Thirty Days That Built The Peace Corps: Part Eight
A Proposal for the President
Shriver introduced Wiggins and Josephson at the February 6, 1961, meeting and distributed copies of “A Towering Task.” From this point on Wiggins and Josephson became the engine room of the Peace Corps. Shriver describes Wiggins as “the figure most responsible” for the planning and organization that brought the Peace Corps into being.
Twice more in February Kennedy would telephone Shriver to ask about progress on the Peace Corps. The final draft of the report was done with Charles Nelson sitting in one room writing basic copy, Josephson sitting in another room rewriting it, Wofford sitting in yet another room doing the final rewrite, and Wiggins running back and forth carrying pieces of paper.
In his book, Wofford writes about a ‘statement of purpose’ for the new agency. Some of the Mayflower Task Force wanted a single purpose stated. Shriver, according to Wofford, “found the tension between competing purposes creative, and thought it should continue.” Shriver said, in so many words, that ‘Peace’ was the overriding purpose, and the process of promoting it was necessarily complex, so the Peace Corps should learn to live with the complexity. [Note that Shriver did not say ‘development’ was the overriding purpose of the Peace Corps.]
Finally, the Task Force agreed on the three propositions about the program. They were:
Goal One: It can contribute to the development of critical countries and regions.
Goal Two: It can promote international cooperation and goodwill toward this country.
Goal Three: It can also contribute to the education of America and to more intelligent American participation in teh world.
Shriver then made the final edits of his report which was, in effect, the Peace Corps Magna Carta. On the morning of Friday, February 24, 1961, Shriver delivered it to Kennedy and told him: “If you decide to go ahead, we can be in business Monday morning.”
It had taken Shriver, Wofford, Wiggins, Josephson and the other members of the Mayflower Task Force, less than a month to create what TIME Magazine would call that year “the greatest single success the Kennedy administration had produced.” On March 1, 1961, President Kennedy issued an Executive Order establishing the Peace Corps.
And today, almost fifty years later, we are still debating what the Peace Corps is all about. As Sarge Shriver thought all those years ago, “the tension between competing purpose is creative, and it should continue.”
Well, it has!
The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corpsby Gerard T. Rice [University of Notre Dame Press, 1985] Of Kennedys & Kings: Making Sense of the Sixtiesby Harris Wofford [Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980; University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992] Come As You Are: The Peace Corps Storyby Coates Redmon [Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1986] “A Towering Task” by Warren Wiggins, proposal for The National Peace Corps
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