In the closing week of his campaign, Senator Kennedy promised to press for a "Peace Corps"-a program for U.S. youth service abroad, as an alternative to the draft. While suggestive of a "New Frontier" in foreign affairs, the idea had been in the air since last January, when Representative Reuss (D., Wisc.) asked Congress to sponsor a study of a "Point Four Youth Corps." Although $10,000 was appropriated for research, the proposal got little further notice until Senator Humphrey (D., Minn.) introduced a bill to establish immediately a "Peace Corps," the phrase that Kennedy later used.
Under the Humphrey plan, selected young men and women would spend a year learning the language and background of a region, then two years working in an "emerging nation," probably teaching. Men would be excused from selective service requirements. In order to screen out draft-dodgers, however, the Senator proposed that peace corps members (1) get low pay and no veterans' benefits, (2) serve three years instead of two, (3) fulfill reserve commitments upon return from work abroad, and (4) be drafted if their peace corps work proved unsatisfactory.
Nevertheless, when Kennedy announced his support of the "Peace Corps" idea, vice-President Nixon swiftly charged that it would provide a "haven for draft-dodger." But since the Senator endorsed the idea in the face of such criticism, a Kennedy "Peace Corps" bill is probably slated for the first "100 days" of legislation.
Last weekend, a conference, organized before Kennedy's speech, met at Princeton to discuss "the challenge to American youth from the world's emerging nations." The conference's chairman, Thomas P. Melandy, was a supporter of vice-President Nixon; he envisioned the "Peace Corps" as a non-governmental agency, a "citizens' committee." Seeking financial support from foundations, corporations and the government, this citizens' committee would compile a roster of overseas positions, recruit young men, run a three-month orientation course, assign participants to positions according to aptitudes, and maintain contact with them. As a "people-to-people" program, this private corps would, Melady argued, have "far more impact than a government operation, which, regardless of its good work, would be labeled as an instrument of American foreign policy."
While Melady proposes to keep the program's administration strictly in private hands, he assumes that "the U.S. government, consistent with its policy of assisting non-governmental educational and relief programs, would assume the participants' transportation costs and would share certain administrative program expenses."
He doubts whether a government program would be accepted as an alternative to the draft. Yet, curiously and ambiguously, he extends the hope that the government would declare his program "an acceptable substitute for military service."
As Chairman of the steering committee, Melady asked the Princeton conference to accept a report empowering a "permanent committee" to undertake a pilot project in one or several of the new Asian or African states, draft immediate plans for such a project, and seek appropriate financial support." This report was rejected, however.
In a substitute resolution, a group of students proposed that a new steering committee (1) urge the President-elect to present to Congress legislation concerning a youth service program, (2) ascertain, in cooperation with their leaders, the needs of underdeveloped countries which U.S. youth could help meet, and report their findings to the President-elect and Congress, and (3) investigate the feasibility of using the youth service program as an alternative to the draft.
Harvard Group Forms
Adopting this substitute resolution, the conference also urged students to establish campus groups to study and discuss the various "Peace Corps" proposals. Following this suggestion, three College undergraduates-Craig Comstock '61, Paul Cowan '62 and Michael Hornblow '62-organized the Harvard-Radcliffe Committee for a Youth Service Program.
Since broad student support for the "Peace Corps" already exists, the Committee believes its first task is research, and its membership is restricted to those students working on a specific project. On the advice of several professors and government workers, the Committee will primarily study the actual needs of several underdeveloped countries, and on the basis of its findings, draw up a list of requirements for a "Peace Corps" program.
Vagueness of Goals
The conference at Princeton hinted at the difficulties involved in a "Peace Corps" operation, even in defining its goal: Is its purpose to resist the advance of communist influence? To raise U.S. prestige? To "struggle for peace?" To make friends, "people-to-people?" To fight the "triple curse" of poverty, illiteracy, and disease? To work toward political stability? To inculcate ideas of freedom? To give U.S. youth a chance to serve? To educate them about foreign problems? To launch, as one speaker at the conference suggested, a "cultural Marshall plan?"
"Walk together, talk together, O ye peoples of the earth, then only shall ye have peace"-so advises a wise saying. But what precisely can U.S. college graduates do in Tanganyika, Indonesia, Argentina? In the private "Crossroads Africa" program last summer, students built schools, did manual labor. Senator Kennedy has mentioned building dams. But as Elliot Berg an economist at Harvard told the conference, Africa has no shortage of manpower. The problem is training and organizing the Africans to do the job themselves. So the need is for teachers-teachers of languages, mechanics and science, of public health and child care, of agricultural methods. Putting up a school-house is a useful and symbolic act, but the really urgent work is the teaching that goes on inside.
Need is for Teachers