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Peace Corps, Bin Laden, JFK, Sarge... chasing hearts & minds?

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By 2007 Osama bin Laden was trying to convince his lieutenants to quit killing people and making people hate us. Osama reportedly was telling his people that they have to switch strategies to winning hearts and minds.

"I read [Osama] bin Laden's letters from the stash that was picked up from Abbottabad [Pakistan] after he was killed -- and it's really interesting. After about 2007, he clearly rethinks the whole project and starts writing all these letters to different groups around the world saying, "Calm down. Stop the killing. Stop making us so unpopular."

Alex Perry, Newsweek contributing editor . His forthcoming book is The Rift: The Future of Africa.

Bin Laden was getting smart. He was realizing --too late-- that for every person you kill you make like 10+ enemies. Too bad we couldn't capture him, take him to trial, find out what motivated him, and decide whether he was shifting gears to a saner strategy of winning hearts and minds.

The smartest leaders learn the killing ratio and hearts and minds maxims early on. And the smart ones know that the rules apply to all combatants.

When an agent, soldier, droning technician, or terrorist kills a person who wears glasses, smiles, shakes your hand, and goes to school... they make enemies, whose visible and invisible networks of haters and killers will grow rapidly. And these stealth fighters are far less costly than our jet propelled stealths.

Generations back, John Kennedy was way ahead of Osama bin Laden. He knew that winning hearts and minds was one of the ways great nations enrich the future.

Having heroically served in the war that ushered in the era of "Communist Containment," Kennedy realized with the dawning of the 21st century that "containment" would have to be much more than encircling disliked "isms" with tanks and missiles.

He knew that that peaceful, chivalrous containment delivered by unarmed, sandaled, do-good volunteers was cheaper and healthier in the short and long run than trying to contain the disliked and crazies with expensively armored soldiers, blood, guns, missiles, and bombs.

That's why Kennedy was often heard saying "I'd rather send the Peace Corps than the Marine Corps."

His brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, a man rooted in public service and the first director of the Peace Corps, also tried to move the United States and the world to understand and pursue the benefits of a chivalrous, peaceful public policy that benefits all; not an oligarchic few, unexperienced ranters, and uneducated crazies.

Those crazies run the gamut from so-called leaders executing in the field like Boko Haram's Abubakar Shekau to policy ranters pushing for war, who have never served in the fields of development or warfare. More of both of these groups -- warring crazies and crazy cheer leaders for war -- could have been reached if the world's map had been filled with more Peace Corps volunteers, as Sarge reminded us.

"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."

Alexander Perry reminds us of the dangers of not spreading understanding and education deeply and widely enough throughout the world when he describes the all too stereotypical makeup of groups growing throughout the world like Boko Haram:

"They seem to be even more extreme than al-Qaida. A few years ago, we could've barely imagined that. The lack of education among the highest leadership makes them very difficult to reason with, to talk to, and to expect anything other than [a] nihilist pursuit -- or violence and death, really."

So, it is wonderful to hear the new Peace Corps Director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, pushing for its enlargement. For 53 years, the Peace Corps has annually fielded what the Army would consider merely a large brigade (3,000-5,000) peacefully battling the rising tide of problems that stems from poverty, poor education, misunderstandings, and the consequential spread of rabid rantings by extremists in the world's fields as well as by too many American pundits too little exposed to the world's fields of needs.

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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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