Review of Meisler's When the World Calls

when-world-calls-140When the World Calls:
The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years

by Stanley Meisler (PC/HQ 1963-67)
Beacon Press
272 pages
February 2011

Reviewed by Robert B. Textor (PC/HQ 1961-62)

STAN MEISLER’S “COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGE” in writing this book is significant. During the mid-Sixties, he served as a member, and later deputy director, of the PC’s Evaluation Division, reporting to the legendary Charlie Peters. This evaluation function was initially conceived by Bill Haddad, one of the PC’s founders. Its purpose was to visit the PCVs in the field, and to identify problems before they became serious, so that corrective and preventive action could be taken. From the beginning, Haddad and Peters stressed that these evaluators should be journalists or lawyers. (It is no accident that Haddad was a journalist, and Peters was a lawyer). Their reports were to be brutally truthful, and interesting to read — and went directly to Director Shriver, who avidly read and wrote marginal comments on them, and used them in making decisions on personnel and policy.

I have never seen any of these evaluation reports, so cannot judge their quality or adequacy. However, my impression in 1961 was that the evaluators Peters chose, though bright and capable, tended to lack any experience in development, or in transcultural communication in the non-Western developing nations. In the early years, this meant that not infrequently an evaluator would go to Country X possessed of much less knowledge of that country — and its culture, society, values, development needs, etc. — than the PCVs themselves, who had been trained in these very matters. I wondered, in 1961, just how useful their reports were, in bringing about an improvement to the functioning of the Peace Corps, and of its Volunteers.

I was not alone among PC staffers in wondering about the qualifications of these early evaluators. On page 57 Meisler reports the opinion of one of them, Tom Quimby, “who was named director of African operations after serving as Peace Corps representative . . . in Liberia and Kenya.” Quimby “praised the evaluation division because ‘it’s good to have a burr under the saddle’ but ‘one of the things that bothered me was the emphasis on getting good writers to go out in the field and write highly readable reports, rather than getting good development people to go out and analyze the development problems. I thought that too much attention was being paid to getting down on paper the fine phrases that would titillate Sarge.'” I agree with Quimby.

But there was, eventually, a saving grace. In due course, due to the enforcement of the In-Up-Out principle, more and more RPCVs have been incorporated into the evaluation staff. While RPCVs are not without their imperfections, I believe that, all else equal, carefully selected RPCVs will do a more relevant, more culturally situated, more valid, and more useful job of evaluation than individuals, however smart, who have never had anything like a PCV-type experience in a non-western developing nation.

Having said all this, I hasten to add that Stan Meisler was exceptional. Though he doesn’t mention having had any previous Volunteer-type experience, he did bring to his task some years of journalistic experience internationally, including some in the developing areas. And this previous experience shines through in his writing. Stan came “on board” in late 1964 and served as an evaluator for two and a half years.

Scope of the book
Meisler does not seek to provide a “systematic” history, but rather, a series of stories, incidents or vignettes, chosen for their adjudged importance and representativeness. His style is comfortable and easy to follow, sometimes almost conversational. He uses only chapters, with no sections or sub-sections.

His twenty chapters are of three main kinds:

  • Some of them are based simply on a particular period, and who the PC director, or president was at the time — such as “The Wrath of Richard Nixon,” or “The Quiet Bush Years.”
  • Other chapters are based on key problems that the PC faced — such as “The Pioneer Volunteers and the Postcard,” “The Specter of Vietnam,” or “Mayhem and Illness.”
  • Finally, there is a single chapter, Chapter 14, entitled simply “200,000 Stories,” which contains fascinating excerpts from three RPCV authors’ books — The Ponds of Kalambayi by Mike Tidwell (Zaire 1985–87), When I Was Elena by Ellen Urbani Hiltebrand (Guatemala 1991–93), and Triumph and Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras by Barbara E. Joe (Honduras 2000–03). After you have read 13 chapters by Meisler, this chapter strikes you with a genuine jolt, because the approach and style of RPCVs’ writings are so different from Meisler’s. Meisler writes as an informed and sympathetic outsider, but much of what he describes — though often essential to an understanding of the history of the Peace Corps as an entity evolving through time — says little about what it’s like, or how it feels, to be a PCV, assigned to a particular job, in a particular country, with a particular culture, and a particular set of needs and challenges. It is these particulars that give the RPCVs their “comparative advantage” in doing Peace Corps writing. Meisler was indeed wise to simply include a sampling of RPCV writing in one chapter, but not to try to duplicate their style or approach.

