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The Peace Corps Experience

The Peace Corps Experience: Challenge and Change, 1969-1976

P. DAVID SEARLES
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jrcw
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    The Peace Corps Experience
    Book Description:

    For more than 35 years, the Peace Corps has pursued John F. Kennedy's vision of helping people of the Third World build a better life. Yet with the exception of a few celebrations of its early years, little effort has been made to document that organization's history. Now a former deputy director of the Peace Corps offers a first-hand look at life in the agency -- both in the field and at headquarters -- and a radical reinterpretation of its history during the Nixon and Ford administrations.

    By the end of the 1960s, the Peace Corps was in disarray. Debate raged over its effectiveness, and many new volunteers embraced the antiestablishment behavior of the day's youth. When President Nixon appointed Joseph Blatchford as director in 1969, some insiders felt the agency's days were numbered -- especially when Blatchford set about re-evaluating the Peace Corps' mission and initiated a program called New Directions to reorient its work.

    Many observers simply lump Blatchford's efforts with the failures and faults of the Nixon administration. David Searles, however, contends that the new director's initiatives revitalized the Peace Corps and made it a more relevant organization. Searles faithfully relates the history of these policies and their implementation in the field, drawing on his personal experience as country director for the Peace Corps in the Philippines. He shows how, despite constant carping from veterans of the early Peace Corps and much furor at headquarters, New Directions reenergized the agency and renewed and reaffirmed the Peace Corps' mission.

    Searles's descriptions of political maneuverings are incisively observed, and his firsthand characterizations of Peace Corps life richly impart the joys and frustrations of volunteer work. The Peace Corps Experience will give historians a new perspective on the agency and will also interest anyone who has served in the Peace Corps or who wants to understand it.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5677-4
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1 The End of the Beginning
    (pp. 1-29)

    If ever there was a time for the Peace Corps, it was at the beginning of the decade that a now forgotten optimist christened ‘The Soaring Sixties.’ The nation as a whole had emerged triumphant and nearly unscathed from World War II, at least compared with her allies and former enemies. The previous decade had been a period of unparalleled prosperity. The Korean conflict had caused a small but quickly forgotten ripple on the country’s otherwise tranquil surface, as had Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts. But the prevailing mood was upbeat. Many who would have been fortunate in an earlier...

  5. 2 The Call of Service
    (pp. 30-50)

    The story behind my joining the Peace Corps staff in the Philippines is a bit complicated, but it is helpful to hear because it says something important about the Peace Corps of the early seventies. Contrary to the criticism leveled against the Nixon and Ford administrations, the Peace Corps was not overrun in those years by unprincipled philistines intent on destroying a cherished symbol of the Camelot era. The volunteers and staff from that time were motivated by the same interests and concerns that had motivated Peace Corps people from the first day. They believed in the mission of the...

  6. 3 To Hurl a Brick or Kiss His Hand
    (pp. 51-69)

    Volunteers are sent to countries that are alike in many ways, but each is also unique. These countries, especially in the years before former Soviet Bloc nations began to request volunteers, are variously described as underdeveloped, developing, or Third World. (A few of the most desperately needy qualify for the term Fourth World.) They are nations where large percentages of the people are poor, the availability of the basic necessities of life can rarely be taken for granted, the apparent modernity of the capital never extends beyond the city limits, and the indigenous culture is different in both substance and...

  7. 4 New Directions in the Philippines
    (pp. 70-100)

    The concept of volunteer management (the conscious, systematic, and continuing effort to organize and direct volunteer activities in order to accomplish desirable objectives) is anathema to most volunteers. Volunteers cherish their autonomy and see themselves as independent agents of change needing little or nothing in the way of supervision and direction to be effective. A former volunteer with whom I corresponded a few years ago stated that his “contact with Manila was minimal,” the proudest boast a volunteer can make.¹ Another remembered that his “guiding light in the 70s . . . was to interact as little with Peace Corps...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 When Cultures Collide
    (pp. 101-114)

    The psychological and physical demands of the Peace Corps life in the Philippines—the isolation of the countryside and the frenetic pace of the large urban areas, the loss of privacy, the unaccustomed diet, the absence of amenities, and the hardships imposed by the weather—presented a real test of volunteers’ fortitude and perseverance. But at least these conditions were understandable; they were within our volunteers’ range of experience and expectations. A far more challenging task was the need to adapt to life in a culture different from our own. In the Philippines that difference included those concepts—so easily...

  10. 6 The Challenges of Everyday Life
    (pp. 115-135)

    Since 1961, many writers, academics, and volunteers have attempted to describe life in the Peace Corps, generally with only partial success. Professional writers and academics have the verbal ability to describe the experience, but they lack the special sensitivity and personal knowledge that can come only by having lived the life of a volunteer. Their descriptions never reach below the surface, and they lack the authenticity needed to make them convincing. Former volunteers, on the other hand, often find that words fail them when they attempt to describe an experience that is at once deeply personal, complex, and unique. A...

  11. 7 New Directions at Work
    (pp. 136-155)

    Almost everyone who joins the Peace Corps does so with the hope of doing meaningful work. A Philippine fisheries volunteer from the 1970s recalled that his experience had been important “first of all for what it was meant to be—a chance to impart skills, ideas, knowledge, and a bit of western culture to others while simultaneously educating myself to all the new and different things [the Philippines] had to offer.”¹ Another volunteer from the same era wrote, “I felt I needed to accomplish something and worked very hard to achieve my goal.”² Being productive was central to volunteer motivations....

  12. 8 Life along the Potomac
    (pp. 156-185)

    The Peace Corps in the Philippines liked to think of itself as an independent force for good, working with Filipinos to hasten that country’s passage along the road to development. In many respects it was just that. A large degree of autonomy was enjoyed and considerable latitude was available to achieve goals in ways that made the most sense. Simultaneously part of, yet apart from, the official American presence in the country, PC/P operated under the loosest possible embassy reins. There was, however, a larger reality: The Peace Corps was firmly and irrevocably headquartered in Washington.

    In the 1960s and...

  13. 9 Twenty Years Later
    (pp. 186-208)

    The Peace Corps is now a strong, respected, and permanent part of American foreign policy. Volunteers serve in over ninety countries, thirty more than in the 1970s.¹ More than seven thousand volunteers and trainees are in the field, a number that has been slowly but steadily rising since 1991. Support for the program in Congress is quiet but solid. As Joan Timoney, a recent director of congressional relations for the agency, said in 1995, “Of all the federal agencies one could represent on Capitol Hill, I’d choose Peace Corps any day.” Part of the reason she was so enthusiastic is...

  14. 10 Making a Difference
    (pp. 209-221)

    The idea “Making a Difference” reflects a concern that has driven the Peace Corps from the moment presidential candidate John F.Kennedy made his now-famous impromptu speech on that cold October morning at the University of Michigan. Alan Guskin, one of the students in attendance, remembered that Kennedy promised a means by which Guskin could “make a difference in helping to create a better and more peaceful world.”¹ Twenty-five years later, the Peace Corps published a collection of reminiscent essays entitledMaking a Difference: The Peace Corps at Twenty-Five.In 1996, as I was writing this paragraph, a Peace Corps alumni...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 222-240)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-245)
  17. Index
    (pp. 246-256)