Mad Man # 12

Trouble, however, was brewing for the Wisconsin Plan. Evaluator Dave Gelman was warning that unless the Peace Corps gave priority for quality over quantity, the Peace Corps would not only acquire too many “high-risk” applicants but also “drink dry the well of potential recruits.” (Remember those Trainees? High Risk/Low Gain?)

Gelman felt Gale’s method was wrong and warned about the “evils of excess” and the grave danger of becoming over-eager to ‘sign-up’ people of  two years of service. “The Marines had long since landed.” Gelman wrote. One young applicant expressed his disappointment at the Wisconsin Plan style this way: ‘I thought we were something special. Then I saw that they were just pulling people off the street and testing them later.”

Gelman was an early Evaluator and a tough son-of-a-bitch. I did not know him, but I watched him in the hallways of the building. He always appeared to be in a bad mood about something or other. I never once saw him smile. I kept my distance. In fact, if I saw him on an elevator, I won’t get on it.

Gelman had come to the Peace Corps from the New York Post (the old Post, not what you read today) and had been one of three early Peace Corps recruits from what was called the “Post’s Corner” at the Post: Bill Haddad, Ben Schiff, and Gelman. He was a wonderful writer. His evaluation report on Somalia I is a classic.

Newly RPCVs were just as hard on the ways Washington was selling the Peace Corps. Early Peace Corps advertisements  depicted Nepal as The Land of the Yeti and Everest.” Remember, Peace Corps Goes to Paradise? That was the recruitment poster for Micronesia,  RPCVs were also angry about those, ‘you-too-can-be-a-world-saver” come-ons. Evaluators in the field were hearing protests from PCVs, and HQ was hearing it first hand from RPCVs. The criticism was taken seriously. By ’63, the Peace Corps was creating posters that stressed sixteen-hour days, monotony, and monquitoes.  One new posters were entitled Before Peace Corps and After Peace Corps. It was the same photo.

People kept applying. Between 1961 and 1964, about 112,000 Americans filled out the questionnaire. And in those early years, only about 20 percent of all applicants were deemed of a high enough caliber to be invited to training. Quality was given preference over quantity. Dave Gelman could stop worrying and smile.

Nevertheless, from 1964–when forty-six thousand applicants were received–the level of Peace Corps applications steadily declined. By 1965, Gale admitted that “With few exception, we are coming back from schools with fewer and fewer numbers. Results from team recruiting are down 22 percent from last year.”

Then the world changed. Johnson was increasing the troops in Vietnam, college graduates were looking for places to  spent time away from the draft. Over the next few years, the Peace Corps would increase dramatically. In 1963 there were 6,646 PCVs and Trainees. Three years later (1966) there were 15,556, the highest number of PCVs, ever. The average age was 24, with the highest percentage, over 86%, under 26. And all because of the draft and the war in Vietnam. 

And all the while, Bob Gale, the Prince of Partying, and his Gang of Recruiters–now RPCVs home from the Third World–were Partying On!

 [End of # 12]

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