RPCVs and knowing “The Particular”
The fact that the RPCVs’ style and approach are so different from Meisler’s, makes it clear that there is a great need for more writings by RPCVs; they are really the only ones who can “tell it like it was” — and how it felt, on the other side of the cultural frontier.
For this reason, John Coyne and Marian Beil (RPCVs from Ethiopia One) are to be commended for their remarkable efforts, over the past 22 years, in encouraging RPCVs to write and publish — and fortunately they are now doing so, in droves. (see: www.peacecorpsworldwide.org.)

Chapter-by-chapter comments
In this review, to give you a better idea of the broad and exciting scope of Meisler’s work, I will take each chapter in turn, and cite just a few things that I have found interesting, out of the rich smorgasbord that Meisler offers. Where relevant, I will also provide personal comments.

Chapter 1: The Challenge from J.F.K.
This chapter provides fascinating insights into the 1960 presidential campaign. Senator Kennedy’s actual legislative record had in fact been quite thin, and many people regarded him as a lightweight — yet he emerged as a highly effective campaigner. As the campaign intensified, on October 14, 1960 he visited the University of Michigan, and was met by a huge crowd of students who had waited until 2:00 A.M. to greet him. Standing on the steps of the Michigan Union, he engaged in an impromptu colloquy with the students about whether they were prepared to render volunteer-type service in the developing nations. Some people see this as the precise moment of conception of the Peace Corps. Others disagree, noting how vague and notional JFK’s ideas about overseas voluntary service really were, at that time.

The role of Michigan student leaders Alan and Judy Guskin, in pressing Kennedy to come out for a Peace Corps, is described. Four days before the election, Kennedy, in his famous speech at the San Francisco Cow Palace, did come out publicly in favor of the creation of a Peace Corps. It was seen by some as his only genuinely new idea in the entire campaign.

Chapter 2: Sarge’s Peace Corps
The considerable role of Robert Sargent “Sarge” Shriver in the presidential campaign is described. Once elected, JFK decided to make Sarge the PC’s first Director, even though that was apparently not Sarge’s clear first choice. Nonetheless, Sarge threw himself into the task with enormous energy. Despite warnings from many experts to start small and grow gradually, Sarge decided that the Peace Corps had to think and aspire big, grow rapidly and become big enough, and successful enough, soon enough, so that no future president or congress could kill it. He therefore expanded the organization at breakneck speed — the “numbers game” — which led to all sorts of mistakes.

Comment: During the early years Shriver decided in favor of the “In-Up-Out” principle, which he incorporated into the PC staff personnel system, and later got Congress to incorporate into the Peace Corps Act. In this chapter and elsewhere, Meisler treats In-Up-Out simply as a “given” — as simply part of the situation. He does not seem to see this policy as especially important. I disagree. I believe Stan underestimates the historic importance of this unprecedented experiment in public personnel administration, which, in my view, produced transformative results. I agree with the assessment of Dr. Jody K. Olsen, RPCV from Tunisia, former country director, chief of staff, deputy director, and acting director: “The five-year rule is the single biggest asset that Peace Corps has,” and the reason for “Peace Corps’ unique organizational spirit.” (Cited in Comprehensive Agency Assessment, p. 80–81.)

Chapter 3: The Pioneer Volunteers and the Postcard
This chapter indicates how rapidly the PC/Washington staff was built up, and how ad hoc many of its decisions were. It describes the so-called “post card incident,” in which Margery Michelmore, a PCV in Nigeria One, wrote home a postcard describing her culture shock at how underdeveloped and unhealthy conditions were, on urban streets. The postcard was intercepted and became a worldwide news story. PC/W officials handled the matter adroitly, and prevented the incident from torpedoing the entire PC experiment.

Comment: I believe Meisler should have looked more deeply into the qualifications of the people Sarge chose for his early policy-relevant staff. Though almost invariably bright and well motivated, many of these early hires were woefully underqualified. Most had never had anything like a Volunteer-type experience in an economically underdeveloped non-Western nation. My impression was that some of them had never even visited a developing nation as a tourist. At the time, I regarded this as extremely unwise and risky. And yet, in retrospect, it is amazing that the Peace Corps became a genuine success.

Chapter 4: The Battle of Britain
This oddly-named chapter describes the purpose and work of the Evaluation Division, referred to above, as it evolved under the leadership of Charlie Peters. Because so many of the PC’s early leadership, including Sarge himself, had never had anything like a Volunteer-type experience in a non-Western developing nation, and because of haste of the “numbers game,” many programming mistakes were made. Volunteers were trained in the wrong language, sent to job slots that did not exist, and supervised by inexperienced country directors who often knew less about the host country than the PCVs they were supervising. In my opinion, the Evaluation Division, though initially underqualified, soon evolved to become a significant force in the overall success of the Peace Corps.

[Editor’s Note: There is no Evaluation Division in the Peace Corps today. The Inspector General’s office does not make periodic evaluations to Peace Corps countries as once was done. The IG only becomes involved after a problem is found out.]

