Address to Bellarmine College

"This country was not founded simply so that more people could become richer. It was founded for a cause-- the cause of human freedom and liberty."
Bellarmine, KY • April 08, 1964

(On this occasion, Mr. Shriver received The Bellarmine Medal. He is the 10th recipient of the Medal.)

Your Excellency, Archbishop (John A.) Floersh, Monsignor (Alfred F.) Horrigan, Governor (Edward T.) Breathitt, Mayor (William O.) Cowger, Mr. (Louis A.) Arru, distinguished guests at the speakers’ platform, members of the clergy, my esteemed wife, and ladies and gentlemen -- I am deeply moved to receive this award, which, as all of you know, is really an award which should be bestowed upon the Peace Corps Volunteers, and not on me. I say that because the Volunteers are the people, who, by their performance in almost 50 countries around the world now for three years, have created the record of accomplishment which has redounded to my credit and made me the happy beneficiary this evening of this distinguished award.

I am grateful to the Board of Trustees, to Your Excellency the Chancellor, and to the President, Monsignor Horrigan, for giving me this citation and I assure you that the name of Bellarmine College will be well recorded in the pages of the Peace Corps Volunteer, a little magazine we have, which will soon be on its way to 10,000 Peace Corps Volunteers around the world. It’s the least I can do in acknowledgement of your great gift to me, and I thank you. (APPLAUSE)

I must say as I heard those eloquent words so beautifully expressed by Monsignor Horrigan, that I got a little nervous as he continued to talk about me. I am a little bit gun-shy, you might say, from an experience I survived-- but not too happily-- in a suburb of Chicago called Winnetka, where I went to speak several years ago to the League of Women Voters. The lady who presented me on that occasion did a lot of homework, and in the process found out I like to play tennis. At the climax of her introduction, she presented me as “one of Chicago’s best known racketeers.” (LAUGHTER) I thought actually that when I left Chicago and went down to Washington that most of my troubles would be over. But you know what they’re saying up in Washington these days: they’re saying that President Johnson was smart to give that poverty job to Shriver, because Shriver has been running the Peace Corps for three years and there is less peace in the world than ever -- maybe if he spends an equal amount of time on poverty there’ll be less of that than ever. (APPLAUSE)

Of course this new job that I have as a Presidential Assistant carries with it a lot of status and prestige which I didn’t have before. Frankly, however, I didn’t realize how important it was, until my brother-in-law, the Attorney General, called me up about two weeks ago and said, “Okay, Serge, this week you can play in the backfield."(LAUGHTER)

It’s great to be even an in-law in such a large family, but you’ll be interested to know that despite the ties of family, I have some trouble-- occasionally, at any rate -- with another brother-in-law, Ted Kennedy, the Senator from Massachusetts. In fact, he threatened to oppose the whole new poverty program in the Senate until I assured him that Senators wouldn’t have to serve in the Youth Corps. (LAUGHTER)

I’ve had a lot of problems in Washington, and one of them was, of course, when I took on this poverty assignment, I was a little worried about the many difficulties -- people told me how difficult it was to eliminate poverty. One fellow said to me, “Don’t worry, Sarge, all you have to do is create the program, get it through Congress, then go out and conquer poverty.”

It reminds me of the story about the Irish paratrooper who was making his first jump, and the jump-master said, “Now listen, don’t worry -- there’s nothing to it. You said you’d jump, and the chute opens automatically. But if it doesn’t open up,” he said, “you have an emergency chute, and all you do is pull that one and that opens up. And when you get down on the ground there will be a beach wagon there on the field to pick you up and take you back to the barracks, and they’ll give you a wonderful dinner of corned beef and cabbage.”

