Address Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Peace Corps

Ann Arbor, MI | October 7, 1985

We are dedicated to the pursuit of peace -- which means we oppose the idea that war is inevitable. We believe that with God's help we can get rid of war. We are a corps, a band of brothers and sisters, united in the conviction that if we work hard enough we truly can avoid war -- and achieve peace.

Dear Friends, Let us all rejoice!

Today we are gathered to commemorate a unique occasion in American history — that occasion when for the first time an American President proposed to put the full strength of our Government behind a voluntary movement of free men and women dedicated to the pursuit of peace. Many nations in human history have undertaken many tasks; many have boasted about their economic power and military victories. But none has ever put its prestige and money into so sustained an effort to seek peace through education, work, and service to others, performed by its own citizens volunteering for that service. The success of the Peace Corps is proof that moral
 vision coupled with perseverance and courage can overcome great obstacles.

The road to success has not always been easy. The initial success of the Peace Corps in tapping the idealism of Americans — and sharing it with others — was overshadowed by the twin disasters of Vietnam and Watergate. Lying and vast deceptions, practiced upon our own people by persons occupying the highest positions of trust and political power, did almost crush the Peace Corps's early promise.

But let us rejoice again! The Peace Corps has emerged from the desolate years of 1967 to 1976.

It has escaped from the bureaucratic obscurity where it was buried under Richard Nixon.

Now, the Peace Corps has a new mandate, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Reagan, to increase its Volunteers to a minimum of 10,000. Partisan political considerations have been outlawed as factors to be weighed in the appointment of Peace Corps officials. And the current Peace Corps leadership, notably in the person of Loret Ruppe, is imaginative, dedicated, resourceful, and wise. The present state of the Peace Corps is good. Its chances for future growth and progress are better than they have been for many years.

There are certain other extraordinary realities in Peace Corps history worthy of special note today.

The Peace Corps's administrative, financial, and personnel record, over 25 years, may well be the most remarkable of any Government agency in this generation.

No one has ever defected from the Peace Corps! Nor has any member of the Peace Corps ever been accused of, or prosecuted for, treason. Other agencies and departments of Government — even those which pride themselves on their patriotism, hard-headed machismo, and security procedures, cannot match the Peace Corps's record.

No one has ever been accused of fraud or mismanagement of funds in Peace Corps history.

No one has ever been reassigned, or "fired" from leadership positions in the Peace Corps, because of deceit, lack of loyalty, personal corruption, malfeasance or nonfeasance. On the positive side, hundreds of Peace Corps officials and Volunteers have gone onward and upward to some of the highest positions of trust and responsibility in this country. And the Peace Corps has become the largest, single source of personnel for the United States Foreign Service, for AID, for Catholic Relief Services, for "CARE", and for dozens of other voluntary agencies, at home and overseas.

So, let me repeat once again: — We are lucky to have been members of the Peace Corps. We are all lucky to be here — the very place where John F. Kennedy first spoke the words that led to the creation of the Peace Corps.

We are all lucky, to be alive and healthy, educated and free. We are lucky to have opportunities undreamed of by nearly all the men and women who fought for and created this nation. We are lucky to have health, wealth, education and power. And even though such gifts have often corrupted nations, even empires, we do not have to follow their example.

Why? Because we know better. We know from history what has happened to greedy and self-indulgent nations. We cannot plead ignorance. If we do no more than follow the siren song
 of selfishness we would deserve to end up in the dustbin of history — just another fatuous and foolish group like those who lived in Sodom & Gomorrah or in Nineveh and Tyre. So we must not become fat, rich, smug and self-centered. Fortunately, we have the words and example of John F. Kennedy calling us in a different direction, appealing to us with a different vision. Listen to what he said on this campus in October 1960: "How many of you, who are going to be medical doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana flow many of you who are going to be/ technicians or engineers are willing to do so?

