Address at the Rededication Ceremony of the Peace Corps

Ann Arbor, MI | October 14, 1980

Let's make the 1980's the "You" decade, -- the decade when you and I, and all those sharing the principles and ideas of the Peace Corps, once again renew our pledge not only to make the world safe for democracy, but this time, safe for humanity itself!

The first words John F. Kennedy said (after telling a joke) standing on this spot, twenty years ago, today-were these: --

..."How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana?"...

That was his challenge.

Two weeks ago a National Committee on Experts on Medical Education decided we have too many doctors! They never even mentioned Ghana or service in any foreign country for any purpose rhyme, or reason. Our medical schools reject thousands of dedicated college graduates who seek admission to medical schools every year. Health manpower needs all over the world (including large parts of our own country), continue to grow, but, apparently the medical experts never gave a thought to the health needs of the rest of the world, except to prohibit immigration of foreign-trained physicians into our country. Medical isolationism seems as strong today as political isolationism was a generation ago.

Twenty years ago, John F. Kennedy standing here asked: --

..."How many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?..."

Well, today, you had better not think about serving your country that way. The Foreign Service now receives about 20,000 applications a year. They accept about 200 per year. Why? Because the Foreign Service has strict budget and personnel limits. Its total size is 3,000 career officers; Compare those 3,000 to 83,000 Army officers; 96,000 Air Force officers; 61,000 Navy officers; 18,000 Marine officers; 258,000 military officers compared to 3,000 Foreign Service Officers. Even McDonald's Hamburgers has 5,000 restaurant managers --- a much larger force than the Foreign Service of our country.

John F. Kennedy standing here 20 years ago also asked technicians, engineers, and students at the University of Michigan, "to comprehend the nature" of what he was asking them to do.

He said:

"...This University is not maintained by its alumni, and by the State, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in life's struggles. There is certainly a greater purpose," and therefore "I do not come here tonight asking for your support in this campaign. I come here asking for your support for this country in the next decade..."

In those days Kennedy got the support he requested. Had he lived, we might not be a nation of disillusioned victims of the War in Viet Nam; cynics created by Watergate lies; pessimists fearful that energy and mineral shortages are condemning our country to more and more inflation and less and less production; nihilsts certain that nuclear catastrophe will end it all anyhow.

"Get what you can while the getting is good," people now say.

"Go for it, Dad" my teen-age sons tell me. "You only pass this way once. Get it while you can."

That's where we are, psychologically! We're not in Kennedy's era. We're not living on a "New Frontier" or trying to create a "Great Society". We're hunkered down -- trying to make sure we keep what we've got. We're contributing less and less per capita every year to the poor and hungry of the world. We're down to 14th on the hit parade of Western industrial countries providing foreign assistance to the underdeveloped world. We're snuggled, inconspicuously and comfortably, alongside Ireland, and way behind Germany, Switzerland, France, Great Britain, and all the Scandanavian countries.

Will Rogers used to say that Washington was first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League. Today he could still say we're first in war; but we're near last in peace, and not even in the American League. Robert MacNamara, the World Bank President, said last week that our record is scandalous, a disgrace.

Would you believe that the Soviet Union provides total financial support for Cuba alone which exceeds our foreign aid for all of Latin America!

However, we've got the "Moral Majority". – millions who want to build more nuclear bombs, MX systems, tanks and conventional weapons to arm ourselves and our friends in the Third World. Between the Soviet Union and ourselves we only spent $500 billion last year on military efforts – obviously a sum much too small to assure their security or ours. They're sure we capitalists and the Chinese are just waiting for our chance to slaughter all Marx-fearing Communists, and we're sure those Communists can't wait to obliterate us God-fearing Christians. So, "the Moral Majority" wants the Panama Canal back for protection of what we've got; they want prayers in the classrooms so that "Our Father Who Art in Heaven" will be on our side, approving our efforts to maintain our hegemony, our way of life, our Pepsi generation.

In keeping with this tendency the Pentagon and CIA are once again getting ready to control foreign policy. They forgot to clue in my good friend, a man for whom I have the highest respect, our Secretary of State, Ed Muskie, when "they" decided to change "our" nuclear war targeting policy a month or two ago. Just an oversight, -- of course! They have re-opened their famous "U.S. Army School of the Americas" in Panama -- against State Department objections -- and over protest from the President of Panama! But we have a genuine "Moral Majority-philosophy" down there. We are giving a course in that school entitled "Human Rights Aspects in Internal Defense and Development". All the rights words, as you can see. Lt. General Nutting, Chief of the Southern Command protecting us in Panama, described the course succinctly last week. He said the Pentagon is training 250 El Savadorean Army officers in that course in an effort to teach them "How to be nice to people while you force them to do what you want them to do."

