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Tag: peace corps history

The Peace Corps’ not-so-peaceful roots

Peace Corps volunteer Arthur Young near Mikumi, Tanganyika (Tanzania). Near Mikumi, Tanganyika, Great Ruaha Road Project (PX 65-2:77)

Peace Corps volunteer Arthur Young near Mikumi, Tanganyika (Tanzania). Great Ruaha Road Project. (John F Kennedy Presidential Library, PX 65-2:77)

It was 49 years ago today that President John F. Kennedy put pen to paper and established the Peace Corps. It was authorized by Public Law 87-293, an “Act to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps.” But despite its name, peace may not have been the Peace Corps’ original purpose.

The program has its origins in a late-late night campaign speech given at the University of Michigan by then-Senator Kennedy. It was two in the morning on October 14, 1960. Despite the early morning hours, 10,000 students turned out. He challenged each of them—and the country—to serve abroad to help the free world (listen to the speech).

But peace was not on Kennedy’s mind when giving that speech.  The early morning speech doesn’t mention the word “peace” once. Instead he describes Americans serving abroad as a tool with which to defend a free society.  The Soviet Union “had hundreds of men and women, scientists, physicists, teachers, engineers, doctors, and nurses . . . prepared to spend their lives abroad in the service of world communism,” Kennedy exclaimed at a stump speech in California. America did not. The Peace Corps was the answer. A corollary may have been peace, but the intent was … [ Read all ]