Two years ago I would have come here to talk about an idea. I would have told you what a great thing the Peace Corps could be. How much it would do for America, and the world. I would have been trying to sell an idea—sell it to Congress, to the American public, and to the people we were trying to attract into Peace Corps ranks.
Speaking to this audience I don't feel I have to do that anymore. Now that the Peace Corps has the combined endorsement of the New York Post, and the Los Angeles Times of Hubert Humphrey, and Barry Goldwater; it doesn't have to devote quite as much energy to persuading people it's a good idea.
We have 7,000 people working in 46 countries. This year more, and higher quality Americans -- almost 40,000 of them -- are volunteering for Peace Corps service. And our Volunteers are living and working overseas, without special privileges, under rigorous conditions, and without pay.
This is our record. It is well known. We are content to rest on it.
What I would like to discuss tonight are not the facts of the Peace Corps experience -- but what the experience means. You are concerned with the great issues of foreign affairs. What relationship has the Peace Corps to those issues?
We might all agree that the Peace Corps is a nice thing, that it has worked well, that it is educational, that it has even helped a number of persons abroad to know more about America,
But what of it?
In this world of the cold war and the many little hot wars, of the hydrogen bomb, the Atlantic Alliance and the Sino-Soviet split, what room is there for a Peace Corps?
What difference can it possibly make--in the face of such enormous and complex forces--that a few thousand Americans go overseas to serve man? Isn't it an illusion to think that the Peace Corps might actually help to bring peace--help to change the world?
Let me start my answer with a question.
What is going to change the world? If you believe men must live together in a different way in this new world of the hydrogen bomb how is this going to come about?
Guns won't change the world. That is one of the great lessons of this bloody century. Dollar bills won't change the world. Nor will simple good will or even international organizations.
What can change the world today is the same thing that has changed it in the past -- an idea and the service of dedicated, committed individuals to that idea. That is how religious movements helped change the world. It is the secret of whatever power communism has: had. It was the motive power of the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. It is the reason the American Revolution is still resounding throughout today's world. "NO army," wrote Victor Hugo, "can withstand the force of an idea whose time has come." But for an idea to conquer it needs men and women who believe in it, who will work for it, who will dedicate their lives to it.
The Peace Corps is a group of men and women dedicated to an idea.
Recently I was visited by an Indonesian official. He told me there had been more than 50 protest meetings against the Peace Corps in his country. Dozens of newspaper articles attacked us. Demands were made that the Indonesian government refuse to permit out 21 Volunteers to land on Indonesian soil.
"Why," I asked him, "is there such concern over 21 Americans? You would think that we were starting germ warfare in Indonesia,"
He replied: "In a certain sense, Mr. Shriver, you are. In Indonesia we have many more than 21 Americans, and if these, volunteers were simply 21more Americans, there would be no interest in them at all. But these Volunteers come to Indonesia representing an idea, the Peace Corps idea. That's why there is opposition. Your volunteers may well infect thousands of Indonesians with the ideas of a free, Democratic society. In that sense you may be starting germ warfare."
In the Dominican Republic, following the recent revolution, the U.S. government suspended aid and diplomatic relations. But the Peace Corps kept on working. An experienced Latin American correspondent, sent to cover the latest Carribean crisis wrote, "Political crises may come and go...but the Peace Corps has taken deep root , the Peace Corps is the most radical political operation which the United States has going in the Dominican Republic, no less than in the rest of Latin America."
This is so, not because the Peace Corps is radically different from anything we know. It is so because the Peace Corps is a working model-eta microcosm "of the enduring ideals of this country. It is a small society representing the kind of world we want our children to live in.
It is, first of all, a democratic society.
A Volunteer's color, his religion, and his political beliefs, are irrelevant.
We have sent black Americans to white men's countries; white Americans to black men's countries. We were told that we couldn't send Protestants to certain parts of Catholic countries, in Latin America. But we sent them.
