More On Moynihan & The Peace Corps

Poet Tony Zurlo (Nigeria 1963-65) was kind enough to send me a March 8, 1998 column by Mary McGrory from the Outlook Section of The Washington Post. It was a column about the Peace Corps on the 37th birthday of the agency, the CIA, and Moynihan. McGrory writes about Moynihan, saying, “he was a fan of the Peace Corps but not the CIA,” and then told a story of how when Moynihan was the ambassador to India villagers were resisting the help of the Peace Corps. The reason was that peasants had been evicted from their mud huts on either side of the volunteers’ mud hut to make room for the local police, who had moved in with their listening devices to monitor what they were sure were U.S. espionage activities.

McGrory wrote in that column, “The CIA is into disruption, uprooting, sabotage and subversion. The Peace Corps is about plowing, planting, irrigating, teaching English, small business and forestry….The CIA agency has expensive gadgets, like cameras that can pick up dandruff on a collar miles away. The Peace Corps is low-tech, because it needs techniques that are within reach of dirt-poor clients.”

In her column, Mary McGrory would talk about having lunch with PCVs and Director Mark Gearan at the Peace Corps office, sandwiches to share and celebrate the 37th birthday of the agency in ’98. She would write, “Nobody knows for sure what the effects of Peace Corps programs have been on the countries where the volunteers have been sent. The effect on the volunteers themselves and their countrymen is palpable. People who have been trained to accept setbacks and not to whine are in demand in professions such as teaching and social work and other enterprises that require great patience. They are brought to the head of the line of graduate school applicants. The Peace Corps itself welcomes both young and old recruits. Only alumni of the CIA need not apply.”

The late columnist Mary McGrory, who was a friend of Moynihan, as well as Mark Gearan, would also write, “If the CIA is the pit bull of our foreign policy, the Peace Corps is the golden retriever, bringing us affection and gratitude.”

We had a lot of good press from good friends in the media back in the 90s, thanks to a Director like Mark Gearan. He turned almost every reporters into a friend of the agency, not that he had to work very hard to do that with McGrory. She was always on the side of the Peace Corps.

Lets hope we have some friendly media left to help us celebrate our 50th Anniversary.

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  • Funny; when my first Peace Corps Training Project Director at NYU for Brazil, during the summer of 1964, responded to my second Director’s query for Turkey during the summer of 1966, as to what I looked like, because he would first meet me at a conference for PC project training staff at UTX, he said that he looks like an “affable collie,” and he spotted me right away!

    Newspaper columnists seldom ever mentioned the Peace Corps. I think that they could not make heads or tails of it. I do recall that during my second training project job, Peace Corps provided us with lots of comments about it, both negative and positive. I specifically recall Nixon referring to it as “the most over-advertized travel club in the world.” But, then again, like Moynihan, he was often arrogant.

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