Establishing The Peace Corps:Yoo-hoo, yoo-hoo, Post 12
At the time of Shriver’s February 22, 1961 memorandum to President Kennedy–stating that the Peace Corps should be established as a semi-autonomous agency–there was a lot of professional resistance to the whole idea of sending young Americans overseas to do good. Career diplomat like Elliot O. Briggs described the Peace Corps’ team cry as “Yoo-hoo, yoo-hoo. Let’s go out and wreak some good on the natives,” as Wofford reports in his book, Of Kennedys & Kings.
Throughout the State Department diplomats were indifferent to hostile to the whole idea of a Peace Corps. But not Dean Rusk, Kennedy’s new Secretary of State. Rusk told Shriver that he thought the Peace Corps idea was “first-class.” (Rusk’s sister, during my time as an APCD in Ethiopia, would also work as an APCD in the Empire.)
Henry Labouisse, who was appointed in 1961 as head of International Cooperation Administration (ICA), Eisenhower’s foreign aid agency, had a policy of massive capital investment accompanied by a few expert advisers. This program proven to be unsuccessful, nevertheless, he feared that sending inexperienced “youngsters” into strange cultures would be inviting disaster and embarrassment. Labouisse wanted the Peace Corps placed under firm control of Kennedy’s new AID program where its progress could be strictly monitored. When ICA became AID. Labouisse lasted one year as its head, then went off to Greece as ambassador from 1962-’64; he later was head of Unicef.
In late March of ’61 Shriver realized there was a problem with his vision of a “semi-autonomous” Peace Corps when he saw a draft of Kennedy’s speech on foreign aid. Shriver saw that the President had sandwiched the agency inside of AID. He was attending a meeting at the White House and spotted a large chart of the new AID super-agency: the Peace Corps was off in a far corner, listed as a “resource.”
All of Kennedy’s aides: Goodwin, Ralph Dungan, and Sorensen said it only made ‘sense’ to put the Peace Corps under the umbrella of the new AID. Kennedy, however, was still undecided and Shriver got to him and the speech on foreign aid given on March 22 was vague about the Peace Corps, saying only that the new agency would have “distinctive identity and appeal.”
Shriver thought he had ‘won’ this battle with the White House and the Peace Corps would emerge as a semi-autonomous agency in the new administration, independent of AID, but Shriver was wrong.
In these first frantic days of creating the Peace Corps timing was everything. What mattered most was who was in the White House Oval Office when a decision was being made. The problem for the Peace Corps was that Shriver was not only not in the room, he wasn’t even in the country.
According to Gerard Rice in his book, Kennedy had told Shriver to visit Third World leaders and tell them about the Peace Corps ‘viability’ in order to generate requests for PCVs. So Shriver went off around the world and was in India when Henry Labouisse (who was always against Shriver’s grand plans for the Peace Corps) was setting up a meeting for Kennedy to decide how all foreign aid programs, including the Peace Corps, would be incorporated into AID.
The meeting was scheduled for April 26, 1961. On April 17, 1961, a force of 15,000 Cuban exiles landed at Cochinos Bay in southern Cuba. Now JFK had bigger problems than where the Peace Corps would find a happy home in his new administration.
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