Speech at the Texas Judicial Conference
"Most Americans don’t seem to realize that we are in the midst of the first election the world has ever held --- and maybe the last. Will the people of the world choose free government or tyranny --- that’s the issue."
I am happy to address this distinguished audience of judges and lawyers, not as specialists in the legal profession, but as full citizens of a free democracy -- as interested and thoughtful Americans, conscientiously concerned with the future of our country and of the world.
You have asked me to report to you on the progress of the Peace Corps. I am glad to do so. I want to tell you about some of the people who are serving in the corps, where they are working, what they are doing, what we envision for the future, and what we believe we are accomplishing. The Peace Corps got started eighteen months ago. I remember the jokes, the skepticism, the puns, and the chuckles.
Robert Ruark called us “the Kiddy Korps.” Constantine Brown dubbed us “a citizen’s crusade.” Congresswoman Bolton of Ohio said she was “terrified” by the thought of young Americans going overseas with the Peace Corps. Judge Smith of Virginia, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, voted against us because “do-gooder,” he said, “can cause more harm than good.”
The Walter Lippman of India described us as a weed growing in President Kennedy’s garden. I haven’t forgotten the critics’ warnings that we were a “soft generation” of Americans, too flabby and too selfish to give up television, air conditioning, beautyrest mattresses, private automobiles, and hamburgers to serve in the Peace Corps. The idea is good, everyone said, “but it simply won’t work. America doesn’t have the capacity to carry it out.” The leader of Burma, U Nu, asked me: “Mr. Shriver, do you really think young Americans from Kokomo, Indiana, have the guts and the spirit to compete against the Communists?”
That was eighteen months ago. Since then Robert Ruark (and many others in the Fourth Estate) have reversed themselves and come out publicly in support of the Peace Corps. Congress has authorized the Peace Corps by a 4-1 vote. Two of those voting for us this year were Mrs. Boton and Judge Smith. The only opponents of the Peace Corps today are the Communists. They call us America’s “cold war soldiers.”
Why have so many people changed their minds about the Peace Corps? The simple fact is this: The Peace Corps is working. Congress has said so. Foreign newspapers have said so. Foreign governments have said so. Our press has said so. And Americans are always willing to change their minds about something -- provided it works.
By the end of November we will have more than 4,000 Volunteers in training or overseas in 40 different countries. Every country where Volunteers are already working has requested more of them. The story of the Peace Corps today is the story of what these Americans are already doing! Their success and their failures -- and of the significance to all of us of their activities.
They are working as farmers, surveyors, teachers, nurses, lab technicians, 4-H workers, mechanics, construction workers, and doctors. They are working in countries allied with the West -- like Thailand, Turkey, Venezuela, Pakistan, the Philippines. But they are also serving in many of the so-called “neutral nations” -- in Ghana, India, Nepal, and Afghanistan.
Two winners of the Lenin Prize ---- Nkrumah in Ghana and Toure’ in Guinea --- have both praised the Peace Corps. We are already working in Ghana and we will soon be in Guinea. These two idols of the Communist bloc have demonstrated an extraordinary confidence in the Peace Corps, in its integrity, and its capacity, by inviting us into their classrooms to teach their youth.
I have just returned from the Far east. I lived, ate, slept, walked, and talked with 350 Peace Corps Volunteers. The news is good. Out there the slogan “Yankee go home” has been replaced by “Send us more Peace Corps Volunteers ...” All over the Far East the “Bamboo Telegraph” has been working overtime to spread the good nes that a new breed of Americans is on the job. In Thailand they are called “the Phrongs (round eyes) who speak Thai.” (We were in Thailand before the Marines and we’re still there!) In the Philippines our Volunteers are working in rural villages and are described by Filipino in Manila as “the Americans from the country --- (thumbs up!)
This news has reached Indonesia where the welcome mat is being dusted off for the Peace Corps. All over the world Volunteers are living alongside local people --- in thatched roof cottages, in sample huts, in private homes. The most dissatisfied Volunteers are those living in houses provided by foreign governments --- they think it’s too comfortable.
These Volunteers are living in rice paddy villages, on isolated islands where few if any westerners have every been seen, in cosmopolitan cities and on safari in Africa. Especially in the big cities they are confronting communists, leftists, socialists, and others whose views are different. Peace Corps Volunteers are not just “talking” about those differences --- they are working in ways which cannot fail to show the differences.
They are working alongside of and not above the citizens of the foreign country. They are speaking their language. They are working without commissary privileges or PX rights. They are receiving an income just sufficient that in all languages and in all climates and under all systems, actions speak louder than words.
Peace Corps Volunteers do not like being called “heros.” They resent any implication that they are making “great sacrifices” --- even when their monthly living allowance is only $60. Some of them are disappointed that the conditions are not as tough as they expected. Their greatest worry is that they will fail --- that they will fail their country, their old friends at home and their new friends abroad, and, above all, themselves.
