The Peace Corps was launched on this day half a century ago by President John F. Kennedy, who declared its mission in his executive order:
To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.
The idea for an army of American do-gooders didn’t really begin with Kennedy, but he’s the one who gets credit for creating it (against the complaints of critics, like Richard Nixon, who initially opposed it as some left-wing haven for draft-dodgers).
To paraphrase Kennedy’s famous statement, the idea was: “Don’t ask what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for some other country.” Continue reading
He founded the Peace Corps and ran the War on Poverty.
Not bad. And even though we still have war and poverty, it’s pretty clear he made a difference.
I bet most people have heard the name “Sargent Shriver,” but I would also bet most of them can’t remember why. Didn’t he have something to do with politics? Yeah, but it was a kind of politics that seems increasingly rare today; the public service kind.
R. Sargent Shriver died yesterday, at age 95 and of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was part of the Kennedy clan (by marriage to JFK’s sister Eunice) and an unrepentant believer in the idea that we can make the world a better place.
The Washington Post eulogized him as a “Warrior for Peace and Prosperity” while the UK’s Guardian credited Shriver for adhering to the “old belief” that to those who have been given much from life, much is expected of them to give back.
Shriver did have a political career as well, summarized nicely in this report by NPR. But it was really public service, a focus on helping the most disenfranchised, that is his legacy.
This remembrance of “Sarge” in HuffPo by John Bridgeland gives you a good sense of the man. And if you want to know about his skill at napping when flying around the world or traveling on diplomatic duty, read the New Yorker’s take.