There is no question facing America more important than whether we can successfully regain the leadership of our own revolution.
I have heard this question asked in different ways indifferent countries. U Nu, when he was Premier of Burma, asked me: "Do you really believe that a young American from Kokomo, Indiana, can compete with the Chinese Communists who have offered to come here and help us?"
In India, Ashadevi, an associate of the late Mahatma Ghandi, traveled three days and three nights on a train to put this question to me: "Yours was the first successful revolution for the common man in modern times. Your Peace Corps must touch the idealism of America and bring that to us! Can you do it?"
Like U Nu, Ashadevi, and many Americans, I have wondered whether an affluent society, with its emphasis on the organization man and the easy life, can continue to produce the self-reliance, initiative, and independence which sparked our own revolution two centuries ago. Will Durant once observed that nations are born stoic and die epicurean --- was this happening to America? Many people thought so.
The American Revolution began as a unique movement as revolutions went in the 18th century. Its basic issues were not material but spiritual. As Jefferson perceived and Lincoln proclaimed, it was to be a revolution unbounded by geographical limitations --- it declared the spiritual rights of all men, everywhere.
These ideas, once proclaimed, spread throughout the world. Ten thousand miles from their origin --- and 200 years later --- they appeared in crude red letters on the fences and sidewalks of Indonesia when that country was struggling for independence. They were in English --- words like "independence" and "give me liberty or give me death." When President Sukarno of Indonesia opened the Bandung Conference of Afro-Asian people in 1955 he started his speech with these words: "We are meeting on the 180th Anniversary of the ride of Paul Revere. The American Revolution is the spiritual ancestor of our own revolution."
The years since the launching of that spiritual revolution have brought incredible material prosperity to its heirs. We have accumulated more wealth than any country has ever gathered at any one time in the whole history of life on this planet. Americans own consumer goods in an abundance hardly conceivable in the minds of Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans.
But, the acquisition of personal and national wealth has not been without its penalty. It has had a profound effect on the traditions of revolution planted so deeply in our soil two hundred years ago. In one sense, our affluence has become a handicap, (unconsciously) alienating us from most of the people in the world who are miserably poor, creating deep divisions at home between the insulated majority that is well off and the isolated minority that barely subsists, and burying the deeper meanings of our society beneath a pile of glittering chrome and steel. We have been in danger of losing ourselves among the motorized toothbrushes, tranquilizers, and television commercials.
"With our great wealth and power," Walter Lippmn has observed, "there should go humility not pride. Thirty years ago this country had not only the respect and the trust but also the affection of the underdeveloped world...we were not proud and self-satisfied, and we gave the effect of being in the same boat with the rest of mankind. That was when we had friends all over the world. We shall not have them again until this country becomes possessed once again...in the high enterprise of making a good society."
There are unmistakable signs that we have begun to make a good society. One of these signs is the vigorous pursuit by the courts of the highest goal toward which a free society can reach: Equal justice for all its citizens. Since 1954 the courts have demonstrated time and time again the truth of Shakespeare’s discovery that "the law hath not been dead, though it sometimes hath been asleep." While the passions and prejudices of racists have stimulated the disgust of friends and foes alike, the steady and consistent dedication of our courts to human dignity and freedom has not gone unnoticed in world opinion.
There are other encouraging signs. One --- the irresistible determination of the Negro to win his freedom -- is proving that our own revolution has not yet died at home. It is an irony of democracy that a people to whom little has been given are now giving much in return. Fortunately for America, the Negro has re-awakened our conscience. He is reviving the finest traditions of our society.
While the Negro recalls some of the basic principles of our revolution at home, the Peace Corps Volunteer exemplifies it abroad. There has been a new birth of responsibility in the world of which the civil rights movement and the Peace Corps are partly cause, partly effect. Both spring from the same seed and both rise toward the same hope. The kind of society the Negro is -seeking here is the kind of society Peace Corps Volunteers are working to build abroad. Their spiritual kinship is attested to by the young American --- still in his20s --- who said last week: "If I weren't in the Peace Corps, I would want to be a Negro." Any American who has ever wanted to become a part of the moral struggle of his generation knows what that young man meant. This impact of the Peace Corps on American society is one of the untold stories of our two-year-old history.
Take, for example, the impact of the Peace Corps on higher education. The President of the State University of Iowa, Virgil M. Rancher, recently wrote that "....the Peace Corps project (training Volunteers for Indonesia) is already having salutory effects upon this university, and these seem likely to be residual. The members of our faculty are having to come together across disciplines. They are having to think through old problems of education freshly and to tackle new ones. Along with the trainees, they are learning --- learning how to teach languages in the new method, how to teach new languages, how to teach area studies better, and how to adapt old and test new methods. The project is deepening the international dimension of the State University of Iowa. This international dimension is being shared, in various ways, with the people of the state, the Eastern area in particular."