So far few of them have failed. Sixteen of the first one thousand had to come home and six of those were for compassionate reasons. Only ten field to make the adjustment abroad. We have made mistakes --- like sending a Kansas cattle rancher to Jamaica where he ended up a plumber. But these are passing problems and Volunteers are overcoming them by the patience of their ways and the simplicity of their own personal needs.
Volunteers are meeting critical needs in other countries. In Thailand, there were schools where pupils met faithfully everyday for scheduled science classes --- but until Peace Corps Volunteers arrived, there were no teachers. In northern Malaya, a child-care clinic at the end of a narrow road in heavy jungle had gone unstuffed --- until two Peace Corps nurses arrived. In Ghana, by Nkrumah’s own estimate, seventeen of his schools would not have opened last year if Peace Corps teachers had not come to help.
On one single day in Ethiopia last month we made it possible to double the number of students in the secondary schools as 275 Volunteers arrived to serve in the classrooms of that country. But the benefits of the Peace Corps are reciprocal. One year and six months ago I was asking myself: “What’s in it for the USA? I’m a taxpayer --- what does my country get for my dollars spent on the Peace Corps?” I knew that if the Peace Corps were only a humanitarian, do-good operant, it belonged to the province of missionary work and private agencies abroad. For the government to operate a Peace Corps, there had to be some hard, tough, practical justifications in terms the taxpayers could understand.
What are those justifications? First, there was the obvious fact that if we field to help the underdeveloped countries, the Communists would step in if we stepped out. Now governments need qualified people. They need trained manpower if they are to become viable, free societies. But they don’t have enough trained men and women. They must turn to one of two sources: the Free World or the Communist Bloc. If we did not move to fill the gap, we could be sure the Communists would. The Peace Corps was one, practical, down-to-earth way the United States could move effectively and economically to help those countries help themselves.
Second, the Peace Corps was justified by the need of Americans to know what’s happening in the world. The United States can’t afford to have its citizens insulated like a poor little rich boy protected from the realities and rigors of life around them. A free democracy’s blood is knowledge. Peace Corps Volunteers are getting that knowledge through first-hand experience. No longer will they be guilty of what one Volunteer described as the three “cardinal sins of not knowing, not caring, not acting.”
Most Americans don’t seem to realize that we are in the midst of the first election the world has ever held --- and maybe the last. Will the people of the world choose free government or tyranny --- that’s the issue. It’s being debated in every precinct of the world. The words and the methods and the personalities may be different, but the central issue is the same: the ultimate destiny of mankind. If we’re going to win this election, we have got to know the “voters” in Calcutta like a candidate for governor of Texas must know the voters in Corpus Christi.
Volunteers are going to know them. We’re going to bring back to this country every year 5,000 men and women who will have been out working in the precincts. They’re going to know what the Cold War is all about. They’re going to know it’s a deadly serious business. They’re going to understand the urgency of the militant effort for Peace. When these Volunteers come home they will be informed Americans. They can become our most enlightened teachers, our keenest politicians, our most dedicated lawyers. They’re going to prove that the younger generation is not complacent, and we’re going to be proud of them.
There was another justification for using tax dollars for the Peace Corps. We had to give the people of the world a true picture of the real meaning of democracy. We are doing it not with speeches or films, but with people. Here’s what a missionary wrote from the Philippines:
“The impact created by the arrival of 300 Peace Corps Volunteers was greater than the impact of the fifty megaton bomb exploded by Khrushev. Out here, 10,000 miles from home, people get impressions of America which are terribly unjust. For most of the people out here, America means Al Capone, Billy the Kid, divorce, two cars, and one lonesome baby in an overstuffed cradle in a jumbo sized house ...”
“The Peace Corps,” he went on, “is the greatest export the United States has ever made, better than swing machines, TV sets, refrigerators, tractors, or jeeps ..... One American living in a Filipino town is worth more than a whole boatload of corn. A boatload of corn is hard to digest, but a real live American, him they can love.”
The cynics are quick to point out that “love” cannot stop a rocket, that understanding and goodwill among people are vulnerable to the searing heat of an exploding bomb, that the “image” of a nation is only vapor in a rain of bullets --- and they are right. But the nature of a free society, built upon Judeo-Christian principles, dictates that our military arsenal must serve as a deterrent only.
Does this leave us at the mercy of a system that aggressively spreads its ideology in sinister and subtle ways? Does this mean we are to permit that system to continue its appropriation and corruption of the basic words of our vocabulary --- words like “freedom,” “democracy,” “peace,” “the people.” Are the peoples of the world to know what those words really mean, or only what the Communists say they mean? Does this mean we can not act --- we can only re-act? The answers: a resounding NO.
The presence of Peace Corps Volunteers throughout the world means that democracy is on the offensive, using peaceful and decent means to demonstrate the basic values of our society. The fact that patriotic, free men and women of their own volition have volunteered to work for the people of other nations ---- this is a fact the Communists can never refute. This is a performance they can never emulate.
