Peace Corps celebrates milestone

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Let me finish tonight with the Peace Corps. In the fall of 1951, a young US Congressman went on Meet the Press and told about a recent trip he’d made overseas.  He told with dismay how disappointed he was with the people representing America.  He said he’d talked to college audiences and found lots of young people who would love to go out in the world and represent the United States, especially in third world countries.

 

He said he wanted “well-rounded” young men and women like them out there - a better picture of America presented in the world.

 

Nine years later, in the last week of the presidential campaign, that same man, John F. Kennedy, spoke with his war buddy from World War II, Red Fay, about how things were going. He was worried about how the campaign was ending.  He saw President Eisenhower jumping in on behalf of Vice President Nixon, drawing enormous crowds, and saw the polls heading Nixon’s way.

 

Then, he turned to a happier subject. He told his war buddy, with whom he’d shared the dangers of the South Pacific, about the speech he was going to give that night about something he hoped would prevent more wars. He talked about young people going off to foreign lands to work for peaceful economic development, not to fight.  He was so happy with that prospect. 

 

This weekend, many who served in the Peace Corps are coming here to Washington to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the legislation establishing it. It’s a good time to remember what the Peace Corps is doing for this country and, of course, for the people of the countries where volunteers serve.

 

During the 2008 election, President Obama campaigned on doubling its size. Today, there is a long waiting list of 20 new countries requesting Peace Corps programs. 

 

The entire annual budget of the Peace Corps is less than the budget of the army marching band.  We spend more in five hours in Iraq than we do on supporting the 8,700 volunteers around the world for one year.

 

This is one of the few agencies Democrats and Republicans both vote in favor of. Back thirty years ago, when his budget people tried to zero out the Peace Corps, President Reagan said, “Don’t cut the Peace Corps. It was the only thing I got thanked for last week!” referring to a meeting with the prime minister of a small, developing island country.

 

At one time, the Peace Corps was JFK’s bold experiment. After 50 years, we can safely say the experiment worked, leaving a global legacy of good will.  Its volunteers are America’s best grassroots ambassadors for a very small price tag.

 

The Peace Corps needs President Obama’s serious attention, now more than ever.  It would great if he’d get behind it with great enthusiasm, increase its strength - 10,000 volunteers would be good - and become its number-one recruiter.  

 

He’s just the one to do it.

 

John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama

Peace Corps celebrates milestone

Updated