Well, the fellow jumped, and the first chute didn’t open up. Then he pulled the emergency cord, and the second chute didn’t open up, and he looked down, and. said, “I’ll bet that damned beach wagon-doesn’t show up.” (LAUGHTER)

Sometimes as the chief of staff on the war against poverty, I’ve been wondering whether that beach wagon is going to show up. I’ve been wondering whether there really was enough energy and vitality in the United States to conduct a successful war against poverty. But as I’ve looked back on the three years in the Peace Corps -- which has grown from an idea in a campaign speech to an organization with almost 8,000 Volunteers at work right today-- come to the conclusion that there is plenty of idealism and plenty of courage in young America, and in old America alike. New applications to the Peace Corps are arriving at headquarters today at a rate of better than 5,000 a month -- 60,000 a year. By Christmas we’ll have 10,000 Volunteers serving in 50 countries.

Many people think that this is a surprising success, but they’re surprised only because most of us didn’t know, or understand, the younger generation of Americans. We didn’t understand what they wanted, and how much they wanted it. We underestimated their toughness, their dedication, even their patriotism. Sometimes we almost spoke with contempt about young Americans. We were worried that they were soft and materialistic, that they had lost the drive and dedication which built this nation. But we were wrong. We were wrong because we had never tested them. We had never given them a real chance to serve their country and the ideals for which this country stands. This was a serious mistake -- serious because it cast doubt on the basis of belief which is at the heart of our society. This country was not founded simply so that more people could become richer. It was founded for a cause -- the cause of human freedom and liberty.

We subdued a Congress -- a continent, excuse me -- sometimes that helps, subdue a Congress. We subdued a continent, pushed back old frontiers, fought enemies, not simply to increase our wealth, but to enlarge our spirit. It is part of our weakness that we’re almost embarrassed to admit this that we find it easier to talk in terms of income and production than of freedom and justice. But our history is witness to the fact that when individual Americans have had to choose, they have sacrificed the warmth of the body, even life itself, so that we could preserve those truths which we hold to be self-evident.

Thus there is really nothing surprising about our Volunteers, or about the success of the Peace Corps. It is simply another episode in the ancient story, so magnificently represented by Saint Robert Bellarmine, the story that free men, when given the chance to choose, will prefer to work for a cause which transcends the pattern of their daily lives.

Today it’s fascinating to me that Khrushchev is making the same mistake about his people -- he seems to be making it -- and especially about his young people, that many people here made about our own. He recently said that the most important thing is that we should have more to eat —"good goulash,” he said, in Hungary. Those were strange words for a leader of a militant movement, whose ideology seeks to capture the minds of men all around the world. Moreover they are words which misunderstand the real desires and needs of Soviet youth itself. These desires were more accurately expressed, I believe, by Yevtushenko the young Russian poet, who recently published a brief autobiography. It was translated into English, and in that biography, he wrote -- among other things -- these words: “Never, never has the Biblical saying"-- this is a Communist quoting the Bible -- “Never has the Biblical saying, ‘man does not live by bread alone,’ had such a ring of truth as it does today. Man has a need to dream; however prosperous, a man will be always dissatisfied if he has no high ideal. Where there is plenty of bread and a shortage of idealism, bread is no substitute for an ideal. But where bread is short, ideals are bread.” That’s a Communist Yevtushenko.

Those are not the kind of words most of us expect to hear from a Communist. To me they represent both a threat and a hope -- a threat because these words carry communism beyond its historic appeal to the stomach, to include an appeal to the spirit. A hope, because these words tell us that within the Soviet Union, some far-sighted young leaders are moving closer to ideas which they can hold in common with our own people.

And this same hope, the hope of common ideals, is spreading throughout the world. One of the great joys of my job has been the fact that it brought me in touch with young people all over the globe. I’ve been struck by the fact that a youth in a university in Thailand, in Bangkok, or in a government ministry in Africa, or on a farm in Brazil or Venezuela -- all of them want to talk about the same things. They desire progress for their nations, and freedom for their people. They want an end to war and conflict. They see danger in the cold war, and injustice in the fact that most of the world is poor, while a very few are rich. The fact is that they are closer to their contemporaries in other lands than they are to the older generations in their own lands. They’re not the silent generation, or the rebellious generation, or the frivolous generation -- they are the concerned generation, concerned not only with their own futures, but for the future of the world that they inhabit. In this they are more admirable than many generations which have gone before them. I think we’re lucky that the future is in their hands. For, given the chance, they could. begin to undo much of the suspicion and hatred, the tortured injustice which they have inherited from us.