Isn't that beautiful? ..."How to force people to do what you want them to do." Smile, while you twist their arms! I nominate General Nutting as Technical Adviser to the Polish Government. With his philosophy he'd be excellent in helping the Communist Party there to control those rambunctious strikers, "Forcing them to do what you want them to do." Politely, of course.

Well, that's where we're at.

What can the Peace Corps do about the situation? What can anyone do? I'm not sure. Maybe we are a terminal case! But I haven't given up hope -- not at all. I'm that old realist who found out 20 years ago that the experts are nearly always wrong and the people usually right. "People power" can always defeat economic power or military power. Always? Well, almost always. Look what the people did to the Bourbons in France and the Romanovs in Russia and the Somozas in Nicaragua, and the Pahlevis in Iran and let's not forget, the English here in the USA. All these revolutions are not equally admirable, nor are they alike philosophically or politically.

And it took a long time for the people finally to win. But they were all people power in action. In Kenya, Zambia, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Israel, people made the difference. So, my first suggestion is: Let's put some "people power" experts onto the National Security Council advising the President on the ultimate political questions. No ironclad, unchangeable law says that only the CIA, Defense, State, the Vice President, and Zbigniew Brzezinski serve on the N.S.C. Why not put on former Peace Corps Volunteers like Paul Tsongas? or an experienced, perceptive, humanistic, Peace Corps man like Bill Moyers? or the Head of National Public Radio, a man in tune with the people, former Peace Corps Director in Peru, Frank Mankiewicz; or Franklyn Williams, President of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, and former Peace Corps Director for Africa; or Nathaniel Davis, former Peace Corps official and Director General of the Foreign Service, a man who speaks six languages and has lived and worked for our country in Communist Bloc countries, in the underdeveloped world and here at home. Father Ted Hesburgh is another Peace Corps stalwart who would provide a perspective different than the stereotyped military and economic viewpoint which dominates NSC thinking today. Or Carol Bellamy, President of the New York City Council and a former Peace Corps Volunteer. Why not add the new man responsible for all U.S. Government nonmilitary, foreign expenditures, the new head of the new I.D.C.A. - Tom Ehrlich, former Stanford Law School Dean and President of the Legal Services Corporation? All these know "the people", know foreign affairs, and believe that "people power" created this country, and only "people power" can save it and the world.

Suggestion Number Two:

Let's open the Peace Corps to membership to all citizens, of all nations, cooperating with the Peace Corps today -- a supra-national agency like the Red Cross, or the World Health Organization, International Labor Organization, or the Olympics --a World Peace Corps. We tried to internationalize the Peace Corps from the very beginning by establishing a United Nations Peace Corps. That didn't work. Too many people objected to the United Nations influence. But, if we created a World Peace Corps where all participating nations adhered to comparable standards of volunteerism and proportionate financing, we could have 60,000 persons, motivated by Peace Corps principles working in 60 nations within a very short time indeed.

Daniel Bell, the social historian and political philosopher, says (according to Professor Winner) ... that "contemporary society remains vital in the sphere of technical and economic innovation, But it is, no longer able to generate the sources of social solidarity and religious meaning that could sustain people during the troubled times ahead"...

I disagree. The Peace Corps idea could become one of the sources of social solidarity that could sustain the people of the world during the troubled times ahead. We may be "a Moral Minority" today, but the future belongs to the practitioners, not the preachers, of morality. Let's not forget that Jesus Christ himself set the standard for morality when He said ..."He who says Lord, Lord will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only he who does the will of My Father clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, ransoms prisoners, does good to those who insult and attack him..."

Strangely enough not a word about selling arms to your friends; not a word about the Panama Canal.

Tom Wolfe first said that the 70's were the "Me" decade.

Let's make the 1980's the "You" decade, -- the decade when you and I, and all those sharing the principles and ideas of the Peace Corps, once again renew our pledge not only to make the world safe for democracy, but this time, safe for humanity itself!

All my friends here today remember what Pablo Casals said about the Peace Corps 19 years ago -- What he said is still true today. We have just to recall it arid make it come alive.

"The idea of the Peace Corps is new and it is also very old. We have in a sense come full circle. We have come from the tyranny of the enormous, awesome, discordant machine back to a realization that the beginning and the end are man, that it is man who is important, not the machine, that it is man who accounts for growth, not just dollars or factories, and above all, that it is man who is the object of all our efforts."