Our own Peace Corps Volunteers are being changed in other ways than in the acquisition of languages and new skills. They will be coming home augmented in maturity and expertise. They will have a deep respect for the wells of diversity from which the world draws its richness. Here is how a Volunteer describes her experiences in the Philippines:
"I can remember the beautiful night when several of the teachers and I walked through the streets (the moon light poking through the coconut shadows) on our way to the waterfront. There we sat on the wharf talking quietly and enjoying each other's company. We didn't talk about peace, war, English, science, or any of the important concerns of great men: we talked about trivial matters, nothing memorable...then there were the nights that I sat around making water seal toilet bowls with the men teachers. I enjoyed the questions they asked me about America and Americana. After four hours of chatter, Tinong would go and wake up the store owner and buy Pepsis and a can of spam. Things that I would never before have drunk or eaten were delicious to me then. We talked some more, and finally the teachers would walk me home, because they didn't want the dogs to bite me and because it would have been inhospitable to let me go home alone. Later, I took great pleasure in being able to walk some of these teachers home and leave them at their doors...then, there, was the little girl who, had a harelip; by this time I felt that the community was mine as well as theirs. With a little initiative on my part, the girl was sent to the city for surgery. Before she left, she asked her mother, “will I be able to wear lipstick now?” I can only hope that these things will have affected my companions to the same degree that they have affected me. Knowing their potential for the simple things --- that is, the great things --- I suspect that their experiences have been much more felt than mine."
Their is yet another impact. The Peace Corps is giving our increasingly bewildered and frustrated citizenry an opportunity to participate significantly in world events. Potentially destructive technology races ahead and international complexities grow more intricate. Many Americans despair of even understanding events, let alone affecting the shape of them. This feeling is serious in any nation; in a democracy, it is fatal. The Peace Corps provides an avenue both to understanding and to meaningful action.
The Peace Corps idea is raising and expanding our standard for Volunteer service in the time of peace. Commitment to service can be contagious and returning Volunteers will spread it in this nation. They have already reduced the barriers to public service represented by the fear of being different, the fear of being thought a fool. Our society needs to operate at full capacity during the last decades of this century. The Russians have set out to accomplish this through compulsion, state control, and imposed national planning. We need to take advantage, through volunteer service, of our own people's desire to achieve equivalent effectiveness in freedom. Here I think the Peace Corps' example holds great promise.
Already the idea has spread to other nations. West Germany only this week announced the creation of its own version of the Peace Corps. Three other European countries -the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway --- have plans under way for similar programs. Argentina has already started a Peace Corps of teachers to serve throughout the Americas. Other countries may follow suit.
The Peace Corps is providing new channels for American ingenuity and innovation. In no way is this more evident than in the Peace Corps Volunteers who will serve as lawyers in Africa. Since 1950 twenty-nine countries in Africa have become independent nations. Whatever their present form of Government, they know with Cicero that "the good of the people is the chief law.” They know that they cannot develop viable democracies without the supremacy of law. So some of them have requested the Peace Corps to send lawyers.
Sierra Leone was one of the first countries to seek our help. It asked that a Volunteer lawyer be sent to organize, edit, and publish a system of reports for a large number of decided cases spanning a period of many years. A second lawyer was also requested to teach law and provide research assistance at the University of Fourah Bay.
Each of the three regions of Nigeria asked for Peace Corps lawyers. In the heavily populated Nigerian region, the Ministry of Justice wants help with the operation of native courts and with the training of the local judges who staff most of the courts of first instance. The Office of the Chief of Justice has asked for Peace Corps lawyers to make a field survey of the operation of the rules of civil procedure and to prepare a manual on procedure for magistrates. The Eastern and Western regions want lawyers to organize a system of law reports, help with legislative drafting, and teach at the new school at Nsukka.
Liberia's request is somewhat unique. Liberia is one of the oldest republics in Africa and was founded on the American pattern. Its constitution and system of government is much like our own. Recently, President Tubman established special commission on government operations -- not unlike our Hoover Commission -- to study administrative procedures and suggest methods for streamlining and reorganizing the Government. The Commission has proposed many changes. Because of the shortage of trained Liberians, President Tubman has asked that we provide Volunteers trained in public administration and law to help with the implementation of these reforms both in Monrovia and in the provincial capitals.
