Address at the John F. Kennedy Library on the 25th Anniversary of the Peace Corps

Boston, MA | March 1, 1986

In this nuclear age, we must stop relying on weapons of war. Instead, we must rely on the strength of our ideas, our values, our firm conviction that "all men are created equal", and that "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" are the dream of all people everywhere.

My Dear Friends and Colleagues:

... God is good...He/She has been extraordinarily good to everyone here tonight -- and to no one more generous than to me.

I say this because few men or women live to see the fulfillment of a dream -- especially a dream of their youthful years. Few ever get a chance to participate in a large-scale, highly visible, risky, national endeavor, let alone in one with outreach to all the islands and continents of this planet. Yet every Peace Corps participant has been given that chance. Those here got it first, -- when the risks were greatest, the unknowns unknowable, and the skeptics legion. Can anyone here truthfully say that they were sure there would be a 25th Peace Corps Anniversary? Or even a first or fifth anniversary? Jimmy the Greek would have given long odds against our success -- yet here we are. 50% of the original believers, rejoicing in a vision come true.

But, typically:

--We haven't come here solely to reminisce! Although memories we share bind us together, we are all still deeply engaged with the future.
--We haven't come here to exult! Although much has been done, much more remains to be done.
--We haven't come here to complain! Although suggested budget cuts must be fought and overcome now, just as if Otto Passman were still the Angel of Destruction. Passman has merely been replaced by David Stockman and his successors...

Instead, we have come together to reunite!

--Reunite for Peace, and against war-mongers and war-makers, Against all those who believe that war is inevitable, Against pessimists who claim that greed and lust and savagery will always prevail over virtue.
--Reunite for cooperation, and against conflict.
--Reunite for economic interdependence and against economic domination.
--Reunite for non-violent progress and against the power which flows from the muzzle of a gun, no matter in whose hand the gun is held.

For those objectives, happy days are here again. Many of Jean Kirkpatricks's close friends (the "Dictators on our side") have been thrown into jail or exile. Today Mrs. Kirkpatrick could throw quite a party. The DuValiers, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, the Argentine and Brazilian Generals, the remaining Somozas, Batistas, Truijollos, and other "Freedom Fighters", would be delighted to attend.

But, we, too, we Peace Corps veterans, can now plan a party -- a much bigger party -- a huge, people's party -- a festival of Peace Makers and Peace Believers. That party, I'm told, is now in preparation, scheduled for September in Washington, -- with all returned PCV's invited.

Who will come? How many will come? What will they do? Do these questions sound familiar: They are the same ones asked when the Peace Corps was being formed in 1961. 30,000 people wrote President-elect Kennedy to volunteer for the Peace Corps before it was even established.

The September party, the reunion of Peace Corps Volunteers, will be just like this one today -- oversubscribed.

Five years ago 2,000 RPCV's came to a much less publicized event. Suppose 4,000 come this Fall? Or 10,000 or 20,000! What a March on Washington that will be: -- Peace Makers, Peace Workers, loyal Americans, male and female, white and black, old and young, -- gathered to celebrate for peace and against violence!

There is still much to struggle against, but there is also much to celebrate. That is why we are here at the JFK Library -- to celebrate!

Let us rejoice that:
--Congress has called for a Peace Corps twice as big as it is today.
--That oligarchic dictators are being toppled like dominos around the world...(Maybe one day we shall see all the despots gone -- from South Africa, from Cuba, from Korea, from Kampuchea, from the Soviet Empire -- and from our own.)

Let us rejoice that:

--Congress finally passed a Bill creating a Peace Institute -- or Academy -- even if its final form and Board of Directors are a travesty of its original intentions....Even that need not be its permanent condition.

Let us rejoice that:

--The Pentagon Budget will be cut and the Peace Corps budget enlarged. (That's only a prediction, not a promise.)

And, most important, let us rejoice that:

--Colleges granting degrees in peace studies have exploded from 5 to more than 100 in the last 10 years.
--And that 75 private foundations are now giving money for Peace Studies: $52 million last year, up 200% from 1982!

