Sarge, Tell Us What To Do!

In these sad days of the virus, Donald Trump, and demonstrations and riots on our streets, I thought I might publish the speech given by Sarge Shriver at the second national conference of RPCVs held at Howard University. Thanks to Geri Gritchley (Senegal 1971-73) who had Sarge’s address to the packed auditorium, I am able to share his words of wisdom, hope, and common sense at this moment when our elected leaders appear to have few ideas of their own. Read what Sarge had to tell us that long-ago afternoon in D.C. when we listened to him and realized how fortunate JFK and the New Frontier had him to create the agency that changed all of our lives for the better. — JC Note.

 

 

HONORABLE SARGENT SHRIVER
SECOND NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF FORMER
PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS AND STAFF
SATURDAY, JUNE 20, 1981
HOWARD UNIVERSITY
WASHINGTON, D.C.

 

It’s a joy for me to be here this day with you.

Thanks to all of you for coming to this splendid 20th Anniversary celebration; thanks for your service as Peace Corps Volunteers and staff members; thanks to our distinguished visitors whose presence has dignified this occasion; thanks to the Congress and Executive Branch members who have kept the Peace Corps alive and prospering; but thanks most of all to every Senator and Congressperson who just this week voted for the independence and freedom of the Peace Corps! From now on a new Independence Day will be celebrated every June 16th in Peace Corps precincts around the world!

Congratulations! Loret Ruppe! It took the presence of a woman, a Republican woman at that, to free the Peace Corps from bureaucratic entanglements. May you prosper in your independence! May you enlist 10,000 Volunteers a year before you complete your Peace Corps service!

The Peace Corps gave me the most memorable, continuing, morally unblemished and uncompromised chance ever given any American to serve his country, his countrymen, and his fellow human beings world-wide, simultaneously, and at the grassroot level with the poor everywhere.

Never in war, and I have served in war; never in peace and I have served many places in peace, has anyone ever received, from a secular state, a greater opportunity for pure service. And so I thank President Kennedy and the Congress, the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, the other members of the Executive Branch in 1960, and all the taxpayers of America, for giving me an incomparable five years as first Director of the Peace Corps.

Yes, I was lucky.

Never in this century has any new governmental agency attracted more talent to its ranks. Bill Moyers, Warren Wiggins, Bill Josephson, Morris Abram, Glenn Ferguson, Frank Williams, Bill Saltonstall, Sally Bowles, Harris Wofford, Dick Goodwin, Nan McEvoy, Walter Carrington, Sam Proctor, Larry Fuchs, Nick Hobbs, Joe Colman, Bill Haddad, Charlie Peters, Jack Vaughn, Frank Mankiewicz, Dick Graham, Lew Butler, George Carter, Bob Hellawell, Charley Houston, Nancy Gore, Leveo Sanchez, Bill Kelly, Dorothy Jacobson, Chris Sheldon, Gordon Boyce, Lee Gehrig, Tony Essaye, Mary Ann Orlando, Jay Rockefeller, Willie Warner, C. Payne Lucas, Ross Pritchard, . . .

. . . maybe these names mean nothing to you, but among them, — (all 35 years old or less at the beginning of the Peace Corps,) — there came to be five college presidents; five U.S. Ambassadors; five big-time lawyers; sixteen destined to receive Presidential appointments; innumerable doctors, lawyers, editors, judges, businessmen, philanthropists, and educators. Even a Pulitzer Prize winner graced the original group. And these were just some members of the staff! From among the Volunteers there arose the Senators, Congressmen, Directors of overseas programs both public and private, foreign service officers, bankers, Congressional staff members, State government officials, city Mayors and on and on. The Peace Corps proved to be the best talent agency for public servants in this century of American history.

What a privilege to be part of that band!

We started before the Beatles sang a song, and have seen them pass. We have witnessed the rise of the Rolling Stones; yet the Peace Corps will probably be alive and a respected aristocracy of service even after the Stones have passed their way, too.