We were told that we couldn't send Jews to Arab countries. But we sent them.
And in two and a half years these decisions have not cost us a moment of discontent. They haven't caused a single incident.
Our Volunteers go overseas as free men – free to travel, to write and to speak as they please, We have built no wall of censorship or authoritarian discipline around them.
And on the job, they are on their own. What they accomplish is a product of their own initiative and ability and imagination.
In East Pakistan, a single Volunteer, Robert Burns of St. Louis, engineered flood control works and supervised 1,000 village laborers in a successful effort to overcome rising waters. For the first time in many years destructive waters were diverted from the rice fields of 10,000 families. No one told Robert Burns to begin a project which saved 10,000 families from hunger and starvation. No one could have told him. He did it because the Peace Corps provides a framework in which individuals can use their own initiative and talents to help others. That is an important element of the Peace Corps society -- reliance on the creative energies of dedicated individuals.
Nor do our Volunteers go overseas as the salesmen of a particular political theory, or economic system, or religious creed. They go to work with people not to employ them, use them, or advise them. They do what the country they go to wants them to do-- not what they think or we think is best. They live among the people, sharing their homes, eating their food, talking their language, living under their laws -- not in special compounds with special privileges.
But if the Volunteer is not a salesman, neither is he a man without a mission. He goes overseas not merely as a willing and a skilled worker but as a representative, a living example, of the most powerful idea of all. The idea that free and committed men and women can cross boundaries of culture and language, or alien tradition and great disparities of wealth, of old hostilities and new nationalisms, to meet with other men and women on the common ground of service to human welfare and human dignity.
And if this idea isn't going to change the world, then this world is beyond redemption! It will require many years; and a much greater effort for this idea to succeed -- not only by the Peace Corps by other men and institutions in all countries. But the impact we have had so far has given a faint glimmer -- a shadow no bigger than a man’s hand -- of the possibilities of the future.
There are now 7,000 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in 46 countries. They are located at 2,400 different posts, compared to 302 for the State Department. Next year we will have more than 11,000 in the field at almost 5,000 different places in 50 countries.
Every country which now has Volunteers has asked for more.
Two dozen countries which do not have Volunteers have requested them.
In Ghana more than a third of all degree holding instructors in the secondary schools are Peace Corps Volunteers.
In Ethiopia and Nyasaland more than a third of all the teachers are Volunteers.
In Jamaica Volunteers are helping to train the 20% percent of the workforce which is chronically unemployed.
In Sierra Leone more than half of all the qualified teachers are Volunteers, more than the British supplied when Sierra Leone was a colony. And they are there by invitation, not by conquest.
In the Philippines more than 500 Volunteers are teaching in hundreds of villages. The Manila Evening News wrote: "Peace Corps workers achieved in less than two years an understanding with Asian peoples that promises to pass all tests."
In Sarawak Peace Corps Volunteers cut their way through unbroken jungles to find new locations for bridges and roads. And a local official said "They're not your people anymore, they're mine," This work is already having a measurable impact on attitudes and feelings about America and, more importantly, about the free society it represents.
In Arequipa, Peru a Communist group met on October 30th and demanded the "immediate expulsion of the Peace Corps from the country.” They were answered, but not by the Peace Corps, or the government of Peru, or by the oligarch and land owners. They were answered by the association of slum dwellers of Arequipa, with whom our Volunteers live and work. "We raise our most energetic protest the slum dwellers leader said, "against the attitude of a few persons who did not see the reality of the benefits being received by thousands of workers."
In the Dominican Republic a group of young Dominicans were painting the slogan "Yankee Go Home" on a stone wall, while a Volunteer watched. When they finished he said, "I guess that means I'll have to go home." The leaders of the group turned to him in dismay and said: "No, we mean Yankees, not the Peace Corps.”
In Malaya a guitar was stolen front the home of a woman Volunteer. That day two local youths came to see the girl and explained that they were sure the guitar would not have been taken if the thief had known she was a Peace Corps Volunteer. The next day the guitar was back.
