Address at the American Red Cross Annual Convention

New York City | May 20, 1964

What is going to change the world? If men must live together in this new world of the hydrogen bomb, how is this going to come about? Guns won't change the world. That is one on the great lessons of this bloody century. Dollar bills won't change the world. Nor will simple good will. 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.

Three 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 the idea -- 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 Scripps-Howard and Hearst, 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 almost 7,500 people working in 46 countries. Last year more, and higher quality Americans -- almost 40,000 of them -- volunteered for Peace Corps service. This year approximately 60,000 Americans will apply. And our volunteers are living and working overseas, without special privileges, under rigorous conditions, and without pay. To date not one of them has been sent home for being incompetent in the job, not one of them has been declared persona non grata.

This is our record. It is well known. We are content to rest on it.

What I would like to discuss today are not the facts of the Peace Corps experience -- but what the experience means. You are concerned with human life; the life of the body, and the life of the spirit. 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 the United States.

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 men must live together in this new world of the hydrogen bomb, how is this going to come about? Guns won't change the world. That is one on the great lessons of this bloody century. Dollar bills won't change the world. Nor will simple good will.

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 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 our 21 volunteers to land on Indonesian

"Why," I asked him, is there such concern over 21 Americans. You would think that we -- I -- 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 21 more 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 idea of a free, democratic society. In that sense you may be starting germ warfare."

In the Dominican Republic, following the recent revolution, the US government suspended aid and diplomatic relations. But the Peace Corps kept on working there. A correspondent for the Washington Star, an expert on Latin American affairs, 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 -- a 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 parts of certain Catholic countries of Latin America. But we sent them.

We were told that we couldn't send Jews to Arab countries. But we sent them.

And in three 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 one thousand 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 ten thousand families.

No one told Robert Burns to begin a project which saved ten thousand 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 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, of alien traditions 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 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, but 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 7,500 Peace Corps volunteers serving in 46 countries. They are located in 2,400 different towns and villages. Next year we will have 14,000 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.

The Red Cross has had a big role in the success of the Peace Corps.

Three years ago when we were trying to get the Peace Corps started, the Red Cross answered the call-and set up first aid training for all out volunteers going overseas. Right now you are training our men and women in first aid, home nursing, and water-safety.

Our volunteers will be the first to tell you how important that is.

The number of our volunteers who belonged to the Red Cross, or the Junior Red Cross, is legion. Many of your workers have come into the Peace Corps: There's Marian Davidson, who is teaching elementary education in Liberia -- where the Peace Corps has its largest elementary teaching program.

And there's Peter Weng, who's coaching in Indonesia. Refugio Rochen, who's working in the slum barrios of Colombia and Esther Warber, carrying on her Red Cross background by teaching home nursing and first aid in the slums of Ecuador.

Recently one of our volunteers in Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa, performed a deed that all Red Cross workers will appreciate. Volunteer Ellis McKinnon of Ponce de Leon, Florida, a Sierra Leonian and two Catholic priests went fishing in the Atlantic. The tide swept them out to sea, where they drifted for three days. One priest and the Sierra Leonian died, but McKinnon was able to keep himself and the other priest alive through survival techniques he had learned through the Red Cross in training. For example, he filled the boat with water during the day so they wouldn't be baked alive.

They were finally saved through a joint effort of the Navy and the Africans. After the survivors were spotted, a group of Liberians swam out through the surf and hauled them in. The Navy then flew them to the hospital.

In Peru, two Peace Corps men pulled a drowning man from the surf at the coastal city of Mollendo. They gave him artificial respiration, he pulled through. This came from their water safety training through the Red Cross.

The same story happened recently in Nigeria, where volunteer Richard Piazza of Belmont, Massachusetts pulled a drowning child from Victoria Beach at Lagos and revived him by artificial respiration he been taught by the Red Cross.

Just this month there was a devastating: flood in the-northeastern part-of Brazil. The Red Cross jumped right in as it always does. But this time you had the help of six Peace Corps volunteers from a nearby areas who lent a hand giving shots, handing out food, and clothing, and working under the direct supervision of the Red Cross on the site.

The joint efforts of the Red Cross and the Peace Corps worked, in East Pakistan, too. When the village of Kamira was devastated by a cyclone, the Red Cross rushed to the scene. So did several Peace Corps volunteers. Together, they rehabilitated the village. And from that experience Peace Corps volunteer Grant Wells of North Adams, Michigan, designed a new cyclone shelter which may prevent future disasters.

We have raided your ranks for our staff, too. Rossie Drummond, who was with your Louisville, Kentucky Chapter, now is our Assistant Director of Community Relations. We've got Anne Broderick, who used to Head the Eastern Area Advisory Council of the Junior Red Cross; Anne is with our Division of Volunteer Support. And we were lucky enough to get Dorothy Dimitt for our Health Training Branch; Dorothy used to be Educational Consultant for the Red Cross Blood Program.