Six U.S. Presidents have held office during these Peace Corps years. May 6 times 6 Presidents rejoice in its performance in the years to come!

Despite these happy signs, can there be optimism now for the future of the Peace Corps?

The Peace Corps budget is only 3/100,000ths of the Defense Department’s. Its numbers are only 3/1000ths of the Armed Forces. 1,000 men and women are enrolled to serve our needs in war for every 3 — repeat 3 —in the Peace Corps. Talk about David and Goliath!

By any quantitative measure known to the Rand Corporation, the American Enterprise Institute, or O.M.B., the Peace Corps is almost inconsequential, irrelevant perhaps, a cipher in the great game of world politics, and power.

Then, why are we here — two thousand of us attending this Anniversary celebration?

Are we grown men and women but still talking about juvenile things? Are we just on a nostalgia kick? Are we puerile romantics, idealists, flower children, merely tolerated by mature, realistic, worldly-wise leaders?. Are we just accepted because all human societies have their soft-header dreamers, their physically crippled and mentally retarded, their psychologically immature? Isn’t the draft and  military service the best way to deal with Peace Corps Volunteer types, past, present and future? Wouldn’t the draft teach Peace Corps people to shape up, learn about the real world, guarantee their passage from illusion to realism? Can we as a nation, in difficult economic times, spend taxpayers’ dollars on such a whimsical, peripheral activity as a corps dedicated to peace?

Many experts today say “No”. They say we should not dissipate our national resources and strength. Government was not established, they say, to create, finance, or direct such activities. The “private sector” is the proper place for idealistic experiments.. The Peace Corps has little or nothing to do, they say, with our Constitutional purposes to create a more perfect union, establish justice, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. The Peace Corps, it is alleged, does not contribute to the defense of the United States. It does not protect the people from dangers abroad or at home. It’s a misplaced, vestigial, remainder from a messianic culture of the past … Good perhaps for Mormons, Mennonites, Quakers, left-wing Catholics, Pacifists, Evangelicals, — but only a sideshow in an era controlled by the hard sciences, technology, finance, economics, and military matters. The threat is from without, not from within; from the USSR, not from ourselves. We’re all right; they’re all wrong; and we will prove it by our strength … The Peace Corps has little or no role in dealing with the real threat to America.

Thoughts like these may predominate in many places today; but the Peace Corps is always full of surprises, and happiness, and truth. I experienced that joy and that truth all over again yesterday.

Remember when Loret Ruppe introduced Beulah Bartlett and Blythe Monroe, two of our first PCV’s to Ethiopia. Those two women were 68 and 66 when they volunteered for the Peace Corps, and yesterday they both received tumultuous applause for their work and their spirit.

They inspired us all, — just by their presence on the platform.

After they left the stage, standing right in front of Loret Ruppe and me, Beulah looked up at me and said — “You saved my life . . ..”

Loret Ruppe heard her, and said to me —”What a lovely thing for her to say — ‘You saved my life.'”

Loret was right! It was beautiful . . . but., of course, it wasn’t true!

I never saved Beulah’s life. Beulah saved her own life by giving it away. She offered it to service. Her gift of herself to the poor and uneducated in’ Ethiopia gave her a new lease on a new life … a life of service and peace.

That’s what we all have learned in the Peace Corps. That’s why we call it the Peace Corps — not because we can, single-handedly, create peace, but because we are at peace.

The Peace Corps is thousands of human beings at peace, —with themselves, with their fellow man, with the world … why? because they have saved their own lives. How? By giving themselves away!!

We never own anything till we give it away.

“Having nothing and yet possessing all things” — that’s the way Saint Paul put it.

That’s the heart of peace; that’s the heart of the Peace Corps.

When will we learn that truth, here in our beloved U.S.A., the land of conspicuous consumption and wealth?

We must learn it … without tragedy or suffering to teach it to us, if possible, because it has the power to save our lives — just as it saved Beulah’s.

