increased recruitment levels. We attributed increased levels to on-site recruitment at universities and colleges. In the period 1965-70, our Office employed for the most part RPCVs as recruiters. And they were successful. I believe the high water mark of Vols in the field was reached in 1967with over 15,000 on site abroad.
i don’t remember any thing about communism during our training at the university of california at berkeley for ghana 1, although in my book, to the peace corps with love, i mention hearing about communism in lectures we endured about public affairs. there was at least one tense meeting with a dapper young man from peace corps HQ who tried to indoctrinate us about our being ambassadors for the image of america and how to answer questions we might get. the group of volunteers bristled. i recall one of us,perhaps it was jim kelly, summing up the group feeling when he said,”i plan to go to ghana to teach, not answer questions. i hope the peace corps has the same idea. if not, i don’t want to be in it”.however, going back to my book, i noted we did hear a lecture by a dr. julian towster, identified as a Berkeley specialist on soviet affairs who greeted the group like this: “hello, warriors of peace”. his lecture actually got a round of applause.
there was talk about sacrifice and enduring hardship in africa. it was in that context that i wrote a friend from ghana that far from sacrificing, i was at labadi beach with a good looking redhead. the friend was journalist dick schaap, then working for newsweek magazine. he kindly put that remark in newsweek’s christmas issue wth a cover story about the peace corps. in the next issue of newsweek, there was a letter to the editor all in caps: THAT REDHEaD IS HIS WIFE1′, signed sargent shriver.
Arnold Zeitlin, Managing Director
Editorial Research & Reporting Associates (ERRA)
13828 Coleman Court, Centreville, Virginia 20120, U.S.A.
Tel: 1-571 318 3487
Guangdong University of Foreign Studies
Guangzhou, China 510420
One RPCV’s anecdotal experience with the CIA
When I first arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador for my assignment as a community organizer in the Cerro Santa Ana barrio, an appointment was made for me by the Peace Corp to meet with my in-country counterpart. His name was Alberto Alarcon. He was a suave handsome, well-dressed man, who spoke perfect unaccented English. Sr. Alarcon was the head of an advertising firm. His fancy office was in the center of downtown Guayaquil. At that meeting he told me that as a member of the Ecuadorian Kiwanis Club he was happy to inform me that every month I could come to his office to pick up a check for 100 Sucres as their support for activities in the Centro Comunal Cerro Santa Ana, the community center out of which I would be organizing. So for a year or so, I cashed the check in the local bank and used the money for the center. I often saw Alarcon on those visits, though there a number of times when he was not there, but on his regular trips to Florida for meetings.
A year into my tour of duty, with the community leaders, including a young man named Angel C., I went to the Municipio to ask for (demand) that the city fathers do something about the disgusting overflow of the bamboo sceptic system, spewing human feces down the long stairway leading up and down the hill, past homes, necessitating adults and children to side-step the slimy filth, holding their noses against the stench as they did their daily to-and-fros, including purchasing raw hanging meet from and open air kiosk on the staircase. At the Municipio, we got only fine words. A few days later I was called into the Consul General’s office and told that I had to stop organizing around the sewage issue, because I was not to enter into the politics of the country.
Shortly after that I held a party in my apartment which overlooked the community center. I invited Alberto Alarcon to that party so he could meet some of the community leaders. He had been there for five minutes when he pulled me to the side and in a fit of anger, asked what Angel C. was doing there. I proudly said that he was one of the most upstanding members of the community, a great organizer, and on top of that he was attending the university in order to work his way out of poverty. Alarcon’s response shocked me. “Get him out of here,” he said, scowling at me, “he’s a Communist.” He then left the party.
About a week or so later, I received an invitation from Alarcon to go with him to his Country Club for lunch and he said he wanted to take some photos of me in that setting to include me in one of his Salem ads, “because you are so beautiful.” Not one to say no to a fancy lunch, nor one who could resist a little flattery, I agreed to meet him. Though I was a little nervous that he would try to turn it into an assignation. But it turned out to be a pleasant lunch and after our luxurious meal, he took a number of glamorous shots of me at the poolside, in a bamboo grove, etc. To my relief, there was no mention of Angel C. On the other hand, no Salem ad ever appeared.