Chapter 5: Friday, November 22, 1963
This beautifully written chapter describes the almost unbelievable extent of worldwide grief over President Kennedy’s assassination. It includes touching descriptions, by PCVs, of ordinary villagers in places like Togo or Peru feeling the loss as if Kennedy were their president, and attempting to comfort the PCVs in their grief. On that day, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the world’s president.

Chapter 6: American Troops Invade the Dominican Republic
Meisler’s reporting on this unfortunate chapter in American history – and the heroic behavior of many of the PCVs, is superb journalism — meaty, critical, and in itself worth half the price of the book. In a “glowing moment in Peace Corps history,” the PCVs in that country found themselves opposed to President Johnson’s ill-advised invasion of that country. Volunteer nurses, for example, continued to report to work at their hospital – despite the Johnson Administration’s efforts to pull them out. They were safe, because the Dominicanos knew them and trusted them. Meisler laments, correctly, the efforts of Mr. Johnson to use the PC for his own political purposes.

Chapter 7: Johnny Hood
This chapter deals with the administration of the PC’s second director, Jack Hood Vaughn, who in his earlier years had boxed professionally, under the professional name of “Johnny Hood,” and had actually sparred with Sugar Ray Robinson. Part of Jack’s public persona had to do with his previous boxing career. Meisler’s reporting of Vaughn’s bureaucratic career is masterfully handled – doubtless based in substantial part on frank personal conversations with Vaughn. Vaughn is depicted as a true professional of solid integrity.

Comment: Although I have no doubt that Vaughn was a true professional, and an effective leader and a good administrator, it is noteworthy that these were not the only qualities that explain Vaughn’s success. As Meisler explains, Vaughn’s boxing history was also a key factor in his having been able to land a high administrative job in the Peace Corps -first as a regional director within Program Development and Operations, and later as Director. Sarge loved “charismatic types,” whether or not the charisma had any direct logical connection with the requirements of the job for which the applicant was being considered. During my time with the organization in 1961-62, a number of my colleagues and I found this emphasis on charisma to be ridiculous. However, there was no point in overtly expressing one’s opinion, because it would do no good. This was simply the way Sarge approached the hiring process, and Sarge had near-dictatorial powers.

Chapter 8: The Specter of Vietnam
Here, Meisler describes in elaborate detail the widespread strong opposition to the Vietnam War among many PCVs, RPCVs, and PC staffers. As in the case of the Dominican Republic, President Johnson wanted to use the PC as a pawn in his expansion of the war in Vietnam. Director Vaughn courageously and successfully resisted this pressure.

Chapter 9: The Wrath of Richard Nixon
The disdain that President Nixon felt toward the Peace Corps was near-obsessive, and was pursued through various complex machinations. Mr. Nixon was duplicitous even toward the Director, Joseph Blatchford, whom he had appointed. One way the Nixon Administration expressed its disdain was by placing the PC in a new umbrella organization, called “Action.”

Chapter 10: The Fall of the Lion of Judah
This is a fascinating case study of the consequences of the PC’s first really massive effort in a single host nation. By 1965, there were 550 PCVs assigned to Ethiopia, which meant that they constituted more than one-third of all secondary teachers in that country. Meisler concludes that “a case can be made that the Volunteers contributed to the revolution that brought down Emperor Haile Selassie.” This chapter contains some of Meisler’s best country-specific writing — a consequence of the fact that he did extensive fieldwork there as an evaluator.

Chapter 11: The Militant Sam Brown
Sam Brown was President Carter’s appointee to the directorship of Action. Brown had numerous innovative ideas, some of them quite plausible, but he lacked anything like a Volunteer-type experience himself. The result was chaos, and the firing of Carolyn Payton, its first Black and first female director, whom Brown appointed to serve as PC Director within Action. The Sam Brown case illustrates beautifully the need, for all of us in the field of development, to couple powerful analytical ideas with the kind of learning that results from an authentic “service learning” experience in a non-Western underdeveloped nation. Brown possessed the first, but tragically lacked the second.

Meisler judges that President Carter squandered his chance to re-invigorate the Peace Corps. Not until late in his administration did he arrange for the organization to gain a measure of needed autonomy within the Action structure. This left the new Director, Richard Celeste, with too little time to be effective.

Chapter 12: Mayhem and Illness
In this chapter Meisler makes a conscientious effort to look honestly at the dangers to life and limb faced by PCVs. He takes note of the fact that, overall, from 1961 to 2008, some 270 PCVs have died in service. He examines Peace Corps murders and rapes in considerable detail. He takes the PC staff to task for mishandling some of these cases. He also cites survey data showing that the overwhelming majority of PCVs do not personally fear for their lives, and points out that “on average, the Peace Corps numbers of death per thousand Volunteers was about the same as the rate for other young Americans.” This is a very valuable chapter.

