Remarks at The Shriver Center at UMBC, Maryland

Baltimore, MD | April 5, 2002

Our present world cries out for a new type of Peace Corps initiative—a vastly improved, expanded, and profoundly deeper enterprise.

Eight years ago I gave a speech to 1,500 Yale University graduates challenging them to create a "World Without War". I said to them that such an achievement would be the greatest accomplishment in the history of the world! They were impressed. They even cheered! But now much of the world is at war again. That fact alone proves that I was not the world's most successful speaker!

Also in the speech I gave in 1994, I said that the Arabs and the Jews seemed to be getting together in the Middle East. Once again I was wrong. I also said that the Asian and Pacific nations were not threatening each other militarily. Again I was wrong. So much for the accuracy of my crystal ball! But my speech in 1994 did contain a few nuggets of truth. I suggested that we lived in an era that was yet to be defined; and I believe that is still true. But I also believe we are now closer to a new definition, a definition or opportunity opening to us because of recent events.

In 1994, I also challenged the graduates of Yale to stand for something, which Martin Luther King had encouraged all of us to do when he said, "Believe in something so fervently that you will stand up for it till the end of your days." Today, it has become easier to stand up for military defense and also for aggressive action against enemies of our nation, especially if you are a New York policeman or fireman, a postal worker or a mayor of any city under attack. But it may not be so easy to stand for peace in a nation darkened by conflict, and looking to war for quick solutions.

Therefore, I believe we have to ask ourselves: NOT what has served us well in the past — but, what has fundamentally changed, and how should our political, diplomatic, and service institutions behave in this radically new world?

I've been asked a lot of questions about the Peace Corps in response to the horrific events of September 11. How is it possible I am asked that so many citizens of Afghanistan clearly hate Americans in spite of years of service given to them by American Peace Corps Volunteers working side by side with them? Why would we want to send new volunteers to Afghanistan today, when terrorists and killers there probably would love to have more innocent Americans to kill?

These are tough questions that raise good points. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I can tell you this: The Peace Corps WAS there in Afghanistan, and virtually everywhere else in the world, and some lives were changed — both the lives of American volunteers, and the lives of the people they served. Is it America's primary purpose in the world to change and improve lives, or to snuff them out?

This is a question that IS relevant to the Peace Corps — but it suggests a larger, more expansive mission than the small Peace Corps our nation is financing now. But:--

Why look to the Peace Corps in a time of such extreme danger? I believe it's necessary to do so, because we're now living in a new world; and without peace, the new world will have no future, except death! Isn't this the challenge which bin Laden and other terrorist groups have put before us?

“What have you got," our enemies say to us, "that is truly worth defending? Your sky-scrapers; your blue chip stocks; your luxury cars; your trade agreements; your computer networks; your flashy movies; your fast food? Stack all that up against men like ours who readily give up their lives for God, and you've got nothing, America! Nothing!"

Maybe they're right. What could we say we are all willing to die, for? What have we got that's worth defending or worth dying for? I say that "Peace is the answer". No matter how many bombs we drop, no matter how skillfully our soldiers fight, we are not responding to the ultimate challenge until we show the world how and why we must all learn to live in peace – until peace becomes the only permanent alternative to war.

Our present world cries out for a new type of Peace Corps initiative—a vastly improved, expanded, and profoundly deeper enterprise. Why? Simply because our capacity to kill each other has far outstripped our ability to live together. Now we live in a world of low-tech killing, where plastic knives and innocent-looking envelopes can do the job just as efficiently as nuclear bombs. There must be an alternative to this endless cycle of killing– not just for America's sake, but for all of humanity.

Peace is much more than the mere absence of war. Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us. You may think these are just the rantings of an old man defending his outdated ideas. But I'm not defending the old Peace Corps — I'm attacking it! We didn't go far enough! Our dreams were large, but our actions were small.

We never really gave the goal of "World Wide Peace" an overwhelming commitment, or established a clear, inspiring vision for attaining it. If we had, the world wouldn't be in the mess we are in. Now we may have only one more opportunity to get it right! When we proposed legislation for the original Peace Corps, we came up with only three goals: (1) to provide technical assistance to poor people; (2) to promote better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and (3) to bring the world home to America. Forty years later, we could probably question some of these goals, or scrap them altogether. But I propose that we renew our vision by concentrating on a new Fourth Goal. I have struggled with words for the Fourth Goal, but let me give you the sense of it. Our sole Goal should be: To bind all human beings together in a common cause to assure peace and survival for all.

Words can be tricky, and I don't want to debate the meaning of the word I just uttered. I just want you to catch its spirit: to bind all people together in common cause to assure peace and survival for all! Truthfully, now more than ever, we depend on one another for our very existence! We are not just Americans, or Jews, or Muslims, or Catholics, or rich, or poor, or famous, or obscure Yes, we still wear those labels today, during our short existence on earth. But it is becoming clearer & clearer that we must unite all people regardless of race, color, or creed! We must learn to stand united, --all of us, human beings, for Peace! As for me, for my children, my wife, and my friends, I choose Peace as the sole objective of my life on Earth for myself as well as for everyone else on this planet./

The Call to War can only take us so far. Instead of it, I say what our nation needs now is a "Call to Peace" and to Service!! Peace and Service on a scale we have scarcely begun to imagine.