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

"On your willingness to do that, not merely to spend one or two years in the service, but on your willingness to spend part of your life in the service of this country will depend the answer on whether a free society can survive." 

Kennedy called upon us to give our lives to service, and the Peace Corps became the instrument of his policy. 

"Unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of, you", he said, "Unless you understand the nature of what is being asked of you" (I repeat it), Kennedy said, "we cannot succeed"! The Peace Corps was our answer to his words and his challenge spoken here on this campus in 1960.

The Peace Corps' nature was specifically designed to answer Kennedy's challenge. Its nature was peaceful. Its nature was to call upon all Americans to serve — overseas for at least two years, and to serve at home for the rest of their lives. Service at home, according to the Peace Corps Act, involved teaching and telling our fellow Americans about the realities of the Third World with its poverty, disease, and lack of education, but also to tell us about its hopes for the future, its ambitions, its plea for help and understanding from us.

All of this is what lies behind. But what of the prospects for the Peace Corps beyond this day of celebration? 

It's easy and customary on an anniversary like this to reminisce, exchange old stories, and recall past triumphs. 

But what about the next fifteen years? Where will the Peace Corps be in the year 2000?

The time has come, I believe, for the Peace Corps to expand — overseas, and at home — the Peace Corps abroad should grow as Congress has authorized it to grow. Ten thousand Peace Corps Volunteers abroad could be achieved by 1988; but to reach that goal, the Peace Corps budget will have to be doubled and then increased again. I use this occasion to call upon the leadership of both parties to accept that challenge and act now.

Double the Peace Corps when everything in Government except the military is being cut? Isn't that a ludicrous proposal? I say "No". The cause of peace, seeking peace, is more important than any other challenge facing our country, including the military challenge. We have showered money on the Pentagon to strengthen our capacity to wage war. We have exponentially increased our power to kill. We must now increase our capacities — moral, intellectual, and political — to wage peace. First, therefore, we should increase the size of the Peace Corps overseas. Congress has authorized the expansion! 

The American people support the Peace Corps. Let us move forward aggressively. Let us fulfill the potential of this unique experiment in peace.

Only the faint-hearted would say "No".

Second. We should mobilize the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers here at home. Consider these facts: We now have more than 100,000 former PCVs here in America. That is ten times the number of Volunteers we've ever had in any one country abroad. The PCVs worked miracles away from home. They can transform attitudes and outlooks here, too.

The Peace Corps' original, authorizing legislation, still unchanged states that the Peace Corps and its Volunteers have three objectives mandated by law. First, to supply the need overseas for trained manpower. Second, to learn more about the people, the culture, and history of foreign peoples and to teach them about the American people and our institutions.

Third, to return home and educate, teach, enlighten Americans about the political, historical, cultural needs and hopes of foreign peoples and nations. The Peace Corps, has done as much as it humanly could, with the resources it has had, to realize the first two objectives or purposes set forth by the Congress.

But it has done precious little, almost nothing, to help or encourage returned PCVs to fulfill the third purpose of the Peace Corps legislation. The time has come to put the Peace Corps behind the pursuit of peace within the U.S.A. as well as to expand its efforts outside our own borders.

How can this be done?

Well, obviously, no one will have all the right ideas on how to carry out so challenging a mission. But there's no time to start which will be better than the present. Twenty-five years of success abroad gives reason to believe that the next twenty-five years can produce results at home as well.

Overseas, the Peace Corps has learned that it's impossible to force change! Education, example, encouragement all can help to get results. But force produces nothing but counter-force. So, the first concept we have to get rid of is the idea that we can achieve "Peace Through Strength". That's a popular slogan, but it's wrong. The reverse is often true. At times, strength is best achieved through peace.

Peaceful example, peaceful guidance, peaceful education, and peaceful encouragement produce results. To achieve progress it is necessary first to open hearts and minds, an objective which is not achieved by hitting, or threatening to hammer people into submission — which seems to be the guiding principle of the government of South Africa.