The Peace Corps has given such a chance to many, and its success is a measure of the strength of the ideals and the dedication of our young people. But it’s only a beginning. If we do not draw back, if we make available many other opportunities for service to all, the day will come when hundreds of thousands of Volunteers will be serving the cause of peace abroad and of progress at home. Now this is not a vague prophecy, for such a movement of service and struggle has already begun. It began in the Peace Corps three years ago, and. tens of thousands -- almost 100,000 -- have now volunteered for this movement. It is now beginning in the war against poverty, and early reactions indicated that there will be an enormous response to this latest challenge.

The distinguished correspondent, the head of the Washington Bureau of the New York Times, James Reston, said this in his column of March 19 in the Times: “Something is happening on the campus. In some ways, these student leaders are ahead of the government. And when the Congress finally gets around to backing a domestic Peace Corps, and backing President Johnson’s war on poverty, quite a few young American men and women will already be in the field in action.”

Both of these efforts, the Peace Corps and the war against poverty, offer a specific, tangible, concrete opportunity to men and women to help their fellowman, to use their hands and their skills and their brains directly and intimately to build a new kind of a world. Of course, it’s true that there are pessimists who say you can’t win this war against poverty. I know we can, but I sometimes feel like that rabbit, that little rabbit who left Washington and ran rapidly south through Virginia during the time of the McCarthy investigations. You remember that a bird flew down and asked the rabbit why he was running, running away from Washington so fast. The little rabbit said, “Why they’re shooting tigers up there.”

“But you’re not a tiger,” said the bird.

“I know,” said the rabbit, “but I can’t prove it.” (LAUGHTER)

I haven’t the time tonight to prove that we can win the war against poverty, though I think I could. But the Peace Corps proves that many unexpected and unsuspected accomplishments can be achieved by people with spirit and, dedication. I’ll never forget two Peace Corps Volunteers, working in the town of Bani in the Dominican Republic. They had been there a little while, organizing 4-H clubs, teaching the local people how to improve the strain of poultry, planting vegetable gardens around the local school, improving irrigation methods, use of fertilizer, use of new seeds, when the government decided to transfer them to another village. When the people of Bani heard this news they organized a town meeting. One of the villagers stood up and told the government official: “There have never been civil disturbances in this area of the Dominican Republic, but if you take away our friends, there will be the worst riots you’ve ever seen.” Your Excellency, I’m embarrassed to say that on this occasion the local Catholic priest who had been working with these Volunteers, got up and said, “And if there is a riot, I’ll lead it.”

However violently expressed, this was a demonstration of what Father Robert Henle, the Vice President of St. Louis University, meant when he said not long ago, “The Peace Corps is giving Latin America a new view of the United States. They see love instead of power.” This kind of love is power. The dedication, the strength of conviction which moves young people like this is the most powerful force in the world today. We are fortunate that in the Peace Corps and in the war against poverty, we have begun to use and to channel this new force --both are part of the same effort. In the Peace Corps we strengthen our nation by creating understanding and hope in foreign countries. In the war against poverty we are trying to create within our own boundaries the kind of society whose strength and humanity will make it worthy of world leadership.

People in other countries understand this, Sometimes I think they understand it better than we do. In January, just two months ago, I was in Thailand, and, received an honorary degree of Doctor of Political Science at the university there in Bangkok. And the Foreign Minister of Thailand, Thanat Khoman, gave a short address on that occasion. And in it he said these words, which I shan’t forget -- I hope you will remember them!

