Speech to the National Press Club

Washington, D.C. | October 18, 1962

It is a complex world we live in today. While one man orbits the earth in a space capsule, another man squats for hours besides an Asian rice paddy, trying to catch a fish only as big as your thumb. While some men manufacture computers, other men plow with sticks.

The Peace Corps is eighteen months old now. By the end of this year, 5,000 Americans will be serving as Peace Corps Volunteers in forty different countries all over the world. Every country has asked for more.

But what difference does that make?

Today, our Volunteers are hard at work as vocational teachers in Ceylon - as nurses and biochemists in Malaya - as irrigation experts in Morocco - as mechanics in East Pakistan - and as town planners and nurses and carpenters and bricklayers in East Pakistan - as seed production
 agriculturists in West Pakistan - as heavy machinery mechanics in Tunisia as surveyors and geologists and nurses in Tanganyika -as agricultural extension workers in India - as chemistry teachers in Ghana - and as physics teachers in Thailand - as rural youth workers and community
 development workers in Brazil - as home economists in Chile - as plumbers in Bolivia - and in many other professions in many other countries.

What difference does it make:

In all of these nations Peace Corps Volunteers are living at the level of the people. They are speaking the language of the country. They are eating the local food and living in local housing. They are assimilating themselves completely into local cultures. And they are sticking it out; they are not only sticking it out, they are enjoying it. They are not only surviving; they are persevering.

They are - to put it bluntly - a success, a success - frankly beyond our most optimistic predictions.

So, what?

Eighteen short months ago there were many people - perhaps some of you here were among them - who said, "It will never work." Who said, "It can't be done." Who said that "Kennedy's Kiddy Korps" could only serve to embarrass and subvert professional U.S. diplomats who were
attempting to forge reasonable policy out of a dangerous fast-moving world.

There were many who were frightened by the prospect of the United States loading contingents of beatniks with beards and guitars on jetliners, transporting them to international trouble spots and turning them loose with the vague admonition to "do good."

There were many who were of the sorrowful opinion that Americans had grown too soft to do this sort of work that flab and complacency had become the twin identification cards of modern American society.

These people were wrong.

But now, many of the same people who said eighteen months ago, "It will never work," are shrugging their shoulders today and saying: "It is working - but what difference does it make?"

The world is a wretched place and four-fifths of the people in it live out their lives in poverty and disease and ignorance. This tragic fact has always been so. It will always be so. What difference will 5,000 Americans make?

Power politics is a hardnosed game and self-interest is a fact of international life. The East and the West apparently are locked in fierce economic and military struggle that could last for generations to come. By this time next year there will be 10,000 Peace Corps Volunteers in the 
field. Is their presence - their work - going to make one whit of difference?

I submit to you that the Peace Corps is already making a difference, and a big difference. It is already having effects -- both immediate, dramatic effects and long-range effects -- far beyond anyone's anticipation. It is having effects both here at home and abroad.

The Peace Corps is having an impact on the colleges and universities of our country. Most of our U.S. training programs have been conducted by private and state universities on a contract basis. To date, Peace Corps projects have been trained at 36 different schools - at California Northern Illinois - Oklahoma -Arizona State - Rutgers Syracuse -Pittsburgh - Utah State Indiana - at Howard - and at Harvard.

No one who has visited one of these training programs in operation can fail to see the impact it has on the faculty and the student body. School official after school official has written us to this effect.

The Peace Corps is having an impact on private organizations, both at home and in other countries where we are at work.

The National Farmers' Union, the National Grange, the Cooperative League of the USA, CARE, the American Friends Service Committee, the Credit Union National Association, Heifer Project, Inc., the Experiment in International Living, the 4-H Foundation, the YMCA and the YWCA -- the Peace Corps is working with all these agencies today. They are helping us, and we are helping them.

They have provided us with over twenty field officers of wide experience to help in overseas administration. They have helped us recruit Peace Corps Volunteers. They have given us invaluable advice and guidance.

In turn, we have helped them to broaden the scope of their activities and of their good influence. The work that Peace Corps rural youth development workers are doing in Latin America has already served to quadruple the 4-H Club membership there. In Chile, YWCA membership has 
increased five-fold.

The Peace Corps is having an impact on general education in the United States, too. We are not, as a few have implied, stealing away badly needed teachers from the American school system. In fact, just the opposite is true. The Peace Corps proving to be a new source of supply for teachers. The great majority of our Volunteers who are teaching today are graduates in liberal arts, not education. Yet on a recent tour of Southeast Asia, many of them told me they are finding such satisfaction in teaching abroad that they now plan to make a career of it when they return home.