So let us choose a new slogan, symbolizing a new direction — "Strength Through Peace."

Second, we should utilize colleges and universities to inspire, motivate, and update our Returned P.C.V.s for peaceful service in our own land. Twenty-five years ago we called on colleges and universities to train Volunteers for service abroad. Rutgers, Michigan, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Georgetown, Howard and Harvard are just a few of the institutions where Peace Corps training began. Now we should use them to begin a new tradition of service at home.

Before 1970, only one school, Manchester College in Indiana, offered a program in Peace Studies in the whole of America! Today 35 colleges and universities offer degrees in Peace Studies, and many more offer courses if not degree programs.

This is an extraordinary and providential development. Just when training and education for peace is essential for survival, our institutions of higher education are ready.

What do they teach?

They teach Mahtma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Francis of Assisi, Albert Einstein, Tolstoi, Thoreau, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Desmond Tutu, Jane Addams, Albert Schweitzer... They teach conflict resolution; arbitration; mediation; nonviolent change; research on aggression; arms control; and international conflict resolution.

They conduct conflict management workshops for corporations like Bristol-Myers, for University personnel, for labor unions, for lawyers, and for medical doctors.

I talked with five University Presidents last week and every one of them said that his or her institution is ready to inaugurate special, intensive training programs in Peacemaking next summer for returned P.C.V.'s. Several foundations also expressed interest. We should explore in depth their offers to help.

[At this point, Shriver introduced an extemporaneous discussion of the legal program called "EnDispute" which was started by a former Peace Corps Volunteer, Jonathan Marks. He emphasized how "EnDispute" achieves conflict resolution without recourse to the traditional legal system with its long delays and high costs.]   

Next, we should support the proposals of the Coalition of Peace Corps organizations. They recommend a National Peace Corps Conference for next June; they recommend a Peace Corps Foundation to finance special projects overseas and at home; they recommend a new magazine — a "Third World Magazine" devoted to the Peace Corps and similar activities overseas; they suggest Annual Awards for Distinguished Service by PCVs and staff members to the cause of peace.

[Shriver extemporaneously added at this point a brief description of the work of the Ashoka Foundation, which, using private contributions from United States citizens, attempts to discover and finance small-scale business overseas, especially in Africa and Asia. He cited the Ashoka Foundation as exemplary of the kind of special project overseas which the Peace Corps Foundation might assist.]

Beyond this, we should support the idea of a universal opportunity for national service for all young people in our country. I do not mean, solely or primarily, military service.

The military couldn't use all our young people anyhow. I recommend, as I have many times before, that we call upon all young persons, and that we pay them a minimum sum, to serve their
 fellow citizens here at home. This service should be as normal as graduation from high school. It should be an accepted part of growing up in America — a common expectation of what's expected from everyone.

This is no longer a new idea. It has been studied in depth and approved by thousands of experts. Let us now move forward with it. The VISTA Volunteer program works; the National Center for Volunteer Action succeeds under George Romney's leadership; and the private sector needs volunteer help as never before. 

A spirit is moving in this land — and it's not just "Cap" Weinberger's spirit. He and "Star Wars" may be dominating the headlines, but there also exists a large and growing number of Americans who, like Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, know more about people and the world than was ever dreamed of in Mr. Weinberger's bellicose philosophy.

The daily newspapers and TV are full of stories of violence: In our homes, husbands and wives in unmanageable conflict; children being battered and sexually abused; adolescent runaways; elderly persons being starved.

Violence on the streets: Murder, rape, assaults and battery, robbery — Never has the average citizen felt less secure, physically, than today.

Violence against our own bodies: Jane Fonda and Arnold Schwarzenegger may be leading the movement for health and physical fitness. But, excellent though their efforts are, even they cannot compete successfully against drugs, alcohol, and murder on the highways.

Violence abroad: At least three trans-national wars are going on now as I talk about peace. And no one can say that within the USA we have succeeded in our struggles against drugs, against alcoholism, against racism, against militarism.