Nyasaland has requested four Volunteer lawyers to help in preparing a system of case and statute reports. The job will also include helping to train law students and court officers.
Finally, the ancient Empire of Ethiopia wants American lawyers to help with drafting, research and related tasks in the Government and to assist in the development of a new law school. The law school will assume responsibility for organizing and reporting court decisions and for beginning a general survey of the Ethiopian judicial system in order to develop teaching materials for the law school and a broader understanding of the actual workings of Ethiopian courts.
Five African countries have requested a total of 27 Peace Corps Volunteers.
The recruitment and selection of these, lawyers posed some special problems.
First, because the project developed after many graduating law students had made job commitments, the Peace Corps has been conducting a widespread search for resourceful, mature, imaginative lawyers who would be interested in volunteering for two years.
With the cooperation of the major law schools and bar associations, we have been successful in obtaining over 150 applications from American lawyers.
Like all other Volunteers, training for the lawyers will be but a step in the selection process. The lawyers for Nigeria will join a large group of Volunteers training for service in Nigeria, the lawyers for Liberia will join other Volunteers training for Liberia. During this training program, they will take the same courses in area studies, international relations, American History, communist methods and techniques, host country language, and physical education that all other Volunteers must take.
During the training programs they will have extra reading courses in African law and in the law of the areas in which they will work overseas.
When the regular country training program ends, the Volunteer lawyers will assemble at Yale Law School for a three week seminar on African legal institutions, development, and current problems. Professor Allison Dunham of the University of Chicago Law School will be in charge of the seminar.
This training program will have to come to grips with certain basic problems that will constantly confront Peace Corps lawyers in Africa. Much in the way of maturity and discretion will be required if they are to be effective and yet avoid involvement or apparent involvement with controversies over policy-making or adjudication.
The potential accomplishments of the Peace Corps lawyers are great. Our Constitution is the oldest written constitution functioning in the world today. The American experience under a written constitution can be of great use to the many African nations who have adopted written constitutions and are now beginning the difficult process of interpreting and applying these documents to changing social patterns.
Our experience with a federal system, as Justice Douglas pointed out in his American Bar Association Journal article on the Peace Corps, will be helpful. The problems of forging one nation out of peoples with different languages, religions, and loyalties has led a number of countries to adopt federal systems, much as we did nearly 200 years ago. Justice Douglas points out that American lawyers "are now needed... in the difficult process of making these political experiments work."
The Peace Corps' lawyers project is only one of several new ventures we are about to launch. None is more exciting than the educational television program which the Peace Corps is pioneering in Colombia.
Colombia's television network covers 85% of the population and 94% of the nation's public schools. It is one of the largest and fastest growing networks in Latin America. Strong private and government leadership have sought to make it a useful instrument for public education. They turned to the Peace Corps for help.
We are undertaking this program in partnership with the Agency for International Development, which is providing $575, 000 for television sets, equipment, and programming expenses. Colombians are paying all local salaries and network costs.
Twenty Peace Corps Volunteers -- all specialists in communications -- will work alongside Colombian coworkers to plan, create, write and produce educational programs. Another fifty Volunteers, working in rural areas, will visit classrooms regularly, helping Colombian teachers to use the programming effectively. Fifteen hundred public schools will be affected by the program.
The program has support at every level of the Colombian and United States Governments. President Valencia of Colombia has taken a special interest in it. The Ministries of Education and Communications are already making long-range plans for expanding and strengthening the program when the Peace Corps completes the pioneer phases in two years.
The Educational Television Program is only one example of the cooperation between governments, and private organizations which can hasten the development of new societies throughout the world. It is proof of the exciting possibilities that await men of determination and energy in the race against time. It is one of the many new horizons toward which the Peace Corps is working.
Programs like the educational television project and the lawyers program are important in their own right. But, like every Peace Corps program, they assume even greater importance when they are held up in the light of the American Revolution.
That revolution placed on our citizens the responsibility for re-ordering their own social structure. It was a triumph over the idea that man is incompetent or incapable of overcoming his destiny. It was our declaration of the irresistible strength of a universal idea connected with human dignity, hope, compassion, and freedom.
We still have our vision, but our society has been drifting away from the worlds majority, the young and raw, the colored, the hungry, and the oppressed.
The Peace Corps is helping to put us again where we belong. It is our newest hope for rejoining the majority of the world without at the same time betraying our cultural, historic, political, and spiritual ancestors and allies. It is our great chance to share with the new nations of the world the experience and the experiment of a democratic revolution that prizes human liberty above all other ends.