The next time I went to his office to collect the 100 Sucre check, I was told by his secretary that Sr. Alarcon was on his regular trip to Florida, but he had asked her to inform me that there would not longer be any checks from the Kiwanis Club, that they had no more money in the budget for the community center. I tried a number of times after that to reach Alarcon, to no avail. I gave up. I became very busy working with the community to raise the money on our own through an industry making and selling mosquito nets, organizing Kermesses (local benefits), and weekly outdoor film nights with Cantinflas movies projected onto sheets on the high wall surrounding the center. After a while I thought not getting the check was fortuitous because the community came together and was successful in supporting the activities in the center themselves. After all, that was ostensibly what I was there for.
TEN YEARS LATER
In 1976, when I was the Program Director of a listener-sponsored radio, Philip Agee came in to do an interview promoting his book INSIDE THE CIA. He left a complimentary copy of the book for those of us at the station. Curious I began to look through it. Alberto Alarcon showed up a number of times in the narrative. I went to the back of the book where, in APPENDIX 1, Agee had listed the “CIA employees, agents, and collaborators employed and financed by the CIA.” It was an alphabetical listing. The sixth listing was for: ALBERTO ALARCON , Guayaquil businessman and Liberal Party activist. Principal agent for CIA student operations in Ecuador. Cryptonym: ECLOSE
I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but it’s naive to think that the Cold War didn’t figure in the creation of the Peace Corps. It is unlikely that Kennedy and Johnson, who were products of their times and obsessed with the communist challenge, didn’t view the Peace Corps as a weapon in the struggle to win the hearts and minds of the third world. That doesn’t mean that it was the only or primary reason for establishing the Peace Corps, but it certainly must have figured in their thinking, and been implied as the justification for needed appropriations from a reluctant Congress. The fact that fighting Communism wasn’t included among the official “goals” of the volunteer agency is also not surprising. After all, the Peace Corps was competing with the Civil Rights movement and other worthy causes in the 1960s in order to attract young activists and idealists. Advertising itself as an arm of American foreign policy, even before the disaster of Viet Nam, would not of been a effective recruiting tool. Rather than refuting Professor Melillo’s claims about the hidden objectives, Bill Josephson’s quote by former Secretary of State Dean Rusk — that to official acknowledge the Peace Corps role in foreign policy would undermine its benefits — confirms for me that there were ulterior and unspoken motives in creating the agency. Rusk, was a confirmed war hawk and one of the chief architects of our attempt to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.
I was on the PC/W staff in 1965, and was preparing to join Warren Wiggins and others when the exploratory trip to Viet Nam was suddenly aborted. As the assigned “gofer” and “bag-boy” on the trip, I was not privy to discussions about the real purposes of sending volunteers into that loosing struggle, But I am pretty sure that they weren’t seen as neutral “peace keepers”, as Josephson suggests. It now appears to me that our war was beginning to go badly. Our puppet regime in South Vietnam was loosing the support of its own people, and the cold warriors in the Johnson Administration thought that an influx of young American PCVs might help prop up the government. Fortunately, someone had the good sense to abort the plan, and I will always be grateful to whoever saved us (and me) from such a misadventure.
Although the Peace Corps’ role as an instrument of US foreign policy might have been disguised at the inception of the agency, it was open and fully apparent by the summer of 1967. I remember getting an telegram in June of that year, inviting me to come back to DC for interviews for a Field Rep position in Somalia. In the round of interviews that followed, it was made clear that the urgency of staffing up in Somalia was due the increasing presence and role of the Chinese (CHICOMS in government speak) in the country. Kennedy and Shriver might not have been so crude or obvious, but they were long gone.
Golly, Gee Whizz, Mr. Raphael, you don’t want to “burst anybody’s bubble”. That is so kind of you, but your concern is misdirected. Exactly what is it you did in the Peace Corps organization that led you to be so dismissive of Volunteers and our understanding of the world in which we served? To use an old military term, Mr Raphael, your opinion, in my opinion, is “crapola.”