Peace Corps Volunteers are America’s door-to-door representatives in the villages of the world. They are as important to us as a dealership in Wimberly, Texas, is to Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan. They are to democracy what precinct workers are to a political party. I am not suggesting that Volunteers are political propagandists. They are not soap-box orators. They do not go armed with a copy of the Constitution which they read aloud every evening in the town square.
If they behaved this way or if they joined the Peace Corps to propagandize, they would fail. Instead, they go abroad as examples of the best values of our society --- the profile of our national character --- the personal embodiment of our principles, our dreams, and our hopes. These things have always been meaningful to us, and we have always believed they had universal application.
When Indonesia gained its independence, there were signs painted on walls, on the sides of buildings, on the sidewalks, on fences. They were in English --- words like “independence” and “Give me Liberty or Give me Death.” There were no quotations from Krushev. There was not a single line out of Karl Marx. There was not one sentence from Lenin.
These were the words of the American Revolution. Ten thousand miles away from their origin 100 and 200 years later --- they were fanning hopes in the hearts of men. No wonder that when President Suharto of Indonesia opened the Bandung Conference of Afro-Asian people in 1955 he started his speech with these words: “We are meeting on the 180th anniversary of the ride of Paul Revere. The American Revolution is the spiritual ancestor of our own revolution.”
The tragedy, ladies and gentlemen, is that while the vocabulary of democracy is in currency out there, these people have seen too few Americans really practicing democracy. We’re going to catch up. Lawyers will help us. Our latest request from abroad is for American lawyers who will help the world’s new nations build efficient systems of justice.
Since 1950, for example, twenty-nine countries in Africa have become independent nations. They know that they cannot develop viable democracies without the supremacy of law. So some of them are asking us for lawyers:
--- for research assistants and clerks to justices;
--- for tax lawyers to supply legislative advice, develop enforcement procedures and prepare litigation in connection with a brand new personal income tax law;
--- legal administrators to help local court judges who lack formal education with adjective law questions;
--- law instructors, including some to teach students now studying law by correspondence;
--- house counsel for a wholly public corporation with land acquisition, leases, and other contract problems;
--- lawyers to update case reports and initiate scholarly commentary on current legal problems.
How would you gentlemen like to hear cases or practice law if your Texas law reports were six years behind today’s date? Comprehensive current reporting is basic to the “rule of law.” Competence in editing case reports is crucial. One country particularly believes the Peace Corps can help supply that competence. We agree.
These examples of the lawyer skills needed in Africa are only illustrative. We recognize that the judiciary and the administration of justice are sensitive areas in young nations and we are proceeding with prudence. But we are excited by the prospects of what lawyers can do in the Peace Corps, especially in those areas where the common law system --- inherited through the British colonial system --- already has roots.
We hope you are excited, too. And if any of you individually want to join, I want to point out that once your youngest child is 18, you are eligible. If you do volunteer, you will be joining the ranks of Americans who are rapidly destroying some of the basic myths about our country. They are destroying the myth that we are too soft for the job. Americans are proving that they have the tough minds and the willing hearts for difficult assignments around the world.
They are destroying the myth that Americans are only interested in material comforts of life --- in good salaries, control air conditioning, split-levels on corner lots, new cars, and retirement benefits.
A Volunteer in the remote hinterlands of the Philippines told me: “Mr. Shriver, I would not change jobs for $50,000 a year.” I have seen American girls living in houses without electricity, without modern plumbing, without refrigerators. They weren’t soft; they were simply untested. They are being tested today --- and they are responding magnificently.
They are also destroying the myth that Congress is too cynical and too provincial to support a program like the Peace Corps. The vote in the House this year was 4 to 1. Last night Congress gave us 59 million dollars to expand the program to near 10,000 Volunteers by this time next year. We have been given overwhelming, bi-partisan support by both Houses. Someone said the Peace Corps is the first Agency of the Government ever to have the combined, simultaneous support of Barry Goldwater and Hubert H. Humphrey.
There is another myth the Peace Corps is destroying --- the myth that it costs too much money to run a program like the Peace Corps. It costs $9,000 a year to train, transport, and maintain a Volunteer. That cost includes everything --- overhead, administration, living allowance, clothing allowance, housing, medical care, and equipment. That figure compares favorably with similar costs for missionaries.
Finally, there is the myth that the Communists are tougher and smart than we are. Peace Corps Volunteers are proving this is not so. They are neither tougher nor smarter, and the people in the rest of the world are beginning to realize that fact.
In those countries where the Peace Corps is operating, there is present today a new awareness of American vitality --- the presence of people who represent a society on the move. It is this airiness of the energy and compassion --- of the integrity and the ability of the Volunteers --- that the Peace Corps is bringing to nations charting their course for the future.
Why are we doing it? The ultimate answer was expressed by the President in his inaugural Address: “To those people in the huts and villages of the one-half of the globe, struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them --- not because the Communists may be doing it ..... but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”