Under the chairmanship of Lyndon Johnson, delegates from forty-three nations met in Puerto Rico in October 1962 to attend the International Conference on Middle-Level Manpower. Cabinet members came from both industrialized and newly developing nations to discuss new ways to provide the skilled manpower so sorely missed by the new nations. They unanimously established an International Peace Corps Secretariat to assist in the organization of volunteer programs by participating countries. As the initiator and organizer of the Conference, Sargent Shriver spoke on the special vision of foreign people and foreign lands gained by working Volunteers.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PEACE Corps goes far beyond the number of Volunteers in service or the number of countries in which they work. For an explanation of the Peace Corps' true significance we must look to the mainstream of the American tradition.
Let us admit that we have not always been true to this tradition. We have not always supported freedom abroad nor fully realized it at home. We have sometimes failed to understand the aspirations of people in other lands or to fulfill the hopes of our own people. Yet throughout our history we have retained an underlying dedication to certain principles. We regard our lapses from these principles as temporary aberrations, mistakes, departures from what America should be and should stand for. It is because the men and women of the Peace Corps inherit these beliefs, because they have absorbed them in the schoolrooms and churches, that they have been able to cross barriers of language and culture, religious faith and social structure, to touch the deep chords of common hope and principle which belong to all men.
The first of these principles is the conviction that the goals of the American Revolution against colonial rule were universal goals. We were not simply fighting for American values; we were part of the greater revolution of man as he struggles to be free. Said Thomas Jefferson, "Every man and every body of men on earth possesses the right of self-government. They receive it with their being from the hand of nature." There are those who scorn such simple words as "freedom," "self-government," "the rights of man" as too simple and superficial for our complex, modern age. On the contrary, these words represent the basic revolutionary forces which are reshaping all continents.
The second of these principles is our belief in the world's right to diversity. We built a country out of many lands and from people of a hundred different backgrounds and faiths. John Kennedy's grandfather was an immigrant to Boston. President Dwight Eisenhower came from the rural heartland of America. Our original states warred against each other for commerce and territory. And today there are still frictions and difficulties between regions and faiths and colors. But whatever success we have had in building a free nation stems from our confidence in a society which contains many societies. Our strength lies in the richness of our differences. And thus we do not fear the liberating discords of a diversified world society. We welcome what Gandhi called "the creative interdependence" of different lands.
The third of these principles is the belief in the power of individual moral conscience to remake the world-the belief so well expressed by men like Thoreau, that man has a higher duty than his obligation to party or state: a duty to conscience and common humanity. "Freedom is really in the mind," says Sierra Leone's poet, Abioseh Nicol. In the last analysis it is not governments or organizations which will give fruition to man's hopes, but the energies and talents of millions of individuals working across national borders and dedicated to the service of mankind.
The last of these principles is man's optimism-the belief that all things are possible to men of determination and energy and a willingness to toil. This confidence came naturally to those who threw off the bonds of colonial rule and succeeded, with their own efforts, in subduing a wild and rich continent. But the same sense of man's limitless capacity is also moving now in Africa, in Asia, in Europe, and in Latin America.
It is because our Volunteers believe in these principles that they welcome the opportunity to help others. We were in danger of losing our way among the television sets, the supermarkets, and the material abundance of a rich society. Our debt of gratitude to the developing and emerging nations of the world is that they have reminded us of our own traditions, and given us a treasured opportunity to sacrifice and work once more for those principles which created our own nation. By letting us participate in their struggles they have given us a chance to find ourselves.
These are not just American doctrines. They belong to all lands and to all people. They are fundamental human beliefs. On them rests the strength of nations. If from time to time any of us has momentarily lost sight of them, they have nonetheless remained at the moral heart of the universe. They have now stirred us to action in sending out thousands of Americans dedicated on a world scale to the same cause which built their nation. As this helps others to build their societies, it helps us to strengthen our own. And we welcome the swelling chorus of announcements that numerous other countries will begin Peace Corps efforts of their own.
As American astronaut John Glenn recently said of our efforts in space, "We shall be relying more and more on international teamwork. We have an infinite amount to learn both from nature and from each other." These are hopes that must be realized on earth no less than in outer space. The development of nations is the process of developing men, a process in which we have an infinite amount to learn from nature and from each other. The Peace Corps is part of this process. Abioseh Nicol has written:
"Go up-country, they said,
To see the real Africa ....
You will find your hidden heart,
Your mute ancestral spirit."
Peace Corps Volunteers have gone up-country to live and work, and they are seeing the real Africa and the real Asia and the real Latin America. They will return to the United States with the profound and enlightening experience of having lived among the people of foreign lands, not as "expatriates," but as persons who have eaten their food, lived in their houses, lived under their laws, spoken their languages, and shared their work. They will have a new understanding of the aspirations and the wants of the people with whom they share this turbulent globe an understanding not gleaned from books or newspapers or hurried trips to capital cities, but the deep understanding which can only come from being a genuine part of the society one seeks to know. Wherever they go they will enrich the life of their communities. They will help create an America more profoundly aware of world problems and world responsibilities.