Was this your experience: “As the assigned “gofer” and “bag-boy” on the trip, I was not privy to discussions about the real purposes of sending volunteers into that loosing struggle, But I am pretty sure that they weren’t seen as neutral “peace keepers”? The plan, as described by Mr. Josephson called for thousands of volunteers from many different countries.
1965 was a pivotal year for Vietnam. It was not until August of that year that Johnson called up 500,000 men to be drafted and sent to that country. It would appear that Peace Corps staff were looking for some non-military way to deal with the war. I consider that an admirable quest.
I can agree, sadly, with your statement that by 1967, Kennedy and Shriver were long gone.
“crapola”? I’m not sure what pissed you off about my opinions and comments. But I see from your earlier post that you are also mad at Professor Melillo, so I assume you’re upset with anyone who raises questions about the Peace Corps role in the Cold War. I’m sorry that you thought I was being dismissive of Volunteers. That wasn’t my intent. I was trying point out that is is very likely that the Peace Corps was seen by the foreign policy establishment in Washington as an effective tool in our competition with the Soviets, the Chinese and Eastern Block countries. It seems pretty clear to me that John Turnbull’s story about his work with geologists in Ghana points out, that the US was competing for the hearts and minds of Third World nations in Africa and elsewhere, and providing technical assistance and offering people-to-people friendships the way the Peace Corps could contribute to our foreign policy goals. That doesn’t mean that PCVs were duped or indoctrinated as cold warriors, but just their presence and appearance of independence served the cause.
The CIA was another weapon in our anti-communist toolbox. I hadn’t heard Marne Mueller’s story about the how the CIA funded local community centers in Ecuador, but I’m not surprised. I now wonder how common that type of infiltration was in other countries where Peace Corps Volunteers served. I know that when I came to work for PC/W as the Liberia Desk Officer in 1963, the Africa Division had been staffed up with professionals from USAID and the Africa America Institute (AAI), a private think tank based in DC. For the most part, they were a bunch of smart and experienced people, noteworthy at a time when few in the US were knowledgeable about developments in West or East Africa. So I was surprised when Ramparts Magazine in 1967 outed AAI as a CIA front. Just like the funding of the community center in Marnie’s barrio, Ramparts reported how checks would show up to support the work AAI . . . as long as that work was in considered the US’ foreign policy interests. I’d be interested to know if there was a CIA role in the staff of other Peace Corps regional offices.
None of this tarnishes the important contributions that Volunteer have made to people and nations around the world. But it is a reminder that we should remain vigilant whenever politicians propose to do well by doing good.
You certainly are entitled to a reply. But, again, I still find you very patronizing and dismissive of what Volunteers in early days knew about the cold war and what our motivation might have been.
I am not “mad” at Melillo. I pointed out one serius omission from her article and it was this:
“This statement from Melillo’s article is without citation:
“The Ad Council knew that young Americans would not be motivated to join the Peace Corps to fight communism, so it therefore framed the advertising around a sense of heroism, adventure and the opportunity for career advancement.” Knew how?”
I pointed out that she never mentioned the immediate response to Kennedy’s University of Michigan in the Fall of 1960 by students who overwhelmingly responded to the speech with petitions and letters wanting to apply to an organization to work towards a more peaceful world in an organization that had no name, at that time.
I also am very sad that American University is the home of the Peace Corps Community Archives, preserving letters, photos and memorabilia from RPCVs was ignored by a Associate Professor at American University.
This comment : “A second government motivation involved halting the spread of communism, which posed a serious threat to America’s economic system of capitalism.” also caused me concern. The spread of communism posed a serious miliary threat, which Milillo doesn’t mention. I listed all the instances of military aggression by the communism in the 40s and the 50s. I pointed out that we were the sons and daughters of the Gis who won WWII. We had studied the causes of war and Kennedy was talking about addressing those causes which were could also be exploited by communists, who, as I explained posed a military, as well as an economic threat.