Instead of "Love your enemies" as Jesus of Nazareth taught, we are indoctrinated into "fear of our enemies".

Franklin Roosevelt said "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."  He was talking about problems here at home. But his words could apply equally to our "enemies" abroad. We shall
 overcome Communism not with bombs but with the power of the spirit, the spirit which energized Americans at the beginning of this nation. Then we talked, preached and acted upon "The Universal Brotherhood Of Mankind". We had practically no military power, but we appealed to the God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We were popular then.

Now we preach megatonnage and Star Wars, economic warfare, and boycotts. And every year we acquire more enemies.

[At this point, Shriver extemporaneously discussed the U.S. action in withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the World Court which was the page 1 story in the New York Times and the
 Washington Post

Well, well, you say: — "Shriver has wandered far a field from the subject of the Peace Corps." But have I really done so?

When we started the Peace Corps, there was a big debate about the name we should give to this new venture. Many suggestions were made. "Peace Corps" was not the most popular title. Among the most experienced advisers, that title was scoffed at. They wanted a solid bureaucratic title — like "The Agency for Overseas Voluntary Service", Conservatives opposed the word "Peace".

They maintained it sounded soft, wishy-washy, vague and weak. The Communists, they said, had corrupted the word "Peace" by applying it to every political initiative and even to every
 war they got involved in. Ours was also the generation of World War II and the Korean War. In our lifetimes we had never lost a war, never failed to overcome an economic depression, and
 never experienced Nixon, Kissinger, Viet-Nam and Watergate.

"Peace" was a questionable word for many of us.

The left-wing disliked the word "Corps".

They said it sounded too militaristic. The famous "German Afriker Corps", victorious almost everywhere under General Rommel, was fresh in their mind. "Corps" sounded like a scourge.

Finally, I decided we'd use both words, put them together, and get the best out of both of them: — Peace because that was truly our business — and Corps because it showed that we were not individualists but a group.

Today I recommend that we remember our beginning. We are dedicated to the pursuit of peace — which means we oppose the idea that war is inevitable. We believe that with God's help we can get rid of war. We are a corps, a band of brothers and sisters, united in the conviction that if we work hard enough we truly can avoid war — and achieve peace. And we all think that everyone in the Peace Corps, and everyone who has ever worked in the Peace Corps, is a special person, who, given a chance will overcome any problem! In believing this about each other, in believing this about all Peace Corps people, we are giving reality to the words of Martin Luther King. He said: -

"Everybody can be 'great' because everybody can serve.

You don't have to have a college degree to serve.

You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.

You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.

You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve.

You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics and physics to serve.

You only need a heart full of grace and soul regenerated by love."

So in 1985, we look back across a quarter of a century of grace and soul — and we know how fortunate we are. In the Peace Corps, we have known the summer heat of the Sahara, the biting
 cold of the Alte Plano, the endless rain of the monsoons in Asia, and the even greater obstacles caused by bureaucratic inertia.

And what a precious gift it has all been! For we have also seen the smile on the face of a child who has just learned to read; the energy of people in a dusty village who have just learned that they can lift the dead hand of hopelessness; the wondrous sense of powerless people taking destiny into their own hands for the first time. We have been pioneers of the Peace Corps world — and in that new world, we have seen the worst that happens to fellow human beings in daily acts of indifference and even evil; but we also have seen what is, what can be, the best in ourselves and in others. We have seen into our own souls, even as we have felt our eyes misting
 and our hearts touched when it was time to say good-bye. But, for Veterans of the Peace Corps enlisted in the cause of peace, whatever we do when the first tour is over, there is never a final "good-bye." We are Peace Corps Volunteers forever, and we will never be the same again.

In that spirit, let us resolve to continue and complete our real tours of duty — which are not for two years — but for all the years of our lives — until the peace we dreamed of when we signed up for the Corps, is finally won.