So you can share with me the pride I recently felt when I received -on behalf of the Peace Corps -- the Ramon Magsaysay Award, called by some "The Nobel Prize of Asia.” The Magsaysay Award is a $10,000 prize given to persons in Asia who "Exemplify in Spirit, Integrity and Devotion to Liberty," the late President of the Philippines. Nominations for this award 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 flattery -- 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. We are on the verge of seeing the Peace Corps movement become the most widespread peaceful volunteer movement the world has ever seen.

What these volunteers are doing is not new to you in the Red Cross. You have been helping people for 100 years, while the Peace Corps only recently passed its third birthday. The Poverty Program has not yet passed any birthdays. It has not even passed Congress yet. As a matter of fact, I'm beginning to feel the need of one of those. Red Cross courses for expectant fathers.

Well, these births are never easy. Sometimes it takes the work of hundreds and the interest of thousands to bring an idea to life. Without this public interest and awareness, no humanitarian effort can survive and grow.

Often it takes a book or a headline to arouse the people to the inhumanity around them. It took a book called Uncle Tom's Cabin to stir up a movement to abolish slavery. It took the books and headlines of the muckrakers to rally Americans against the greed and corruption in 19th Century Industrial America. It has taken the immense dedication of a woman like Rachel Carson to jolt us into preserving our precious natural resources.

But it will take more than Michael Harrington's book, more than President Johnson's legislation, and more than my speeches to midwife this program into reality. This program -- the War on Poverty -- proposes to muster the support of the affluent to help the disenfranchised; to enlist the educated to teach the ignorant; to give a bootstrap to the poor so that they can lift themselves to a life of meaning and dignity.

And that kind of a goal will take every ounce of our will and grit to reach.

All of you know about disaster, in a sense your business is disaster. It is axiomatic that whenever we are hit with a flood, a hurricane, or more recently in Alaska, an earthquake -- the Red Cross is the first outfit on the scene.

But do you know about a disaster happening right now -- this very minute -- to 35 million Americans? If I were to tell you that one fifth of the population of America had been hit by a disaster as ruinous as a tornado, such an event would signal the greatest emergency in the history of the Red Cross.

Well, there is such a disaster -- it is called poverty.

Only it is happening on the distant shore of the gulf that separates the poor from the rest of us. It is happening in the community of poverty, where there are children going barefoot, unschooled, and often unfed. Where there are fathers and mothers going into despair, and breadwinners winning no bread. The community of poverty is everywhere in this country -- in the cities, on the farms, in rural backwaters, in ghettos and Indian reservations, in migrant labor camps.

But the poor rarely make headlines. Perhaps they have been with us so long that they're old news. Usually they don't even make the obituary notices.

Perhaps that is why so many Americans have stopped believing there is poverty. Some things have to be seen to be believed, and Americans have stopped seeing the poor. When they look around they see only their own reflection, the same old reflection of affluence, just one big traffic jam of shiny cars: bumper to bumper, heading home from the office, heading to the movies, heading to the restaurants.

Some things have to be seen to be believed. This is what Henry Dunant wrote after he had seen for himself the ravages of war: "The moral sense of the importance of human life; the humane desire to lighten a little the torments of all these poor wretches; the furious and relentless activity which a man summons up at such moments: All these create a kind of energy which gives one a positive craving to relieve as many as one can."

I wish all Americans could be filled with that sort of "Positive Craving."

If we can move so quickly and effectively when disaster hits the ordinary community, why can't we do it when it hits the community of the poor?

If we have learned anything in the Peace Corps, we have learned that our aspirations, both at home and abroad, are cut from the same piece of cloth. Our failures also constitute a seamless garment which America wears wherever she is present in any corner of the globe. The Peace Corps represents a single idea in our society. This is the value of men human skills, enthusiasm, hopes, and principles. These have proved to be more important abroad than currency stabilization, development loans, power projects, or trade negotiations.

At home we are learning too slowly that human values are more important than property values, and that we must heal the body of our own society, and make it whole.

Men and women of the Red Cross have led the way for a century toward healing man's body and his spirit in times of crisis and catastrophe. Our volunteers are helping to lead others in this direction overseas. Human beings are our business in the Peace Corps. They are your business in the Red Cross. Both of us have work to do.

In doing it we have much to urge us on.

Not just the platitudes of sermons or truisms of the past -- but living examples from the present. The first two Peace Corps Volunteers to give their lives were David Crozier, a Baptist, and Lawrence Radley, a Jew. They both plunged eagerly into their assignments and on the respect and love of the Colombians. Their dedication was summed up in a letter which David Crozier wrote to his mother during his first days in Colombia. He said: "Should it come to it, I had rather give my life trying to help someone than to have to give my life looking down a gun barrel at them."

This spirit is best summed up by the great artist Pablo Casals, when he spoke about the Peace Corps in these words:

"This is new and it is also very old. We have in a sense come full circle. We have come from the tyranny of the enormous, awesome, discordant machine back to a realization that the beginning and the end are man, that it is man who is important not the machine, that it is man who accounts for growth not just dollars or factories, and above all that it is man who is object of all our efforts."