Let me get personal about my growing up. I am an army brat. I am the proud daughter of a career miliary officer, who was awarded a broze star for his work in Korea. We were evacuated from Japan when that war started. Getting his family OUT of a potential war zone was his condition for “volunteering” to go on that mission. I am the proud graduate of Nurnberg American High. I learned to drive during the Hungarian Revolution since we were to be evacuated from Nurnberg if the Russian Tanks came across the border. I always knew my father knew “stuff” that he could never talk about. I also knew not to sign anything or join any organization without checking with him first. As you can see, I come by my knowledge of the word, “crapola” honestly. It doesn’t mean that I am “pissed”. It means what your wrote makes no sense and is to be more specific..a load of crap.
I don’t understand this statement: “their presence and appearance of independence served the cause” Peace Corps Volunteers never pretended to be “independent” of our government. We certainly strived to remain “independent” of intelligence gathering. What was the “cause”, other than a mission of peace and friendship, which we were serving? Do you think that we were unaware that we were represented an American presence?
I woudl appreciate reading your factual response to my very specific criticisms of Miillo. I really do not want to continue the conversation because, except for my comments and yours, the comments from the other RPCVs are excellent. They are historic observations and further the experience of PCVs in country in the very early days.
I would tend to agree with Mr Josephson’s and others’ assertions that PCVs were never intended to be warriors against Cold War Communism. Although, as Joanne roll correctly says, the reality of the Cold War and fear of nuclear anihillation was in the front of most peoples’ minds at the time.
I was a founding volunteer in the Ghana-3 Geology group (when I applied, and when I arrived in Ghana, nobody had yet completed volunteer service, so nobody really knew what they were in for. Upon arrival, I remember our much-regarded country director, George Carter, gave us a lecture that we were NOT there for any Cold War or intelligence purpose, and should anybody approach us claiming to be CIA or the like, we should simply reply “nothing to say”. This was all the more significant as the Ghana Geological Survey, our host country host, had a large contingent of Soviet scientists and interpreters. on the staff.
The closest I ever got to any of this was a couple British expat geologists living near me at Saltpond, who had befriended an East German geologist also working in the same field area. I was invited repeatedly to join them all for Friday beer and social sessions, but always decl;ined. THEN, began a series of questions, conveyed by my British colleagues. All elaborate almost academic queries (from the East German guy) about life in America. What was life like? What did working people think ? Who got the benefit of higher education. For months, the quiz went on, ferried back and forth by my Brithsh pals. Having come of a working-class, industrial family, and worked my way through my undergrad working summers on factory assembly lines, seemed to stun the East German, and I was flooded with requests for details of American industrial life..
Over the years, and in some degree the simple presence and candor of PCVs, I’ve mused that the Cold War was lost in the lorry parks and laterite roads of Ghana. I think Ghanaians were keenly sensitive to candor.
Some day, I should include my most favourite Ghana Cold War story — this one about two Chinese technicians sent to help build Ghana’s new pencil factory. We had been told the same stuff — that the Chinese were all sitting around village cooking fires, speaking the lingo, and totally different than us. Nothing could have been further from the truth, as I witnessed it. And in Ghana, like most of Africa, word got around fast, along the “Lorry Telegraph”. Even before a PCV arrived at their assignment, villagers already knew who they were ! ! As I say, “Propaganda and The best international political balancing act of Pres Nkrumah — all died on the dusty laterite roads of Ghana.”.
As a geologist, I always had my geology hammer with me, and when I passed a group of labourers, crushing road gravel by hand with rocks, I had to loan out my hammer to each one in turn, so they could whack the big rocks. As I say, “Political; faslehoods all died on the dusty laterite roads of Ghana.” Something as simple as loaning a labourer your hammer !
John Turnbull Ghana-3 Geology and Nyasaland/Malawi-2 Geology Assignment, 1963, -64, -65,
Thank you, John. You had actually experience with the Soviet and Chinese in your host country. Your experience is very worthwhile.