It is proving to be an energizing force in American education in other ways, too. Many teachers, mid-career, have the desire to freshen and broaden their lives but don't wish to lose professional tenure, and they see a way to do this through Peace Corps service. School boards on the other hand, see a way of bringing back into classrooms the diversities and cultures of the world beyond. As a result, more and more school boards are granting two-year leaves of absence to their teachers who want to join the Peace Corps. They believe it is a good investment all around, and so do we.

But more than schools and colleges and private institutions and private business, our total American society is bound to be influenced in a healthy way by the steady supply of Peace Corps Volunteers, returning home.

These are not people returning from a vacation abroad, or from study abroad. These are veterans of two full years of trying situations and difficult circumstances. These are people who will know the interiors, the folkways, the languages of the worlds civilizations. These are people whose strength of character and sense of purpose have been tempered under fire. These are people who are going to be very much in demand by our foreign service, by private industry. We are already receiving numerous inquiries at Peace Corps headquarters here asking "When will these people be available to us? They are what we are looking for."

And finally, the Peace Corps is having a current, important impact abroad -- all over the world.

Six days ago, down in Puerto Rico, an eighty-six year old man - a revered artist and a world renowned disciple of freedom - spoke these words: "This is new and it is also very old," he said. "We have, in a sense, come full circle. We have come from the tyranny of the enormous, awesome, discordant machines 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 of our efforts."

This was Pablo Casals and he was speaking to those of us who were in attendance at conference on the world's manpower needs.

There were forty-three nations represented at that conference. It marked the first time that the developed and the developing nations of the world ever sat down together and talked seriously about manpower needs.

It is a complex world we live in today. While one man orbits the earth in a space capsule, another man squats for hours besides an Asian rice paddy, trying to catch a fish only as big as your thumb. While some men manufacture computers, other men plow with sticks.

Can't these other men be trained - and trained quicker somehow -- to meet the need for skills in today's quick world?

What is the proper relationship between the highly industrialized nations of the world and the developing nations? What is our proper duty to them - and theirs to us, and to themselves? This is what we sat down to talk about in Puerto Rico.

There were foreign ministers there, and labor ministers, ministers of health, and economic affairs, and education, and finance, and community development - all gathered to discuss ways the world can act to meet its critical shortage of trained men and women.

And just as De Tocqueville taught us more about our democracy than we knew ourselves, so did these men and women from abroad tell us more about the Peace Corps than we had ever realized.

All of us, the press, the Peace Corps staff itself, have missed the significant fact - the lead - about the Peace Corps.

We have talked - and you have written - about "so many Volunteers" going to "so many countries."

But in Puerto Rico, these people talked of the Peace Corps as a dramatic world movement; as a way to disgorge the earth's richest resource - its people. To these people, the Peace Corps is not just a nice experiment in brotherhood and goodwill - it is a major breakthrough in economic theory and practice for the underdeveloped world.

As the delegate from Pakistan said, "It is possible to beg, borrow or steal money. But it is impossible to beg, borrow or steal qualified people."

And so the Peace Corps - this vague thing we thought just might work a year and a half ago -- has been seized by these nations as a way to weave human capital into the fabric of economic development. Having seen our Peace Corps operate, they are now building this concept into
 their own development programs and growth policies.

Jamaica, Chile and Honduras all announced that they are starting Peace Corps-type programs of their own-at home. "We are going to create a manpower force that no government can hire. We are going to bring all existing voluntary services together in one dynamic effort," said Jamaica's minister of development. And the Honduras delegate declared his belief that this movement "now can serve to place Latin America on a new threshold comparable to the 17th Century’s advent of knowledge in Western Europe."

Further, Norway, Germany and Denmark and Belgium all announced at the conference that they are establishing volunteer programs, similar to our own, designed to operate in the world's underdeveloped nations.

And so the Peace Corps is making a difference, a difference that the world is taking note of. There are nearly 300 Peace Corps Volunteers serving as secondary school teachers in Ethiopia today. Their arrival meant that Ethiopia's secondary school enrollment was doubled overnight.

In Sierra Leone today the Peace Corps -- the United States Peace Corps - supplies 25 per cent of all that nation's secondary school teachers. We supply 50 percent of all the qualified teachers. There are 40 high schools in Sierra Leone. Peace Corps Volunteers teach in 35 of them. There are six teachers colleges Peace Corps Volunteers teach in four of them. 
At the Puerto Rican conference, the Liberian minister of education, Mr. James Weeks, told the delegates that the Peace Corps Volunteers who recently arrived in his country would increase by 180 per cent the number of college graduates teaching in Liberian secondary schools and would directly affect 90 per cent of the total school population in Liberia.