Chapter 13: The Rich Lady and Her First Job for Pay
Here, Meisler examines President Reagan’s appointment of Ms. Loret Miller Ruppe to be Director of the Peace Corps, where she served for eight years — longer than any other director. The case is counter-intuitive and paradoxical: Ms. Ruppe was arguably the least qualified of PC directors up to that point, and yet she emerged as being (aside from Shriver) the most beloved.

Though Ms. Ruppe was a Republican, she went out of her way to run the Peace Corps in a genuinely non-partisan manner. In doing so she irritated many in the Reagan White House. But she effectively revivified the organization after the drift and decay that occurred under Carter.

She also made mistakes. Meisler carefully examines how Ms. Ruppe naively acquiesced in the use of the Peace Corps for Mr. Reagan’s political purposes, allowing a huge number of PCVs to serve in Honduras, as pay-back to that country for providing space for “freedom fighters” to organize themselves for combat in next-door Nicaragua. This entire episode in American history will be regarded by future historians as a sordid national disgrace.

Chapter 14: 200,000 Stories
This is the chapter on which I commented above, consisting of short items of writing by RPCVs. On pp. 160–161 Meisler speaks powerfully of the literary contributions of innumerable RPCVs, and notes that there has been “a great deal of written testimony about the Peace Corps experience, and a herald, first in print and later online, to guide us into it. This testimony was essential in understanding the history of the Peace Corps. Much of the history, of course, involved machinations and politics in Washington. But it was the individual experiences overseas that kept the Peace Corps going, whether the decisions in Washington were wise or foolish. That, in fact, was the genius of the Peace Corps idea: No matter what, the individual Volunteers always powered and ennobled the Peace Corps.” Amen.

After presenting summaries of the memoirs of three highly articulate RPCVs, Meisler comes through with another wonderful paragraph (p. 168). “By the 1980s, the Peace Corps had become an elite institution of Americans working in remote sites, often alone, coping with poverty and inertia, doing the best they could to change what little they could. They were better trained than Volunteers of the 1960s and 1970s and, most important, were better versed in language . . . All in all, based on the evidence in these memoirs, the more recent Volunteers struck an old evaluator like myself as a heroic band.”

Comment: During 1961–62, when I served in PC/Washington, it was a major challenge to persuade top PC officials of the need for really solid language training, in part because few of them had ever seriously studied a non-Western language, or perhaps any foreign language.

But clearly, the Peace Corps evolved over time. I suspect that this change in the Seventies and Eighties was due, in substantial part, to the fact that by then more and more key training positions on the PC staff were held by RPCVs, who, through the hard knocks of actual field experience, had discovered the need for better language training. And it seems clear that the infusion of RPCVs into the PC staff was in turn a result of the adoption of the In-Up-Out principle.

Today, after fifty years, according to a statement by Director Aaron Williams in Ann Arbor on October 13, 2010, the Peace Corps has offered training in no less than 250 languages! Even if some of these language training programs might conceivably have been of a less than state-of-the-art quality, this is nonetheless a truly monumental achievement. I know of no other institution in world history that has offered training in so many tongues. John Kennedy would be proud.

Chapter 15: A New Name and a New World
This chapter deals with the administration of Director Paul Coverdell, appointed by President George H. W. Bush. Meisler’s take on Coverdell is largely negative. Once again, a president appointed a director with no visible relevant qualifications. Among Meisler’s criticisms of Coverdell is that in 1990, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he rushed to send PCVs to Russia and the former Soviet republics and satellites — including countries like the Czech Republic and Poland that, in general, had no scarcity of skilled workers.

After two and a half years as director, Coverdell resigned, and soon was elected a US senator from Georgia. There, he died prematurely, and a group of largely Republican senators voted to name the Peace Corps headquarters building, in perpetuity, wherever it might be located, the “Paul D. Coverdell Building.” Like thousands of RPCVs, I find this insulting. Clearly, it should be the “Sargent Shriver Building.”

Chapter 16: The Expansive Mood of the Clinton Years
During the 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton pledged that if elected he would appoint an RPCV as Director. And he did so, in the person of Carol Bellamy, for the first time in 32 years of PC history. Meisler rates Bellamy quite highly, but many in the PC community were disappointed that she remained only a year and a half, and then moved on. Clinton’s second appointment was Mark Gearan, who was not an RPCV. Despite somewhat low initial expectations for his regime, Meisler regards him fairly highly, and credits him for creating the Crisis Corps, a shell organization of RPCVs available to serve in emergencies, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Chapter 17: The Quiet Bush Years

I believe that George W. Bush will be regarded by future historians as our worst and most destructive president. His record with respect to the Peace Corps is consistent with this. His first appointee as director, disgraced California politician Gaddi Vasquez, infuriated many PCVs and RPCVs. Former director Jack Vaughn testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Vasquez “does not possess the qualifications, leadership tools, or demonstrated financial management skills to head a large federal agency.”