Thank you, Bill Josephson, for setting the record straight about Peace Corps/Washington and fighting communism in the early years of the organization. From my first connections to PC in 1962 through my brief post-PC/Ethiopia time in PC/Washingon, in late 1966, I have no memory of communism being a central concern of the PC. Impeccable citation of reliable sources is vital in this story.
Having served in India in 1963 to ’65, I remember receiving some classes on the role of intrnational communism duringour pre-service training including a reading of Kruschev’s 1955 speech condemning Stalin. We knew this was included in the training because the US Congress had written it into the legislation and it was mildly interesting. Once in India we heard fairly frequently th tthe CommunistPary/India regularly objected in State Legislatures and their media formats about the PCVs being CIA, but I never once heard a PCV mention they were in any way, shape or form fighting communism. The entire approach was allowing our work helping the people India face their many daily challenges, speak for itself.
to prove that the work did so, I reference the story of the Poultry program PCVs in the Indian State of Kerala. In 1968 when a Communist Party led government was elected, the Chief Minister immediately publicly announced that the Peace Corps people would have to leave. Whereupon many of the host farmers of the 15 volunteers, and the Kerala Sate Poultry Farmers Association, all objected to the Government Ministers, pointing out that these Americans lived with the local families, spoke the local Malyali language and their work in helping building the poultry and egg production industry was very valuable. In response, the Communist Chief Minister relinquished, left the decision to the Minister of Agriculture and the PCVs were not only NOT asked to leave the state, but in fact the Communist led government formally requested another group of Peace Corps Volunteers to continue the work in poultry and small industries development.
End of story.
Remembering as if the past
is stories within smoky light
seeming oar-like visualized.
When our lives are so viewed
you see these telephone poles
leaning into the light on trains.
Continually glowing forward
and us taking homes with us.
Now walking wet fields stories
skitter into smoky light worlds
bearing children usually loved.
Pasts grow foolish with some
binding possibilities traveling
as some wild justice continues.
(C) Copyright Edward Mycue Sunday June 20, 2020
Note: Thinking of Jules Mann in London as I have been writing this.
Yes, Joanne, Quite a lot of experience, and some interaction, as you say. I always will remember the Warsaw Pact scientists, sent as part of the Soviet contingent. Mainly from Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Ukraine. Half the Soviet scientific contingent to the Ghana Geological Survey were not Russian, but E European Warsaw Pact individuals.
It became abundantly clear come Saturday night, when all of Accra, incl the Warsaw Pact, headed for the cinema. The Warsaw Pact folks made an unmistakable point of sitting in the row with PCVs . and expat British, and NOT next to their Russian colleagues. No doubt many had memories of an earlier generation which had migrated to America, and found a home here. To politically savvy Ghanaians, the message was dramatic. And over at the Soviet Embassy nothing seemed to reverse things.
THEN, because the Russian scientists were having trouble reading printed English technical journals (again, contrary to everything we had been told), the Russian Embassy imported a group of six or eight young Russian ladies as translators for them.. Escorted on their Friday afternoon shopping trips by a couple KGB officiers, the next story, electrifying Ghanaian romantics, would come to be known as “The Great Escape”. and it started on a Friday shopping trip.
For two suspenseful weeks it dominated the newspapers, incl the ones owned by the Nkrumah government. When it ended, the actions and rationalizations of both the Nkrumah Gov’t and the Soviets only made it worse. At the time, in local bars it was sometimes said that there wasn’t any reason to do anything about the Cold War. Just get out of the way, and let the Soviet Union fall on its face.
More to come ! John Turnbull
Good. I can’t wait!
Replying to Joanne,, and continuing my last posting. The Russian translators seemed always excited about all of the merchandise available at Accra dept stores. One onf the girls struck up a conversation with a young Lebanese merchant (called a trader), and on a subsequent Friday the two disappeared, and drove away in the merchant’s car. Immediately there was a flurry, ans Soviet embassy security people took out after them. The fugitives headed north into Ashantiland with the Soviets in hot pursuit.