"Furthermore," he added, "they will decrease our dropout rate and improve our basic curricula. By their thorough professional attitude, they will cut down teacher absenteeism, late classes and improper preparation." The effect ultimately on Liberia's total economic situation will be, in his words, "revolutionary."

Does this make a difference? I think it does.

"You are helping to create a new community," Mk. S. K. Dey, India's minister of community development, said in Puerto Rico last week - "in a material sense but in a profoundly spiritual sense as well, economically as well as socially." According to the Sierra Leone minister of education, "The Peace Corps has built a bridge between the developed world and underdeveloped world."

These are not, after all, Soviet teachers in Ethiopia. They are Americans. That would be a news story, wouldn't it - 300 Soviet secondary school teachers go on duty in Ethiopia? These are not Communist "technicians" at work in Brazil's San Francisco Valley project. They are American
Peace Corps Volunteers 500 of them.

The profound the exciting lesson of the Puerto Rican conference is that the developing nations of the world see in the Peace Corps the very best elements of the American tradition and they are responding to it -- "It is something only you could ever really do," Mr. Dey, the Indian minister said last week.

It is the tradition summed up by Lincoln when, at Edwardsville, Indiana, he admonished his countrymen: "What constitutes the bulwark of your own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements or bristling sea coasts...Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere."

We have not always been true to this tradition. We have not always supported freedom abroad nor fully realized it at home. But throughout our history we have always retained a dedication to certain principles a dedication which has let us regard our lapses from them as temporary aberrations, mistakes, departures from what America should be - and do and stand for.

And today, behind the acts of diplomats, the words of politicians, the tortuous and hazardous conduct of the affairs of a powerful nation in times of danger, these principles are still deeply embedded in the lives of those who live across our land. It is because the men and women of the Peace Corps are the inheritors of these beliefs, because they have absorbed them in the schoolrooms and churches, on the farms and in the cities of our country, that they have been able to cross barriers of language and culture, religious faith and social structure, to touch the deep chord of common hope and principal which belongs 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. It was expressed by Thomas Jefferson when in a letter to George Washington, he wrote "every man and every body of men on earth possess 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. But the opposite, I believe, is true. For these words represent the basic, revolutionary forces which are reshaping all continents. They also represent deep American convictions. We are grateful that other current strugglers for liberty have reawakened American dedication to this our own tradition. It is because our Volunteers believe that no nation has the right to impose its will on others that every individual should be free to follow the quest of his own mind and heart subject only to the loose restraints of a free society that they welcome the opportunity to go out and help others carry forward this great work. 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. We were in danger of losing our way among the television sets, the supermarkets and the material abundance of a rich society. By letting us participate in their struggles these nations have given us a chance to find ourselves.

The second of these principles is our deep belief in a pluralistic world society. We built a country out of many lands and from people of a hundred different backgrounds and beliefs. Today our President is the grandson of an immigrant to Boston. His predecessor 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 the success we have had in building a free nation lies in 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 pluralistic world society. We welcome what Gandhi has called "the creative interdependence" of different lands, each free to follow and develop its own way of life, its own culture and its own beliefs. We do not seek to impose a monolithic creed or system on the rich diversity of humanity. Thus our Volunteers go out, not to change peoples but to help them build their own societies as they themselves desire to build them.

The third of these principles is the belief in the power of individual moral conscience to remake the world -- the belief, as Abiseh Nicol, a poet of Sierra Leone has said, -- that "freedom is really in the mind" -- the belief that was so well expressed in the writings of men, like Thoreau that man has a higher duty than his obligation to party of state, a duty to conscience and common humanity. This belief in man's inner moral conscience not only makes the welfare of the individual the first concern of man, but compels men to dedicate their energies to the service of others. In the last analysis it is not governments or organization which will bring 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. A great American philosopher expressed this when he wrote: "Let our affection flow out to our fellows; it would operate in a day the greatest of all revolutions."

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 belief 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 this same sense of man's limitless capacity is also moving now in Africa, in Asia, in Europe and Latin America. It has brought freedom to millions and inspires tireless efforts to build new societies.

These are principles of course, are not just American principles. They belong to all lands and people. They are fundamental human belief. On them rests the strength of nations. There have been times when the United States has lost sight of these but they remain at the moral heart of our 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. In giving us the chance to work with them, these nations are helping us to preserve the finest qualities of our own tradition. As we help them build their societies, they help us to strengthen our own.

This is the difference that it all makes. These are the things that make the Peace Corps important and vital and these are the things that will continue to make it important and vital in the dangerous years ahead.