Chapter 18: Diplomatic Troubles
This chapter contains an extremely interesting case study of Tanzania, and of the relationship between the US ambassador there (a purely political George W. Bush appointee with no relevant background) and the PC country director, a woman who was eminently qualified. The case study illustrates the built-in tension in this relationship, and the continuing efforts by people of good will to ensure reasonable autonomy for the Peace Corps in any given nation. Meisler deftly traces the evolution of this relationship through fifty years. A very valuable chapter.

Chapter 19: Obama and the Future
During the primary campaign of 2008, Barack Obama had promised, “We will double the size of the Peace Corps by its fiftieth anniversary, in 2011.” This promise stimulated much action by RPCVs, especially Rajeev K. Goyal, to get Congress to appropriate more funds, and otherwise act to expand the number of PCVs. With the help of RPCVs in Congress, an appropriation of $400 million was made. This amount would not permit a doubling, but it would support a “comfortable growth” to about 9,000 PCVs – which would be the highest number in 40 years.

Comment: Although I welcomed candidate Obama’s pledge because it signaled a predisposition toward being generally supportive of the Peace Corps, I was taken aback by the notion that the number of PCVs was to be doubled within a very short period. Decisions of this sort should be made carefully on the basis of a host country’s needs and readiness, and planned in close cooperation with representatives of the host country. The Peace Corps does not need a reprise of the old “numbers game.”
This chapter also contains a useful description of the background of Aaron Williams, Obama’s appointee as director.

Afterword: Does the Peace Corps Do Any Good?
In this excellent chapter Meisler explains how difficult it is to quantify the good that the PC does, in objective economic or social development terms. He effectively emphasizes, however, the powerful impact that PC service has had on the awareness and knowledge of thousands of individuals — both PCVs and local people whose lives they have touched.

One illustrative case especially excites Meisler, and that is of a young impoverished Peruvian adolescent who was reached and befriended by two PCVs — Nancy Deeds and Joel Meister — in Chimbote during the 1960s. That Peruvian was Alejandro Toledo, who ultimately became President of Peru — and is sometimes referred to as the “Peace Corps President.” In the mid-1960s, helped by Nancy and Joel, Toledo, the first of eleven siblings to enjoy educational opportunity, enrolled in the University of San Francisco, supported in part by a small soccer scholarship. Eventually he ended up at the Stanford International Development Education Center (SIDEC), eventually earning a doctorate. Full disclosure: I was a member of SIDEC’s multidisciplinary faculty. I voted to admit Alejandro to our program, despite serious concerns about his lack of the academic qualifications that our center normally required, and became one of Alejandro’s teachers. After he became president in 2001, Alejandro brought the Peace Corps back to Peru, after an interlude of many years. And he is eloquent about how the PC has impacted his life: “A large portion of the path that I took — through my education, leaving the shanty town in Chimbote — the Peace Corps had a lot to do with . . .. You people are responsible for this president!”

Although Meisler does not mention it, Alejandro Toledo was the first president of Peru, since it gained independence in 1821, who was of “native origin” — i.e., not culturally defined as “Caucasian,” but possessed of Native American genetic heritage. That, alone, is a historic accomplishment.

Sources Used
Beginning on page 232 Meisler lists the sources he used in writing this book. I am truly impressed by the extensiveness of his sourcing efforts. He has consulted a large number of printed sources, and has personally interviewed a large number of informed individuals. Moreover, he explains, in some detail, how he used particular sources to establish particular points in his narrative.

Meisler also lists four books that have been of general use to him, stating that “no history of the Peace Corps can be written without consulting four pioneering books . . . . My debt to them, especially in my discussion of the early years, will be obvious to anyone who knows these books.” The books are:

  • All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s, by Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman.
  • Come as You Are: The Peace Corps Story, by Coates Redmon.
  • The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps, by Gerard T. Rice.
  • What You Can Do for Your Country: An Oral History of the Peace Corps, by Karen Schwarz

I have read Redmon and Cobbs Hoffman, and agree that both are useful books, which do shed considerable light on the early years of the Peace Corps, and especially the period before Meisler joined the organization, which was in 1964.

It is instructive to compare Redmon and Meisler, both of whom were writing after having held PC staff positions. Redmon published her book to coincide with the PC’s silver anniversary in 1986, and Meisler offers his to coincide with the golden anniversary. Although Redmon offers sprightly, entertaining prose and includes many interesting anecdotes, in my opinion Meisler’s product is distinctly superior, much better sourced, and more objective.