I used the word power just then. I used it on purposec — I used it to emphasize the power of peace.It is peace that gives strength. It is peace that provides “the, force” — an unconquerable, unsurpassable force … not arms, not bombs, not fear or threat of destruction. Those things just arouse resistance and resentment. They produce the opposite of what they intend. The alleged “power of arms” is a sham. The man with the pistol in his hand blazing away is the pitiful, fearful weakling afraid of another person, killing and marauding \like a frustrated child because he’s angry and hurt and alone and desperate, looking for love and finding only hatred and opposition. No … I never saved Beulah’s life or Blythe’s life. They saved themselves … because they learned to give themselves away … as the Declaration of Independence says in its last and most important words: –“We pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” … Risking their lives, giving their fortunes, and themselves; the original American Revolutionaries found peace.

That’s why I am less confused and more knowledgeable and realistic about peace than in 1960 , when we began the Peace Corps. In the 1960’s we thought it would be easy. We thought Congress would always increase our size and our budget, if we produced results.

We thought we could defeat poverty, enlighten the ignorant, eradicate disease, win over our enemies, given enough time, given enough volunteers. Now I know different, not better, but deeper. I know we still need money and volunteers. I know the U.S.A. and the world needs the Peace Corps. But now I think we can achieve peace without eradicating poverty or ignorance, or disease. The “power of peace” does not lie in the vain hope that we can change the human condition everywhere and for everyone. Our American faith in a technological “fix” for every problem is naive and irrelevant. Millions of people don’t want our technology, our culture, our values. They’ve heard promises about a materialistic heaven on earth from Communists and Capitalists. Great improvements in the materialistic conditions of life are promised by both. But neither system has ever produced anything but an imposed peace — which is peace only for the mighty, and not even pure peace for them. Look how rich men and Politburo members employ guards and guard dogs, TV monitors and elaborate alarm systems, to protect themselves •and their possessions and positions. The leader of the free world, ironically, needs more protection than anyone, except the leader of the Communist world.

Those men are not creating or enjoying peace; they are creating and enjoying power. Augustus Caesar — the greatest of Roman Emperors — built a Temple of Peace — but only after he had gained absolute power. He encouraged people to worship him, the state he had created, the armies which sustained them. Deus, Imperator, Rex — God, Emperor, Leader. Augustus had it all! But was it peace?

Jesus Christ said “no”. And the Christians had to go underground, — because they worshipped a different God. They threatened the stability of “the kingdom” of Augustus by declaring that another kingdom exists … a kingdom where peace comes from below, from the ground up, not from the top-down, from inside the hearts of human beings, not from the barrel of a gun no matter who’s holding it. That’s the peace which the Peace Corps seeks. The power of our peaceful efforts lies within ourselves and can be given to others. But first, we must possess it.

Many Peace Corps Volunteers have possessed this kind of peace. They were at peace with themselves and with their work. That’s why the Peace Corps nurses in the Dominican Republic were asked to stay when the Revolutionary slogans all said “Yankees Go Home”. That’s why no Peace Corps Volunteers were attacked or injured in the Panamanian uprisings against the U.S.A. in 1964 or during the current violence in El Salvador. That’s why “terrorists” have not assaulted Peace Corps Volunteers even in remote locations in the underdeveloped world. Certainly there have been accidents. Surely there will be deaths. PCV’s could get killed just as the nuns were killed in El Salvador, just as priests, missionaries and others sometimes get killed — overseas or here at home.

But the peace of the best Peace Corps Volunteers is .not something which can be taken from them, even by death. It’s a peace they can give endlessly because giving it away does not diminish the supply.

What is it, again?

Expressed differently, it’s the quality of caring — caring for others, willingness, even eagerness to teach the ignorant or bathe the dirty, nurse the leper or serve as a farmer, lawyer, doctor, technician, nurses’ aid, in places where thousands, even millions need what you have, in skills, yes, but most of all in human warmth.

