What a glorious evening! What a joy it is to be with all of you to celebrate the Peace Corps.
It has been a privilege for me to be surrounded these last two days by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and by Peace Corps Staff, past and present.
I salute every one of you!
But important as it is that we commemorate the last 41 years, I think we must look toward the future! We must learn from our past, yes, and we must also plan for the Peace Corps in the 21st Century! We have the opportunity to make "The Peace Corps the first successful Agency For Peace In the Entire World. So, I say,
We need a vastly improved, expanded and profoundly deeper Peace Corps. Why?
Because the capacity to kill one another has far outstripped our capacity to live together. We live in a world of low-tech killing where plastic knives and innocent-looking envelopes can do the job just as efficiently as nuclear bombs. There MUST be an alternative to this endless cycle of killing, not just for America's sake but for all of humanity.
Peace is much more than the mere absence of war. 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. We must use the Peace Corps to bind all people together in common cause to assure peace and survival for all.
Now more than ever, we depend on one another for our very existence!
We are not just Americans, or Jews, or Muslims, or Catholics, or rich, or poor, or famous, or obscure. Yes, some of us still wear those labels today. But we must realize now that our children and grandchildren will be confronting a world of stark choices: peace or death. As for me, for my children, my wife, and my friends, I choose peace; for all peoples in all the world.
The "call to war" can only take us so far; so I say what our nation needs now is a call to peace and to service; peace and service on a scale we have scarcely begun to imagine.
We must unleash the power of young people in all nations to see the world for what it is now, and then go out to change it for the better. Let's join anew in common cause with all countries to eradicate poverty and militarism.
Let us not be afraid to tackle difficult assignments, unswerving in our dedication to live and work alongside citizens of other nations who want to create a safe and stable world.
Peace is the answer!
Let us use the Peace Corps to be a living embodiment of our ideas, our sincere connection with people whose differences matter far less than our kinship with them.
In the world's hour of need let us deploy the talents and dedication of the existing 165,000 RPCVs. They are uniquely equipped to serve overseas again. Many can speak the languages that are needed. They are comfortable in settings that even our military does not accept or occupy. They have heeded the words of Aboseh Nichole, "Go up-country to see the real Africa... You will find your hidden heart, your mute ancestral spirit."
We should expand "The Crisis Corps", founded in 1996 for just such a purpose, mobilizing RPCVs to provide short-term assistance after natural disasters and in humanitarian crisis. But successful as this program has been, over the last five years only 300 Crisis Corps Volunteers have served in 21 countries to date. We must strengthen and expand this remarkable program so that we can send RPCVs into every country where they are needed.
RPCVs can inspire global leadership within our own country, to educate Americans about the citizens of the countries where they served.
The Peace Corps now is the only agency in the United States Government which makes peace not only attractive, but possible.
I admonish you to empower, renew, and greatly increase "The Peace Corps" so that it becomes a pragmatic and dramatic symbol of America's commitment to peace even if our Nation temporarily must defend our land and our people against contemporary, vicious attacks.
Yes, it is obvious that the "war against terrorism" requires a military response. Yet it is equally obvious that a military response cannot achieve lasting peace.
If we deploy the idealism of America's citizens against the fanatical haters of America, we will see a new Peace Corps become our nation's most effective anti-terrorism program, and the creator of a world finally capable of achieving the universal, cherished dream of peace.
But our goal, please remember, is not just the survival of America; it is the survival of our whole planet.
When our deeds match our ideals, we will be living life as it ought to be lived. This is not just an American dream, it is a UNIVERSAL NEED. The Peace Corps would be the living embodiment of this precept, stripped of all harmful religious and political overtones. The Peace Corps would be the best America has to offer the world in this hour of great need.
Hopefully and optimistically, I believe that many nations and nationalities will enthusiastically join us in the creation of a "New World of Peace,' for everyone, everywhere.
My challenge to you tonight is to heed this CALL TO PEACE, and to answer it in your own powerful, resounding way. Invent new ways to serve the world and its citizens.
You don't have to be overseas to bring us closer to world peace; you can plant the seeds of world peace in your own back yard. Do anything you can dream up; and never stop doing!
There are as many ways to improve the world and stimulate peace as there are people on this planet! Every morning you wake up, ask yourself, "Who can I help today?"
Never miss a chance to make the world a better place, and recognize that every day brings a new chance, a chance to connect with others, a chance to grow, a chance to learn, a chance to teach, a chance to make a difference, a chance to change at least one person's world, and a chance to serve!
Never forget to serve!
If everyone did that, imagine what this world would be like! For as Anatole France said, "To know is nothing at all: to imagine is everything."