At this point, another observation seems appropriate. There is, in my opinion, a fifth general source that deals with the Peace Corps’ first five years, which is not on Meisler’s list, and which he apparently did not use. That source is the book, Cultural Frontiers of the Peace Corps, published by the MIT Press in 1966. This book received nothing but positive reviews. Shortly after its publication, for example, the Peace Corps organ, “The Volunteer,” ran a review by Sam Selkow, RPCV from Ghana One and at that time an African Region Program Officer on the PC staff. Selkow’s conclusion: “At last we have a book which is neither simple-minded nor arcane; but one which comes closer than any other to describing the poetry, the vision and the promise of the Peace Corps.”

Full disclosure: I was the organizer and editor of that book, and contributed the conceptual chapters. The book dealt with the successes and disappointments of the PCVs on the other side of the cultural frontier in 13 host countries. Each contributor was an expert on that country, and had had some kind of contact with the PCVs preparing for, or serving in, that country. Cultural Frontiers of the Peace Corps is considerably more Volunteer-focused, and less staff-focused, than either the Redmon or Meisler books, and is concerned primarily not with the machinations of the PC/Washington staff, but with whether and how the PCVs did what they were expected to do: function effectively on the other side of the cultural frontier. After you have read Meisler and perhaps Redmon, you might find it worthwhile to skim or read Cultural Frontiers, which deals with the first five years, the very period that Meisler missed because he did not come “aboard” at PC/ Washington until the organization was three and a half years old.

To help us all celebrate the Golden Anniversary, the MIT Press has graciously given up its rights, so that Cultural Frontiers of the Peace Corps is now in the public domain. The Stanford Library system is currently digitizing the book, and hopes to complete this task by the very special date of March 1, 2011, fifty years to the day after President Kennedy signed the executive order creating the Peace Corps. Thereafter the book will be available through Stanford to the general public, for searching or downloading, at http://www.stanford.edu/~rbtextor/ .


CONCLUDING REMARKS

Stanley Meisler has undertaken a tough assignment and handled it with remarkable honesty and thoroughness. I hope this book sells widely to the general public. And I especially hope that thousands of RPCVs will buy it, read it and perhaps share it in a RPCV book study group or bull session. Or perhaps buy a copy to give to Aunt Mary or Uncle John for their birthday. Or, at the very least, badger their local library to buy it.

We who have served the Peace Corps owe a debt to Stan Meisler for helping to deepen our understanding of this remarkable organization, as we reflect on the past half century, and contemplate the next.

Bob Textor is a cultural anthropologist who earned his doctorate at Cornell, and after post-doctoral appointments at Yale and Harvard. Textor was the first full-time cultural anthropologist employed by the Peace Corps. In 1961, he wrote the original “In-Up-Out” memo, which provided a name and rationale, and recommended a mode of implementation for the In-Up-Out principle — the prime goal of which was to avoid bureaucratic sclerosis and keep the organization young, fresh and creative.

In 1964 he joined the Stanford faculty, teaching in both Anthropology and Education. He took early retirement in 1990, and moved to Portland, Oregon, where he does consulting and writes books.

To order When the World Calls from Amazon, click on the book cover or the bold book title — and Peace Corps Worldwide, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance that helps support our awards.

11 Comments

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  • Wow! For a guy who spent one year on the HQ staff in 1961 , Textor sure has a lot to say!!! I will have to read this word by word tonight.. I also think something’s missing in Meisler’s analysis. In Shriver’s Peace Corps, PCV’s are at the top of the chart and with all due respect to the great starter staff guys like Josephson, Moyers Wiggins, Peters and many more, I think the Peace Corps story is told aptly 200,000 times by PCV’s but not many fellow Americans are listening.

    One thing for sure, Peace Corps worked and survived. On departing the White House in 1961, I recall JFK ‘s words ” We don’t know if this idea will work, but we are counting on you to try!”

    Grubb
    Colombia I (1961-1963)

  • As I read this review and came to the summary of Chapter 15 my stomach turned yet again reading about the naming of the Peace Corps building after Paul Coverdell, a director who used the Peace Corps – an agency that is about doing for others – solely to achieve his own personal goals.

    Mr. Coverdell, you were no Sargent Shriver!