Mother Theresa and her followers rarely get killed. They have few PhD’s or MD’s, LLB’s.or CPA’s; yet they go everywhere and bring peace with them!

The best of them “exude” peace. It surrounds them like an aura, like a perfume.

The world today is faced with the greatest threat to. peace in world history. The threat of nuclear war and human devastation. Nuclear war would produce peace — an imposed, maybe a permanent peace.

War and death on an unprecedented scale. Against that danger we can array only the forces of peace –. the legions of those who care first for people, and only later, much later, about power.

On national TV, just this week, Dan Rather concluded the CBS documentary on “The Defense of the United States” with these words: —

“We end this series as we began it, in the heartland of America. … in a world which can destroy itself in less time than Lincoln took to deliver the Gettysburg Address. We have entered an age of conventional wisdom about very unconventional weapons of war. And we’re heading toward the largest military buildup in this nation’s history, with few questions asked. All of us, as Americans, want our defenses to be strong and secure. We face a dangerous decade and a resolute enemy. But will we make ourselves stronger by unquestioning faith in new weapons technology?  Will our European alliance be strengthened by a strategy that might force us to destroy Europe in order to save it? Will we increase our national security by insisting there is a way to fight a limited nuclear war without mutual destruction? We hope these broadcasts have helped stimulate this debate, for on it, may rest our survival. For CBS Reports, Dan Rather.”

For the Peace Corps — Sargent Shriver says we should join the debate Dan Rather has proposed! Not just the debate about the military defense of the United States, but the larger debate about the purposes of the United States, the destiny of our people, and the future, if any, of man and woman kind on this planet.

If any Americans should get involved in such a debate, the returned Peace Corps Volunteers are prime candidates. No group of Americans surpasses Peace Corps Volunteers in knowledge of the world, its peoples, and its problems. The USA and the USSR seem to contest with each other more in the Third World than anywhere else on the planet. Peace Corps Volunteers and Staff know the facts of life and death in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and other, Third World, hot spots, intimately and deeply.

So I say, to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, former staff members and dependents —

Get into the debate! Dan Rather is right! Your survival, and our country’s, may rest on the outcome..

Fortunately, this debate about defense, about war and peace, is easy to enter. First of all there’s politics. The President of Yale University speaking at graduation last month said …

“What concerns me most today is the way…we have created thoughtful citizens who disdain politics and politicians when more than ever we need to value politics and what politicians do; when more than ever we need to recognize that the calling to public life is one of the highest callings a society can make…”

… “Government is not the enemy … and if we continue to elect those who denigrate what they pursue, who insist they are outsiders as they claw their way to the inside, we ought to ask whether it’s in our common interest to buy any more of that snake oil…”

So politics and political office can be one way to enter the debate about defense.

There are many others. The American Friends Service Committee manages a national program advocating a weapons freeze by the USSR and ourselves. Peter Rodino, Toby Moffett, Dick Ottinger, Shirley Chisholm, Charley Rangel, and dozens of educators and scientists support this effort! Other groups, scientific and medical organizations, labor unions, church groups, neighborhood associations, Amnesty International, scores of organizations are already in this debate and need help. They want you! You can help them. The time is now. There is no issue of greater importance for those dedicated to peace.

Beyond the debate about military defense of the United States, you are needed in the larger debate about the purposes of the United States, the destiny of our people, and the future, if any, of humanity on this planet.

We enjoy great advantages in our country.

The United States is already united politically. We are one union. Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Adams, Lincoln did that job for us. Economically we also are united. While Europe still struggles to create a European Economic Community, we enjoy the advantages of the world’s first, continent-wide, free trade zone. Militarily, we wear one uniform: we salute one flag. We recite one pledge of allegiance.

We accept one currency, the American dollar. We inhabit one continent. More and more, we speak one language. But are we united racially? Are we united in our family life? Are we united in accepting responsibility for our brothers and sisters who are unemployed, victimized by drugs, homeless, wracked by alcoholism, fearful of old age, lonely?

