[Marxism] query--U.S. Peace Corps

Jeffrey Thomas Piercy, El Pato Comunista mqduck at sonic.net
Thu Oct 4 14:21:09 MDT 2007

Mark Lause wrote:
> Does anybody know a website that's offered a critique of the work of the
> Peace Corps?  There was some material on their use in the interest of U.S.
> geopolitical goals and a pretty poor environmental record, if I remember
> rightly.
> I'm asking because a student is interested in joining them, and I'd like to
> be able to provide her with some information other than government p.r. in
> the interest of balance.

I did a little Google search and the only relevant thing I could find 
just happened to be from out dear Moderator:

If the Kennedy White House was about managing image, perhaps nothing 
succeeded on their own terms better than the Peace Corps. Embodying the 
President's rhetoric about "Ask not what your country can do for you, 
but what you can do for your country," this nominally volunteer program 
would benefit the world's poor without asking for anything in return.

Beneath the rhetoric, the Peace Corps was a variation on a very old 
theme, namely the tendency for colonial powers to use civil 
administration as a means to co-opt hostile populations. Great Britain 
had perfected these techniques in India. Marshall Windmiller, a 
professor at San Francisco State who had participated in Peace Corps 
training programs in the early 1960s, spells out his disillusionment in 
"The Peace Corps and Pax Americana." Referring to Thomas Babington 
Macaulay (1800-1859), he characterizes the Peace Corps as an exercise in 
"Macaulayism." As a functionary in India, Macaulay argued that "To trade 
with civilized men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages."

Of course, key to bringing civilization to the savages was a properly 
functioning civil service and an educational system that could inculcate 
the values of the colonizers. Seen in this light, the Peace Corps's main 
function, according to Windmiller, is "to develop pro-American, 
English-speaking elites, and to make America's role in world affairs, 
whatever it may be, more palatable."

Windmiller focuses on the example of Rhoda and Earl Brooks, a 
husband-and-wife team who served in Ecuador from 1962 to 1964. They did 
the usual things that Peace Corps volunteers did, from teaching English 
to clearing streets of garbage.

When the USA intruded into Ecuadorian fishing waters during their sting, 
Communists organized protests against the "pirates." Naturally, the 
Brooks felt compelled to present the American case. In their English 
conversation classes and at their homes, they tried to convince the 
Ecuadorian youth of the benefits of "democratic capitalism," for whom 
many the word "capitalist" was synonymous for murderer. Because the 
Brooks were seen as modest and idealistic, their ideas were more easily 
accepted than if they came straight from the American consulate. That, 
of course, was the whole idea.

Kennedy himself occasionally spoke more candidly about the goal of 
initiatives like the Peace Corps. In National Security Action Memorandum 
No.132 directed to the Agency for International Development, that was 
cc'd to the Peace Corps director as well as the CIA, the President 
declares his intentions:

"As you know, I desire the appropriate agencies of this Government to 
give utmost attention and emphasis to programs designed to counter 
Communist indirect aggression, which I regard as a grave threat during 
the 1960s. I have already written the Secretary of Defense 'to move to a 
new level of increased activity across the board" in the 
counter-insurgency field.

"Police assistance programs, including those under the aegis of your 
agency, are also a crucial element in our response to this challenge. I 
understand that there has been some tendency toward de-emphasizing them 
under the new aid criteria developed by your agency. I recognize that 
such programs may seem marginal in terms of focusing our energies on 
those key sectors which will contribute most to sustained economic 
growth. But I regard them as justified on a different though related 
basis, i.e., that of contributing to internal security and resisting 
Communist-supported insurgency."

Eventually, some returned Peace Corps volunteers saw through the 
imperialist aims of their higher-ups and joined the Vietnam antiwar 
movement. Indeed, their number and the numbers of civil rights activists 
disgusted and radicalized by White House inaction probably numbered in 
the tens of thousands at the peak. One might conclude by saying that the 
main benefit of the Kennedy White House is that it spurred idealistic 
young people to transcend the limitations of an administration that was 
guided more by image than by substance.


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