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
In many countries, said Berg, the chief need is teachers for secondary schools, to train stenographers, clerks, foremen, "the non-commissioned officers of modern society." But Berg warned that African secondary education, though now reaching a small group, is "infinitely better than our own," and that new teachers-for languages, science and mathematics-would in many cases need Masters degrees.
Even if the exact need were known, however, it is far from clear who should establish and operate the "Peace Corps." Mr. F. Taylor Ostrander, a businessman who addressed the conference, favored government administration. Private groups, he said, could not deal as well with foreign governments. And administration would be difficult, especially if a group of existing foundations had to coordinate the effort.
If the "Peace Corps" is not a Federal project, however, it could hardly be considered an alternative to the draft. And unless selective service requirements are either modi-be willing to join the "Peace Corps." The U.S. is entitled to service, yes. But it is absurd to ask those volunteering for three years of hard duty, at low pay, in a difficult environment to spend time in the Army upon return from the jungle. This is not a matter for argument: young men, except for a very few, simply won't do it.
Thus while government control would arouse suspicion on the part of those we mean to serve, private control would rule out the idea of an alternative to the draft, for the selective service system could not surrender part of its power to a private foundation. Pressed to extremes, this dilemma leaves the program either without countries to serve or without U.S. youth to serve them. The answer might be a Federal agency, responsible to the President, which would negotiate contracts with already existing foundations. In order to receive government funds and draft-exemption for its participants, a proposed program would field or waived, few students would have to meet the standards of the Federal agency. The foundations, however, would be responsible for negotiating with foreign leaders, as some now are doing, about projects in a given country. Thus, Guinea could accept a mission from a U.S. educational foundation-perhaps a group of teachers-without appearing to submit to U.S. "imperialism."
But the issue of who should administer a youth service program extends beyond private foundations and the U.S. government to the United Nations. If the "Peace Corps" idea met with favor, other countries, from both the Western alliance and the Soviet bloc, might hasten to join. As the recent General Assembly showed, the neutral nations have considerable respect for the U.N. and conversely, suspicions about either of the great power blocs. If the "Peace Corps" were a U.N. organ, three problems would be alleviated: (1) youth from all nations could join a single organization, (2) neutral countries would accept a U.N. delegation of youth without undue suspicion, and (3) the establishment of a U.N. corps would leave the Soviets with a choice of either joining in and thus surrendering a certain propaganda initiative, or boycotting the group and thus setting itself up in competition.
In either case, the U.S.-and the underdeveloped country involved-might be better off than if a strictly U.S. peace corps were sent. However, the central question of draft-exemption again comes up. Is Congress likely to accept U.N. "Peace Corps" work as an alternative to military service, even for just a few hundred or thousand youth? And for the U.N. program it raises difficulties: who would select the participants?
Even if an effective mode of administration is worked out, however, both the specific projects and the participants must be carefully chosen. For the sake of U.S. prestige, the "Peace Corps" can not afford to make mistakes. Sir Hugh Scott Taylor, a foundation executive, found in the medieval children's crusade a spirit common with the "Peace Corps" plan. The reference was not meant mockingly, but, taken as a mark of disdain, it suggests a real danger. Membership in a "Peace Corps" calls for roughing it without complaint, for adapting to a strange cultural environment with tact and grace, for representing one's country both honestly and positively. This is work for neither a child nor a wild-eyed crusader. When abroad, these U.S. youth must, indeed, as Melady repeatedly said, "take the ball and run it across the goal line," but in order to score a touchdown, a team needs more than raw enthusiasm.
Surely the "Peace Corps" proposal has aroused high hopes. As soon as Kennedy spoke, hopeful men saw visions of plane-loads of young people flying off to dispel poverty, illiteracy and disease. After years of seeming drift, a proposal for initiative in foreign affairs was bound to win support-especially if its title featured the magic word "Peace."
In 1910 William James wrote "The Moral Equivalent of War," arguing that "a permanently peaceful economy cannot be a simple pleasure economy." Now it is called "the era of high-consumption" or "the affluent society," but the lesson's the same. Another way to express it is "a moral escape from boredom." Young men want that escape. In 1910, writing for an America not yet a world power, James prescribed manual labor in the U.S.-"fishing fleets in December... road-building and tunnel-making." That was a great era of economic expansion here. In 1960, young men, if given the chance, could do work abroad that would obviously be good. Unlike military life, the service could appear meaningful.
In addition, teaching and working abroad would educate hundreds, perhads thousands of young Americans each year. They would see at first hand the needs and aspirations of the countries where they worked and lived. As the resolution of the Princeton conference says, the "Peace Corps" would bring "the reward of enriching American culture." The young men who returned would speak with authority and conviction; their letters home would have greater effect than any government report or novel on foreign aid programs.
All this could easily be lost unless the President-elect acts promptly and decisively. The Princeton conference declined to authorize its own pilot project, and placed its faith instead in the initiative of the Kennedy Administration. The new steering committee - including representatives from business, labor, education, churches, foundations - was asked to prepare a detailed prospectus for a "Peace Corps" program, and to present it to Kennedy and the new Congress