On a larger scale, three months ago in the Philippines I received, on behalf of the Peace Corps, the Ramon Magsaysay Award a $10,000 prize given to persons in Asia who "exemplify in spirit, integrity and devotion to liberty, the late President of the Philippines. This is Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Nominations are made by sixteen countries and checked out at the "grass roots level. Never has a non-Asian group won this award.
But perhaps the greatest testimony to the impact of the Peace Corps—the sincerest form of f1attery is the fact that other western nations are following our lead. In the past year nearly every European country has expanded or established Peace Corps programs of their own. And we are on the verge of seeing the Peace Corps movement become the most widespread peaceful volunteer movement the world has ever seen.
The Peace Corps is not only having an impact abroad. It will have an impact here, in our own country. And that is as it should be. For to the Volunteers, changing the world means changing New York as well as Africa, Alabama as well as Latin America. And they will return here with the same sense of mission and commitment which took them overseas.
Every year thousands will come back to American society having worked among strange people, in foreign lands, under often arduous conditions. They will come back into the mainstream of American life into schools and government, business and civic activities --- bring with them a first-hand knowledge of America's responsibilities toward the world, and the way in which individual service can help meet those responsibilities.
We have some indication of what this will mean in the plans of the first 465 Volunteers to return.
Two hundred and thirty-two-of them will continue their education, 14 on special scholarships totaling $103,000, to better fit them for today's demands. They have seen how much knowledge is needed to cope with today's complex world.
Fifty-nine want to go to work in the federal government the State Department USIA, the Peace Corps itself. From first-hand experience, I am sure they will be a healthy if sometimes disturbing influence in our bureaucracy. Others look for a chance to serve in state and local governments.
Many are going to become teachers, 61 of the returning Volunteers. A group of ten of them have already begun to teach at Cardozo High School--a school in one of the worst slums of Washington. "I had planned to return to Alabama to teach, " said one, "but the Cardozo project is so similar to the Peace Corps --- so creative that I had to come here."
But most important of all, these Volunteers will bring back home not only skills and experience but the same ideals they carried overseas--the American ideals of world community and service to common needs which we have too often forgotten or neglected in our rush to power and affluence.
This is part of the Peace Corps story - the Peace Corps' hopes.
The strength of those hopes must rest on the strength of the American ideals on which they are based. Throughout most of the world these ideals are respected. I have seen "Give me liberty or give me death,” or, "All men are created equal" scrawled on the walls of newly independent nations. When President Sukarno opened the Bandung Conference of Afro-Asian people in 1955 he began by saying: "We are meeting on the 180th anniversary of the ride of Paul Revere, The American Revolution is the spiritual ancestor of our own revolution."
Our ideals are not in question. What people doubt is our ability to live according to those ideals. They doubt our will and our dedication. They are afraid we do not practice what we have so nobly preached. And, unfortunately, the actions of some Americans overseas have lent strength to such doubts; as have the many failures of our democratic society here at home.
The Peace Corps is an effect to put those ideals into practice. And, in hundreds of villages across the globe people are beginning to get a different picture of our country, and the kind of world it wants.
Changing the world is a slow, and uncertain process. But we should remember it was Adolf Hitler who wrote: "If an idea is right in itself, and if thus armed it embarks on the struggle in this world, it is invincible..." These are strange words from a man of power and terror. But Adolf Hitler was right. And he was ultimately destroyed not simply because others had more men or more factories but because the corruption and evil of his idea was a fatal defect.
The idea which the Peace Corps represents the American idea-- is "right in itself." The Peace Corps society, free, open, believing that all men can find fulfillment in service to the common good---that society can be our passkey to the future. Armed with the moral strength of this idea, determined to translate it into the working reality of everyday life, we can change the world. And if we do, it will be these young Volunteers, our fellow Americans, who will have shown us the way.