“It is indeed striking that this important idea, the most powerful idea in recent times, of a Peace Corps, of youth mingling, living, working with youth, should come from this mightiest nation on earth, the United States of America. Many of us who did not know about the United States thought of this nation as a wealthy nation, a powerful nation, endowed with great material strength and many powerful weapons. But how many of us know that in the United States ideas and ideals are also powerful? This is the secret of your greatness, of your might, which is based not on imposing or crushing your people, but is filled with hope, of future goodwill and understanding.”

That’s an eloquent expression of the point I’m trying to make here tonight.

If I’m right, the desire to serve and fight against the ancient enemies of poverty and hatred, injustice and war, is the most powerful force we have. If I’m right about that, and I think I am, then it is our obligation to create opportunities for service in all those wars. Now, this can’t be done by one or two organizations in Washington. It’s got to be done on every level of our national life. Communities, just like this one -- Louisville, or Frankfurt, or Covington -- can enlist in the war against poverty and draw up their own plans for fighting poverty as it exists in their communities. We will help them technically and financially. Educators and politicians alike can mobilize local leadership and talent to meet the unfinished problems of their towns and cities, ranging from the need. for health care and better recreation, to better schools and equal rights for men of every color. Individuals can join the Peace Corps, or the proposed new job corps, and. they can participate in state and, local programs to help the poor. Business and labor can focus their efforts to create new opportunities for jobs. The problems of our society, both at home and abroad are complex and vast, but the potential reservoir of committed men and women is also vast. If we have the strength and the will to match the people to the needs, then we will win the struggle for a better America. This will not be a victory against communism or against dictatorship -- it will be a victory for freedom, and, for peace.

Many people must become engaged in this struggle, but no warriors in it will surpass two Peace Corps Volunteers -- one of them David Crozier, who was killed in an airplane crash in Colombia in South America. Just before he died he wrote a letter home to his parents, and, they subsequently sent a quotation from it to me in Washington. In that letter David said to his parents:

“If it should. come to it, I’d rather give my life trying to help these people, than to have to give my life looking down a gun barrel at them.”

That quotation exemplifies the war for freedom and for the improvement of man. David Crozier died in a crash which also took the life of another Peace Corps Volunteer, Lawrence Radley from Chicago. They were the first two Peace Corps Volunteers to die in Peace Corps service. Crozier was a Baptist from Missouri. Radley was a Jewish boy from Chicago. They died, working without pay, for a Catholic country in South America. That fact exemplifies the Peace Corps and the war for freedom and for man.

Ten months later, in Washington, the Selection Division of the Peace Corps sent a little piece of white paper up to my desk, and it told me that David Crozier’s sister had volunteered for the Peace Corps and was going into training for service abroad. I thought of her parents, God-fearing Americans, who had already given a son voluntarily without any draft, and were now giving another child for freedom and for mankind.

And then three months later the Selection Division sent me another piece of paper, announcing that Lawrence Radley’s sister had joined the Peace Corps, and I thought of her family, and of their spirit of voluntary sacrifice.

This spirit was summed up, I think, in immortal words by the famous musician, Pablo Casals, the cellist, who spoke to a Peace Corps meeting in Puerto Rico almost two years ago. This old man, he’s 80-some years old, had been working all day in New York City, recording with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. He flew hours on a plane back to San Juan, Puerto Rico, then he drove an hour out into the country, and it was 9 or 9:30 at night when he had, a chance to speak. He was so tired he couldn’t stand up -- so we put the microphone on the table in front of him. And Pablo Casals said this:

“The Peace Corps is new, and it’s also very old. In it we have come to realize that it is not dollars or factories that count. We have come to realize that above any economic development and beyond any use of material resources of dollars or of wealth, that it is man who matters; it is man who is the object of all of our efforts.”

That has been the spirit of the Peace Corps. That must be the spirit of the war against poverty. Both of those operations, and many others will be successful, in my judgment, because that is the spirit of America. It’s the spirit which made this country possible in the beginning, and. which has kept it great throughout the years. It’s the spirit which I hold out to you tonight, in hopes that every person in this room, or within the sound of my voice, would join in this war, for peace, and. against poverty, and for our country. Thank you.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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