The newspapaer went wild with the reporting. Somewhere the Ghana Police joined the pursuit. The fugitives turned south through the Western Region. Newspaper headlines announced “Lovers evade Soviet pursuers — again” Then it got worse, with headlines announcing “Lovers evade Soviets again, and the bumbling Ghana Police” This was too much for the Nkrumah Gov’t and all newspaper coverage was halted.
Eventually, somewhere near Cape Coast, the fugitves were caught, and the newspapers dutifully reported it. A groan seemed to go up everywhere. It got worse when the Gov’t-owned papers announced that the Lebanese trader was being deported, AND that the Russian girl would be sent back to Russia for “reeducation”. The whole country groaned, in a national wave of profound disapproval.
As I wrote before, it was widely discussed that no self-respecting Ghanaian (and certainly no Ghanaian woman) would ever want to visit the Soviet Union. And, everyone agreed that nobody need do anything about the Cold War issue — except get out of the way, and let the Soviets fall on their face.
So, that was the famous “Great Escepe”. John Turnbull
More on “The Great Escape”. As I should have said, “Nobody loves a love story, like Ghanaian women”. Their own traditional family-arranged/approved marriages could be pretty dull, for a bunch of young ladies reading European magazines. As if to make the point, young Ghanaian girls frequently said that it always was preferable to marry a European man. Why ?? They always have a big house, and will never make you go gather firewood or water ! ! Such was what the fledgling Peace Corps met in newly-independent Gold Coast Colony, now renamed “Ghana”.
As I mentioned before, the new Pres, Kwame Nkrumah, had an international following as a champion of pan-Africanism, and toward that end had dumped his Ghana wife (a traditional girl) to politically marry a lady from Egypt. Other Ghanaian politicians and leaders would go along with it.
Then “the uproar with “The Great Escape”, and what seemed ‘way too much pandering to the Soviet Bloc. And local political leaders didn’t have to go very far to hear it ! ! !
It was on one of Pres Nkrunah’s visits to Egypt, getting off the airline in Cairo, Egyptian security buttonholed him, and notified him that he was no longer the President of Ghana, but had been overthrouwn, and dumped. Seeing the simile, Ghanaian women were exstatic, remembering the Ghana wife.
Ghana politicians didn’t have to do much to reestablish governance,, as the tide of approval swept the country. AND, if there ever had been any question, the country of Ghana would forevermore be a democracy — a loud democracy. And always look westward.
When I was there, about the same time, European romance magazines continued to be popular, and would be passed around to everybody in the village. And, Ghana., like most of West Africa, would always look Westward. I think all of the Warsaw Pact scientists at the Geological Survey, saw it very clearly. More clearly even than the diplomats.
More on my postings about newly-independent and newly-named “Ghana”.
At the Ghana Geological Survey, which hosted all the newly-arrived PCV geologists, it figured prominently in what interested diplomats. As a result, there was a steady stream both of PC and Soviet Bloc “employeees, and British expats, and of diplomats from wherever. The diplomats, for important stuff, got to talk to John Kudjoe, the Director, and graduate geophysicist, whiilst the rest of us lesser souls would meet with the Deputy Director, A European-trained geologist from Sierra Leone, by name of John Renner. Mr Renner, with a big measure of “Africa Cheek”, had a Cold War approach of his own.
In his desk, John Renner always kept two packs of cigarettes. When PC Country Director and embassy people arrived, Renner always offered them a Russian citgarette, and then gave them a pious lecture on how good they were (whcih everybody knew were foul ! ).. When the Russian contingent arrived Renner always made a big thing of offering them an American cigarette — usually a Marlboro, together wtth the expected lecture. asking the Soviets if they were’re exceptional. And so the cheekiness would go on, day after day.
The PCVs and E Europeans finally caught on, and graciously accepted the Marlboros., So Mr Renne’s Cold War cheekiness adapted,, and the charade was saved for the visiting big-wigs. Even at the height of Nkrumah Gov’t pandering to the Soviet Bloc, the Renner approach to the Cold War persisted. We never did learn what Mr Renner did when Chinese came to visit.
Coming up: “Ambushing the Russian translators” John T