In 1960 not everyone thought the Peace Corps was a great idea. Many people (and some of them good people) thought it was a wacky and dangerous idea.
Former President Eisenhower declared it a “juvenile experiment,” and Richard Nixon said it was another form of “draft evasion.”
The Daughters of the American Revolution warned of a “yearly drain” of “brains and brawn…for the benefit of backward, underdeveloped countries.”
In those first few years of the agency, we didn’t know if the Daughters of the American Revolution and the other critics of the Peace Corps might not be right. Our joining up with Kennedy’s new venture might mean a stain on our careers for the rest of our lives.
And yes, it was a dangerous idea, but not in the way the Daughters thought. The Peace Corps changed us. It made us aware of the world in ways we never would have been if we had stayed at home. Like Margery Michelmore in Ibadan, Nigeria, we were initially shocked by the conditions in which most of the world lives daily. We were innocent. We were naive. We went into the Peace Corps as the Silent Generation, but because of our experience, we came home knowing that the peoples of the world did go to bed hungry every night, and did not have the opportunities we took for granted in America. The Peace Corps experience made us better citizens. It made us more involved and concerned about the welfare of the have-nots in our country and around the world.
And a year after it all began, Time magazine declared in a cover story that the Peace Corps was the greatest single success of the Kennedy administration.
Can you top that Obama?