  • Bob,

    I agree your book is one of the seminal books about the Peace Corps and said as much when I wrote the following review of it on Amazon in 2005:

    “2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars Good Source Material, March 31, 2005
    By Hugh Pickens (Baltimore, MD USA) – See all my reviews
    (REAL NAME)   
    This review is from: Cultural Frontiers of the Peace Corps (Hardcover)
    While the Marjorie Michelmore Peace Corps “postcard” incident in Nigeria in October 1961 is far better known (The incident was later made into the Broadway musical “Hot Spot.”), there were other “international incidents” in the early days of the Peace Corps including the expulsion of four Peace Corps Volunteers from the University of Huamanga in Ayacucho, Peru after student protests in October 1963. The volunteers’ teaching services at the University were terminated and they were reassigned to other duties. The history of this incident is presented in “Cultural Frontiers of the Peace Corps” edited by Robert B. Textor (MIT Press 1966) in Chapter 14 “Expulsion from a Peruvian University” by David Scott Palmer.

    Dr. Palmer was one of the volunteers involved at Huamanga and went on to become Chairman of the Department of Political Science and founder of the Latin American Studies Program at Boston University. He has published many articles about contemporary Peruvian politics and history and was one of only four Americans invited to testify before Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2003.

    There is a connection with the incident that an aspiring historian may want to research. I have never seen it mentioned in any of the books I have read about Peru in the 1960’s and 1970’s but when Abimael Guzmán was captured in 1992, I was surprised to learn that he had been a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Huamanga at the same time as the Peace Corps incident.

    It would be interesting for someone to document Guzmán’s involvement in the incident or if there was any involvement. Guzmán founded the subversive group “Por el Sendero Luminoso de José Carlos Mariátegui” in Ayacucho in 1966 and Sendero began its armed struggle fourteen years later with an attack on an isolated rural polling station in Ayacucho province on May 18, 1980. His group was ultimately responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Peruvian citizens during the 1980’s before he was captured in 1992 and sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court.

    As as interesting footnote, Dr. Palmer was invited back to Peru in 1998 to lecture for four months at the same University he was expelled from 35 years before. His recollections of Sendero Luminoso and it’s inception at the University of Huamanga were included in an interview he granted to Caretas (Issue 1967, published in 2001), a news magazine published in Lima, Peru.

    Good Source Material.”

    On another note, I really appreciate you licensing your essay on in-up-and-out with a creative commons license and will be posting it soon to Peace Corps Online.

    I look forward to receiving my copy of Stan’s book from Amazon in the next few days. I am sure it will be a great read. From the reviews I’ve read so far, he got everything right.

    Best regards,

    Hugh Pickens

  • Dear Bob: Thanks so much for an informative intro to Stan’s book which I look forward to reading. As you know I had the good fortune not only to be an organizer of the U. of Michigan 1960 group, but also to work that first hectic and exciting summer in DC as the organization tried to get the first groups deployed, and then joined as a volunteer and served in Thailand one. We all have our memories, and I love revisiting those years through the words of someone like Stan. I enjoyed being visited in the field by the evaluators even if we felt that they couldn’t really know what our experience was like.

    Just to mention two other books, “Sarge”, by Scott Stossel and a slim volume I remember encouraging Milton Viorst to edit for the 25th Anniversary, “Making a Difference” The Peace Corps at 25. I remember your book Bob and look forward to re-reading it.

    I agree that well written memoirs by volunteers make the peace corps experience come to life with details of daily life and difficulties of making a difference in another cultural context. I Many of these books are self-published and do not get into libraries, which is a real pity. I would like to see a way for a Peace Corps book locker like we used to have in the 60’s get into high schools with a selection of PCV memoirs and some of the staff books.It could be a regional resource for several communities. Any ideas on getting funding for that during this 50th anniversary?

    Again thanks for the review.

  • It is such an exciting time to visit Peace Corps World Wide and read all of this great insight and analysis of Peace Corps. I am so grateful. The only frustration is that there is not a Peace Corp Library AND a Research Center where archives and books and researchers and any RPCV who wished could go and share and learn and work putting all of this together because herein lies the real Peace Corps.

    Judith, The Library of Congress will be establishing a Peace Corps Experience Collection of books written by RPCVs, PCVs and PC Staff, all due to the efforts of John, Lorenzo and RPCVs in Congress.

    Hugh, What you write is so important. The National Archives has published online State Department telegrams for the years 1973 – 1976. There are three telegrams concerning the Peace Corps leaving Peru. This is how I found them online: nara.gov/Research Our Records/Archival Research Catalog (ARC)/Online Public Access/ In the search box key “Peace Corps Peru”
    You might find them interesting.

    Finally, to Bob Textor, as always, thank you.

  • Joey,

    I was in Peru (though not in the Peace Corps) in 1974 when Juan Velasco Alvarado, the General who led the coup in 1968 to depose elected President Fernando Belaúnde Terry, held a press conference and in response to a question from the press about the Russian military advisors the government had invited to Peru, announced in a fit of rage that he didn’t want to hear any more questions about Russian advisors and that he was expelling American advisors (the Peace Corps) from the country immediately. It didn’t make any sense then and it still doesn’t make any sense.

