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JFK's Green Berets of Camelot needed more than ever

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Part of greatness stems from inspiring others to do what needs to be done even when it is uncomfortable for the doers. Kennedy had the ability at home and abroad to move people to do the right thing. How much closer to the peace, enlightenment, and the beauty of the envisioned Camelot would America and the world have moved had the three lettered musketeers -- JFK, RFK, MLK -- lived through the decades that we have seen?


He preferred fielding teams of Green Berets in Viet Nam rather than a lumbering army of a half million. The previously planned Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco led him and his brother to fire Dulles as Director of the CIA. Plenty of tales of interludes with the fairer sex supported the belief that he preferred making love not war.

For that and more the young were drawn to him. JFK 2a.m. Michigan Union on Oct. 14, 1960" alt= "From JFK 2a.m. Michigan Union on Oct. 14, 1960" src= "" width="300">

Over five thousand waited for him for hours outside on October 14, 1960. At 2:00 AM he arrived, giving one of his shortest speeches, which asked those University of Michigan (UofM) students:

"How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. JFK Michigan Union on Oct. 14, 1960" alt= "From JFK Michigan Union on Oct. 14, 1960" src= "" width="253">

Two days before the November 6 election three carloads of UofM students drove to Toledo, Ohio to present candidate Kennedy petitions they had collected. They asked:

"Are you really serious about the Peace Corps?"

"Until Tuesday we'll worry about this nation," Kennedy replied. "After Tuesday, the world."

Upon election, JFK assigned his brother in-law, Sargent Shriver, to put together a program that would tap into the student energy that sprouted from the UofM speech.

In March of 1961, Kennedy birthed the Peace Corps. By 1963 seven thousand PCVs were serving, but one of its first Deputy Directors and former Senator, Harris Wofford, reminds us that JFK was not satisfied.

"He told me he wanted the Peace Corps to reach 100,000 a year. He said it would then be considered serious. In one decade, it would reach 1 million volunteers."

About 14,500 served in 1967, its zenith. With JFK, MLK, and RFK's deaths, our public policies emphasized war, foreign aid tied to contracts linked to our mega-corporations, super-power bombast based on too little in-the-field real world experience, and an increasingly dumbed-down electorate.

The endlessly energetic, involved, pragmatic, and altruistic Sarge Shriver, the Peace Corps first director, tried to relight the once Kennedy-bright Camelot light, via the Jobs Corps, Office of Economic Opportunity, Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, his run as McGovern's VP, etc. The subtitle of his book, Point of the Lance , emphasized JFK's goal:

"The need for a new kind of politics, education, and public service at home and in the world."

JFK's Camelot gave some of us the chance to serve as PCVs and measure real world needs without the blare of overpaid talk show know-little pundits. JFK allowed us to walk by Mumbai tenements with families in 10'x12' rooms and note their walls adorned with pictures of Gandhi and Nehru -- rivaled by pictures of JFK.

Eisenhower warned us about the lobbying power of the military industrial estate. Kennedy tried to offset it with a robust army of peaceful volunteers addressing needs and erasing military industrial power before it exploded into maiming warfare. Had he lived to do that alone for the world, he would rank as one of our greatest presidents.

Kennedy often said he'd rather, "Send the Peace Corps than the Marine Corps." He believed Shriver's words that painfully remind us in today's hatred and disaster riddled world what could and should have been:

"If the Pentagon's map is more urgent, the Peace Corp's is, perhaps, in the long run the most important... What happens in India, Africa, and South America -- whether the nations where the Peace Corps works succeed or not -- may well determine the balance of peace."

It's getting late, but we can still influence the world to build what's needed. Push your elected reps to introduce America's World Service Corps (AWSC) Congressional Proposal before Mother Earth says it's too late. .


Take action -- click here to contact your local newspaper or congress people:
Build a AWSC National Service program that Kennedy envisioned

Click here to see the most recent messages sent to congressional reps and local newspapers

Dwayne served in the Peace Corps in the slums of Mumbai, India, worked several Habitat Projects, and was on the start-up team of the California Conservation Corps. He has a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University, has been a builder, teacher, (more...)

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