Is the Peace Corps a Failure?
That’s the title on the cover of a front-page story in the January 1, 1966 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. It was written by RPCVs Arnold Zeitlin and Marian Zeitlin. It was written after his book To the Peace Corps With Love was published in 1965.
Marian and Arnold were from Pittsburgh. They met in Peace Corps Training and were married in Ghana. They served with the first Peace Corps project–teachers–in Ghana from 1961 to 1963.
This two-page article for the Saturday Evening Post appeared in the Post’s “Speaking Out”column where readers could have their say on issues of their own. It was entitled:
The Peace Corps isn’t doing its job
Arnold and Marian wrote in the second paragraph of their article:
We believe that the Corps has sold the public a bill of goods. We believe that it is failing to fulfill its promises, and that most of the popular ideas about it are false. The 1961executive order that created the Corps declared that it was to offer developing countries a pool of trained Americans “to help meet their urgent needs for skilled manpower.” In fact, the Corps provides no such manpower pool. Some projects never get started because the Corps lacks skilled people to staff them.
The Zeitlins go onto blame the problem on the Peace Corps inability to attract the best skilled Americans to join the agency, blaming Sarge Shriver by name. They write:
A root of the manpower failure is the Corps’ interest in maintaining the picture it originally sold–thousands of young Americans who abandon their affluent society to work for their deprived brothers overseas. This picture, gallant and glamorous, was deemed necessary to convince Congress and the public, and a fetching amateurism is one of its essentials. The Peace Corps never has seriously tried to attract seasoned, professional people. They might help a country like Ghana, but they don’t fit into Shriver’s plans.
The young couple go on in their “Speaking Out” article to make other points.
- Our experience is that the Peace Corps will have small effect on foreign attitudes toward this country. In Ghana, the Corps’s program was considered a success, but U.S.-Ghanaian relations steadily worsened during our stay.
- The genuine measure of the success of the Peace Corps is how much it lifts living standards in countries where it works. So far, the success lags far behind the claims and promises.
- Some Corps assignments do involve sacrifice. Ours did not; so pretenses had to be invented.
- The Peace Corps may have to bend its image and abandon some prejudices to attract more seasoned, skilled persons.
- The Peace Corps is here to stay. It doesn’t need a bill of goods to convince people of its value. It should stop spreading illusions, face the facts and get on with the job for which it was created.
The couple then describe how the Ghana Staff would make sure visiting congressmen and women would have “a taste of the so-called hardship” that PCVs were experiencing. “They were stuffed into Jeeps and driven a couple of hundred spine-jarring miles over dirt roads to a town called Half-Assini. They were warned not to drink the local water or eat the local foods. They were told the road was closed by rains nine months of the year (it wasn’t). By the time they were led, shaken, weary and hungry, to the digs of a volunteer couple in the town, they were easily convinced anything was hardship.”
Mr. and Mrs. Zeitlin do write, however, in their article: “We are still committed to the Corps’s ideal and purpose, but they cannot be realized unless the Corps reforms some methods and dispenses with some myths.”
Next year, the Peace Corps will celebrate 60 years of service. A few Peace Corps Directors have attempted versions of what Arnold and Marian wrote about but always the agency has returned to what Shriver and the other founders saw as the answer. And, therefore, the Peace Corps has lasted and been a continued success in nations all over the world. Unfortunately, the marriage of Marian and Arnold, first celebrated in their host country, did not survive the years that followed in America.