Let us unleash the power of young people in all nations to see the world for what it is now, and then go out to change it for the better, Let's join in common cause with all countries to eradicate poverty and militarism! Let's create a new Peace Corps we can believe in, led by exceptional people, not afraid to tackle difficult assignments, unswerving in their dedication to living and working alongside citizens of other nations who want to create a safe and stable world!

Give us a new Peace Corps worthy of a Mahatma Gandhi, a Martin Luther King, a Nelson Mandela, or a Nobel Peace Prize, Give us a new Peace Corps whose accomplishments match its ideals: Give us a new Peace Corps that doesn't merely hope for peace, but goes out and builds it, brick-by-brick, human being by human being, country by country,! To America's young people, who listen with despair to the nightly drum beat of bad news, I'm saying: “Peace is the Answer!”

Help us transform a new Peace Corps into a living embodiment of YOUR ideals, your sincere connection with people whose differences matter far less to you than your kinship with them. After all we are brothers and sisters living on a tiny, fragile planet, under the same sun! To our knowledge nothing like us exists an where else in the immense universe! I think today's young people get this, and they have better ideas probably than I do about creating a safe and healthy planet.

But: "To bind all human beings together in a common cause to assure peace and survival for all." That could be a common call and a mission worthy of a new Peace Corps, worthy of America, worthy of all humankind! This goal, I believe, must be our vision, our over-riding goal. But how do we get there? Fortunately, a great many people, including dedicated groups of former PC Volunteers, have been giving this a lot of thought. I'll give you the broad outlines of their plan, just to demonstrate that this isn't pie-in-the-sky idealism!

The first step is to drastically alter the programming of the Peace Corps to make the agency much more ambitious both in scope and size. Currently there are barely 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers in the field, in 71 countries. President Clinton promised, but failed to persuade the Congress to appropriate the necessary funds to bring the number up to 10,000. But the current Administration could easily fill 50,000 positions within a year or two, if themissions of the Peace Corps were expanded with a sense of urgency!

True -President Bush has acted to enlarge the Peace Corps! But the World needs a Peace Corps much, much larger than President Bush has proposed to reach in five years — Five years to reach 15,000 Volunteers, he advocated! But in 1964 we already had 13,694!! And in June of 1966 we had already reached 16,000 Peace Corps Volunteers.

So-o-o-o, the President recommends we now get back almost to where we were in 1961 Instead of his goal resurrected from the size of the Peace Corps in 19666 we should be at least aiming for a Peace Corps which should have progressed annually from 1966 to 1976 to 20,000, from 1976 to 1986 to 30,000, from 1986 to 1996 to 40,000, and from 1996 to 2002 to 50,000 today!

That's where we easily could have been today. And if we were there now, we could be inspiring nations world-wide, creating new job worldwide and establishing new friends world-wide!

Imagine what a new, large scale effort could accomplish in a New World dedicated to Peace,—unanimously. The Peace Corps now is the only agency in the United States government which makes peace not only attractive, but possible. I admonish you to empower, renew, and increase the Peace Corps so that it becomes a pragmatic and dramatic symbol of America's commitment peace, even if our nation temporarily must defend our land and our people against contemporary, vicious, and lethal attacks.

Yes, it is obvious that the war against terrorism requires a military response. Yet is is equally obvious that a military response cannot achieve peace! We thus should deploy the talents and dedication of the existing 162,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Now, in the nation's hour of need Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are uniquely equipped to serve overseas again, and to inspire global leadership within our own country.

Many speak the languages that are needed They are comfortable in settings that even our military does not accept or occupy. The Crisis Corps was founded in 1996 for just such a purpose: it mobilizes Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to provide short-terns assistance after natural disasters and in humanitarian crises. While this program has been successful over the last five years of its existence, only 300 Crisis Corps Volunteers have served in 21 countries to date

We must strengthen and expand program so that we can send Returned Peace Corps Volunteers into every country in the world! If we deploy the idealism of America's citizens against the fanatical haters of America, we will see the Peace Corps become our nation's most effective anti-terrorism program and the creator of a world finally capable of achieving the universal, cherished dream of peace.

But our goal, please remember, is not lust the survival of America — it is the survival of our whole planet. When our deeds match our ideals, we will be living life as it ought to be lived! This is not just an American dream — it is a universal need. A new Peace Corps would be the living embodiment of this precept, stripped of all harmful religious and political overtones. A new Peace Corps would be the best America has to offer the world, in this hour of great need.

Hopefully and optimistically, I believe that many nations and nationalities will enthusiastically join us in the creation of a "New World of Peace" for everyone, everywhere. Today there is no possibility of saving life for all, except through "Peace for all"!