Provo Utah Speech

Provo, UT | August 23, 1963

The Peace Corps has much in common with the Church of Latter Day Saints missionary service. We have a minimum age of 18. Our term of service is two years, but the most important similarity is that Peace Corps Volunteers and Mormon missionaries are Volunteers--you must want to serve.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the future leadership of our nation, this state and your church.

You are young men who have accepted the challenges scouting and the civic responsibilities of your communities.

I do not agree with those voices who say that young people will not accept individual responsibility. You prove them wrong.

Every day we read in the newspapers about the growing problems of juvenile delinquency. Too seldom do we read about the fine deeds of scouting--and scouts outnumber delinquents by five to one.

I know first hand what young people can do to serve this country in peace. When President Kennedy started the Peace Corps in 1961, many skeptics and cynics labeled our efforts as a "juvenile experiment"; some called it a "Childrens Crusade", and others dubbed it a "Kiddie Korps", composed of misfits and beatnicks, doomed to failure.

These skeptics and cynics said that the Peace Corps would not succeed because young Americans could not "adjust" to life in the developing nations of the world.. They said our young people couldn't "take it", living in rice paddies or bamboo huts or in the African bush country on a diet of buffalo meat and goat's milk. Ironically, these skeptics were echoing the convictions of Nikita Khrushchev who said that American young people were "dissident good-for-nothings." Khrushchev was wrong. So were the cynics in America. There is nothing wrong with American youth that opportunity won't cure and the Peace Corps offers opportunity'.

In the first year of Peace Corps operation, 30,000 Americans volunteered to serve for 75 dollars a month, ten dollars less than a private in the Army receives. In 1961, 530 Volunteers were selected and sent overseas. Today more than 60,000 Americans, mostly young citizens have volunteered to serve. Five thousand are overseas now.

This summer the first Volunteers are beginning to come home. They have proven that young Americans of differing color, race, and religion can serve the cause of peace. They have demonstrated that young Americans have the same high spirit and intense dedication as their forefathers who forged a great nation from a wilderness. The same dedication as Joseph Smith or Brigham Young.

The Peace Corps has much in common with the Church of Latter Day Saints missionary service. We have a minimum age of 18. Our term of service is two years, but the most important similarity is that Peace Corps Volunteers and Mormon missionaries are Volunteers--you must want to serve. This year President Kennedy has asked the Congress to authorize 13,000 Peace Corps Volunteers by the end of 1964. They will cost the American taxpayer $108 million.

In the past year debates have ranged far and wide about what we should have done in Cuba and Latin America. Long-winded speeches have been directed to the problem. But now we have a chance for any American, young or old, to do something about such problems--a chance to bring peace and dignity to this hemisphere--not to just talk about it.

As Americans you can expect to live to be 70 years old--- your neighbors to the South have a life expectancy of about 46 years, and in some countries it is in the 30's. Infant mortality is triple our own, and half the adults are illiterate. It is not hard to realize why Communism is attractive to the masses in Latin America.

Only recently I stood on a mountain outside of Lima, Peru, where thousands of people live in crowded poverty. They want only a chance to work and better their lot. There are Communist agitators there working hard to incite and exploit the people....but there also are Peace Corps Volunteers, working even harder to help the people better their lives. The Communist offers revolution of violence---the Peace Corps Volunteers offer hope, a better life and dignity.

Standing on this mountain looking over the great city below, I realized how I would react if I were out of work, my wife dressed in rags, and my children hungry, and a Communist said that American capitalism and democracy were responsible for my plight…I would be tempted to believe him. Every day thousands of people do accept these lies, feeling it is the only alternative. But every Peace Corps Volunteer in villages, towns, and cities across the earth is making liars of the Communists. They are proving with their own hands that democracy and a free economic system will bring a better life.

The Peace Corps Volunteer is a product of a society that believes in individual initiative, that believes in the intrinsic and basic worth of every human being. That is why one Peace Corp Volunteer can do more for a tired farmer in Asia or an undernourished child in Latin America striving for knowledge, than the sum total of all the Communists' false promises. Our Volunteers don't promise a better life. They are not talkers, they are doers. They are showing through their own actions what one can do for himself in improving his lot. In a sense they are bringing to these people the familiar message to strive for perfection. They know what it means because they are Americans accustomed to hard work, accustomed to the tedious and yet exhilarating tasks of improving one's self.

Those of you here tonight are a product of that same society, and of the Mormon Church’s never ending interest in youth, in building a strong and safe nation, in bringing better understanding to all men, and insuring that the torch of freedom will never dim. You are the kind of young men who are serving their country in the Peace Corps throughout the world. Young men who have accepted the challenges; young men who have assumed responsibility to their nation and to mankind.

There are new nations emerging throughout the world. A great many are caught up in an ideological conflict that will certainly guide the destiny of the world and generations to come. This is the challenge that we as free men face have an opportunity as a nation and as individuals to eliminate many of the evils that cloud men's minds and give rise to the struggle between freedom and slavery... to meet and defeat the problems of hunger, disease, and poverty.

To prove beyond all else that freedom is right for all men, not just a few. There are people who would sit back and say, "This is not my problem, I can't be bothered. Let someone else worry about it." Peace Corps Volunteers are not that kind of person, and that is why I respect them so deeply. It is also why I respect you.

You are people who have made a choice—the free choice... to do something about the problems that afflict human beings in every corner of the earth. You are giving, life to the words of Edward Everett Hale, spoken more than a half century ago: "I am only one, but I am still one'. I cannot do everything, but I can still do something."

It is people like you who responded so magnificently to the Peace Corps' first call for Volunteers. Some will call you an idealist, but let them be reminded that the Peace Corps and missionary groups have gone to the front lines of freedom to fight a battle that is very real. If it takes an idealist to live on the basic necessities, far from home, and with little or no pay, in order to give others less fortunate some hope, then I say let us have more idealists. The more than five thousand Peace Corps Volunteers overseas today are testimony to the fact that good intentions are the basis of good works. The two go hand in hand. Sure our Volunteers are idealists, but they have the guts to match their actions with their convictions---and that's what is important.

If any of us are beyond scouting, or feel that our youth has slipped away, let me say that we can learn a lesson in dedication from our young people. If we will give them--the young----an opportunity, they will make this world a better place in which to live.

In closing I would like to read you the words of a young Peace Corps Volunteer who was killed in an airplane crash in Colombia in 1962. Upon arriving in Colombia, David Crozier wrote to his mother and said, "....Should it come to it, I had rather give my life trying to help someone than to have to give my life looking down a gun barrel at them."

I think David's words sum up the feelings of most of us.