Marking a Peace Corps Anniversary

“We have showered money on the Pentagon to strengthen our capacity to wage war. We have exponentially increased our power to kill. We must now increase our capacities — moral, intellectual, and political — to wage peace.”
Sargent Shriver |Ann Arbor, MI| October 7, 1985

Our Quote of the Week marks the anniversary of a pivotal day for the Peace Corps: on March 1, 1961, President John Kennedy signed an executive order that brought the Peace Corps into existence. Three weeks later, on March 22, 1961, Kennedy would appointment Sargent Shriver to be the Director of the organization.

Sargent Shriver’s 1985 Address Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Peace Corps is one of several speeches from Shriver’s later years that shows his continued support for the Peace Corps and peacebuilding. Although he spends some time recounting the origins and history of the Peace Corps, he is very much rooted in the present and looking to the future. He asks the audience to focus on a new direction for the country, i.e., “Strength through Peace”. He highlights the importance of “seeking peace,” and stresses that it is time to move away from a militaristic approach to showing strength, to a broad demonstration of the ability to “wage peace”.

During the period in which Sargent Shriver led the Peace Corps (1961 to 1966), it was his intention that the institution should be an instrument for service, collaboration, and problem-solving so powerful, that it could bring about stability and peace on a global scale. Note that in the speech, Shriver emphasizes the importance of service as a method of “waging peace":

“The Peace Corps’ nature was specifically designed to answer Kennedy’s challenge [to service]. Its nature was peaceful. Its nature was to call upon all Americans to serve — overseas for at least two years, and to serve at home for the rest of their lives. [...] We should support the idea of a universal opportunity for national service for all young people in our country. I do not mean, solely or primarily, military service. The military couldn’t use all our young people anyhow. I recommend, as I have many times before, that we call upon all young persons, and that we pay them a minimum sum, to serve their
 fellow citizens here at home. This service should be as normal as graduation from high school. It should be an accepted part of growing up in America — a common expectation of what’s expected from everyone.”

Since the early days of the Peace Corps, advancements in everything from transportation to communications have made us significantly more interconnected as a species. We can leverage our connections to make our human family much more unified and prosperous, or, as daily news stories remind us, we can use them to make ourselves more vulnerable to everything from pandemics to climate change to war. The bottom line is that human beings need each other for our very survival and only by waging peace can we ensure our collective well-being.

Today and all month, we are celebrating the accomplishments of the Peace Corps, an institution that continues to evolve with the times. We salute the 2,400 Volunteers who are currently serving; they are the first among those returning to service since the COVID-19 pandemic. And we extend our gratitude to the 240,000+ Volunteers who have served since Sargent Shriver first led the organization. Last but not least, we’re giving a shout-out to the National Peace Corps Association, who continue to bring together Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) and who advocate for the importance of the Peace Corps, with actions like the National Day of Advocacy on Capitol Hill happening on March 7.

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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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