Incredibly, missionaries are coming to the United States from India, from Ireland, from Africa — to work and live with our poor in our South Bronx, in our Los Angeles, in our Detroit, in our Gary, Indiana, in our South, in our schools, and in our hospitals. Even in our capitol city of Washington, Mother Theresa of Calcutta is opening her. work, establishing solidarity with our poor.

How is it possible that we, the richest people on earth, need help from poverty-stricken India? Why is it that without foreign help hundreds of our hospitals would have to reduce their services drastically? Why are we threatening to close down VISTA when more than ever, according to George Romney, we need volunteers in America and for America?

I don’t pretend to have answers for all these questions, and a hundred others easy to enumerate. Yet, even without all the answers I suggest that our national defense and our military security will be fatally flawed until we unite ourselves as people regardless of race, sex, region, or economic condition.

We seem to have forgotten that when the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. Millions of us today are denying in thought, word, and deed that we are our brothers’ keeper, — keepers of our fellow citizens in the USA, \as well as of the destitute overseas.   No free market can ever replace free human services rendered by one free human being to ah6ther human being. A “good society” is the result of billions of such good acts. Government is good, not over-reaching or intrusive, when government encourages, supports and facilitates good, moral activity by the citizens. We are being swamped, night and day, with propaganda for selfishness, for excessive consumption, for killing, for domination of peoples, of nature, of history.

Is it too much to ask ourselves, we who believe in the Peace Corps, is it too much to ask ourselves:

Shouldn’t we swing back into action?   Shouldn’t we volunteer again?

How should we begin? Exactly the way human beings always begin: — by organizing ourselves.Into what? Into “communities of caring”.

In Latin America, basic caring communities have been started right in the villages. Those are caring communities, — people caring for one another.

That’s what Peace Corps administrators meant in 1960 when we talked about community development –developing a sense of community spirit, community action at the grassroots or the riceroots. That’s why Americans with only a bachelor’s degree were sought •after and sent abroad. We were looking for caring people, not just curing people, those able to cure a disease or a problem. Sure we wanted curing people, but only if they were caring people, too!

In a phrase, the cure is care. Caring for others is the practice of peace! Caring becomes as important as curing. Caring produces the cure. not the reverse. Caring about nuclear war and its victims is the beginning of a cure for our obsession with war. Peace does not come through strength. Quite the opposite: strength comes through peace. The practices of peace strengthen us for every vicissitude. They sensitize us to others. They overcome our pride, our. isolation, our fear. Even communists can be cured by care! They too are fearful, threatened and uncertain.Those greediest for power are the most pitiful old men of all. Stalin or Hitler, alone, trusting no one, worrying about themselves and their immortality, killed millions in an empty effort to prove the validity of their beliefs and fears.

They, and others like them, are the true, pitiful, helpless giants of this world.

The task is immense! Warren Wiggins and Bill Josephson twenty years ago called it — “the towering task”. Well, my friends, in 1981, “the towering task” still towers before us; but, thank God, we still have the Corps of Peace — that body of human beings who know and have known, that America’s destiny is not to be policeman of the world, monarch of the world, Caesar, Imperator, Rex, or Deus. But servant –servant of people, servant of peace, saviors of humanity.

It’s a big task; but it’s fun; it’s joy; it’s the true pursuit of happiness! May you all grow young in the achievement of it.

Volunteer!!

2 Comments

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  • Wow
    I was also there and wept with joy.
    Today Sarge’s words are more meaningful than ever….Sarge blessed us all….what a President he would have been. We were fortunate indeed to serve under his spirited leadership….
    Thank you Geri and John for bringing this forward at this moment

    • That is a beautiful speech. As an exPCV (Nepal 2 (1963-65), at the time of Shriver’s address l was working for Planned Parenthood’s International Division, known as Family Planning International Assistance (FPIA) in a regional office located in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The idealism that inspired me then was the message of JFK… “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. ”

      At this critical time in our history, 55+ years later those words seem even more poignant and germain.

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