Even the Harvard Law School now offers a course in "Negotiations", which means in layman's language, "How to stay out of court" (and court, as any lawyer will tell you, is the moral equivalent of war.) To negotiate the end of a dispute means to learn to compromise, to say "yes" rather than "no", to one's adversary, make peace.

Let us rejoice that the much-denigrated Jimmy Carter proved the value of non-violent international negotiations with his successes in Panama, Zimbabwe, and at Camp David. They said it couldn't be -- but he did it. (Perhaps he learned how from his mother -- She was, of course, a Peace Corps Volunteer.)

Let us rejoice that America's number one Apostle in nonviolence, Martin Luther King, Jr., has finally been enrolled in the Pantheon of national heroes. At least we are honoring our peace heroes, as well as our war heroes.

Did you see the news about International Women's Day? On March 8th, just 7 days from now, women throughout the world will reach out to one another "in Honor," as they put it, "of Half the Human Race"!! Calling themselves "Cosmic Patriots" millions of women are uniting under the slogan, "Let Us Embrace Peace." They are inviting all women (and maybe men, too) to join in a huge effort to obtain a comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an end to "Star Wars", Reductions in military budgets everywhere, and concentration on problems of poverty, illiteracy, hunger, sickness and alienation. Every woman here should surely enroll in that effort. Every man here should rejoice in this female initiative. Who says women cannot lead humanity to peace.

In the Philippines a middle-aged housewife with no political experience has suddenly demonstrated charisma, eloquence, and courage comparable to Joan of Arc. There, priests and nuns and school children, masses of citizens of all kinds, formed a human wall so deep and wide that soldiers and their tanks stopped before that human moat. Without support from any foreign power, and without any military means, the people of the Philippines have overthrown an autocrat, an oligarch and militarist, by one great outpouring of humanity!

Today, it is said, that "War can be decided by a few, whereas peace-requires the solidarity and involvement of all." The Philippinos have proved the validity of that statement. Peace Corps veterans can prove its validity here at home.

Who says that a great gathering of RPCV's in Washington in September could not contribute to Peace? I, for one, surely believe that thousands of PCV's converging on Washington for Peace would make headlines and impress millions. Because PCV's have proven their patriotism by hard work; they have earned their credentials. They know how difficult the work is -- how much patience and perseverance and humility is required -- but they also know the joy of bringing dignity to the distressed and lonely, education to the unschooled, health to the sick, food to the hungry. I ask you: Is this romantic idealism? Or have we been seeing in the Philippines a new vision of what is possible?

Yes, we are here today to celebrate. But I think we have also come to recommit ourselves to our own best ideals – the ideal of service to all mankind, to our fellow Americans as well as to peoples abroad. The Peace Corps was a "Flash of Spirit" for the world in the Sixties. It survived the Seventies. Today electricity is in the air again. Let us seize the moment both at home and abroad.

I wish that President Kennedy could be with us to see this 25th celebration. What would he say? I can hear him: --

"How many of you are willing to devote a large part of your lives now to the struggle for peace in the USA?"

To which I add:

How many of you are willing to go forth from this hallowed building determined, once again, to bring peace to people in need of hope, -- not overseas but here at home?"

To you, the Peace Corps' oldest recruits, I say the Peace Corps was made in the USA long before Bruce Springsteen. It is as authentic as Mom and Apple Pie. It is as up-to-date as "Live-Aid." It is the future. Its best days lie ahead!

A "Flash Of The Spirit" for the world in the sixties, may the Peace Corps flash across America's sky and into America's hearts even more deeply than it has penetrated and enlightened nooks and crannies, -- in far away lands!!

In this nuclear age, we must stop relying on weapons of war. Instead, we must rely on the strength of our ideas, our values, our firm conviction that "all men are created equal", and that "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" are the dream of all people everywhere.

Most of us cannot re-join the Peace Corps. It is in good hands and thousands of Volunteers are continuing its work overseas today. What we can do -- and what I am asking you to do tonight -- is to join the Peace effort here at home. Come to the Washington event in September! Re-involve yourselves in community-based, peace efforts.

Peace is our calling.
Peacemaking is our skill.
The world needs peace.
The USA needs peace.
Peace needs you.