    I would love to see any information on the expulsion of the Peace Corps from Peru. I’ve always thought there was something going on between the two countries that we didn’t know about and that the Peace Corps was just a pawn in a bigger game.

    Best regards,

    Hugh Pickens

  • In the countries tthat had Peace Corps Volunteers and where I served as a diplomat the Corps was never considered to be other than an expression of America’s desire to be of assistance and improve mutual understanding. No one ever viewed the Corps as a “pawn in a bigger game.”

  • For me the key entry in this review is Meisler’s observation that it is hard to “quantify” the “good,” which apparently refers to physical accomplishments, that PCVs do. However, he “emphasizes” the “powerful” impact we have had on mutual understanding between PCVs and local people. This goes to the heart of the matter. There are those who characterize having large numbers of PCVs, and I mean here 100’s of thousands, not just 200,000 after 50 years, as a useless “nuimbers” game. They insist that one modern day “Dr Livingston” doing “good” is worth more than thousands of well intentioned Americans whose main job is to improve understanding of Americans by peoples of other lands and, in the process, gain better understanding of those people. I go with having 100,000 well meaning Americans each year touching the lives of other peoples on a personal basis. We do not need another foreign assistance program, but we do need more “people to people” diplomacy.

  • Dear Leo,

    When I say “pawn in a bigger game,” I am talking about a situation where the Peace Corps gets caught up in big power politics between the US and another country and is made into a symbol or way for another country to express it’s displeasure with the US or US foreign policy. Let me give you three examples: Russia in 2003, Bolivia in 2008, and Peru in 1974.

    Russia in 2003

    When the Peace Corps was expelled from Russia in 2003 there was really nothing that the Peace Corps did wrong, but there had been a cooling of relations between Russia and the US, and the expulsion of the Peace Corps was used by Russia as a way to signal their displeasure with the US, especially US actions in invading Iraq.

    As Hooman Peimani wrote at the time in Asia Times: “Of course most of the blame for this whole unpleasant affair falls on the Russian government with the resurgence of a cold-war mentality and increased influence of the Russian security apparatus on the Russian leadership.

    Still it’s a shame that the US Government and the Peace Corps didn’t read the signals from the August visa denial incident that the Russian government simply didn’t want the Peace Corps any longer and conduct a graceful and dignified graduation that honored the volunteers and staff who served in Russia and recognized the Russian agencies, NGO’s, and individuals who have supported Peace Corps in Russia over the years.”

    Read more at:

    http://peacecorpsonline.org/messages/messages/2629/1011604.html

    Bolivia in 2008

    Another example may be the departure of the Peace Corps from Bolivia in 2008 after the expulsion of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg by the Bolivian government. Some have said that the pullout of the Peace Corps from Bolivia was an act by the US government that was at least partially in retribution for the expulsion of our Ambassador.

    Take a look at the the “Roadmap for the Peace Corps’ Future” that was prepared by President Obama’s transition team in 2009:

    “Recently, the Bush administration withdrew Peace Corps from Bolivia following the expulsion of the U.S. Ambassador to that country. Peace Corps was ordered to almost immediately evacuate from Bolivia- in part because of the violation of the independence of the Peace Corps. While U.S./Bolivian relations are strained and an eventual withdrawal might have been necessary, the manner in which Peace Corps withdrew conveyed the message that the withdrawal was in retribution for the expulsion of the Ambassador. A return to Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, should be sought as soon as conditions permit.”

    Read more at:

    http://peacecorpsonline.org/messages/messages/2629/3216277.html

    Peru 1974

    As I mentioned before, the expulsion of the Peace Corps from Peru in 1974 had nothing to do with anything the Peace Corps did, and everything to do with strained relations between the two countries.

    Read more at:

    http://peacecorpsonline.org/messages/messages/3210441/2020823.html

    Sorry if my choice of words led you to believe that I was casting aspersions on the Peace Corps in any way.

    Best regards,

    Hugh Pickens

  • Hugh

    I did not take your comment as “casting aspersions on the Peace Corps.” Rather I meant to say that the Peace Corps was not viewed as a cog in our foreign policy machine. AID is such. Obviously the Peace Corps is present in countries that are friendly to the USA, thus when relations cool, it is no surprise that programs are ended. As for Bolivia, I view the current president there as too intellectually challenged to fully emulate his hero Chaves of Venezuela who is truly a “buffone.”

  • In Meisler’s chapter about Volunteer deaths, he failed to mention the first two…Larry Radley and David Crozier (Colombia I) in a 1962 plane crash along with many Colombians. The two training camps in Puerto Rico were named in their honor. And Crozier’s quote about preferring to work with someone instead of looking at them down the barrel of a gun…remains as one of the best in the first 50 years. Seems like a mention of them might have been appropriate.

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