Kennedy’s Peace Corps

In their rivalry with the Soviet Union, American governments never forgot the lesson of the Marshall Plan. They knew that communism is often most attractive to the people of countries where food is short and life is hard. From the 1950s onwards, therefore, they spent millions of dollars on modernizing farms, constructing power stations and building roads in countries as far apart as Turkey and Colombia, Pakistan and Chile. The idea of this “foreign aid” was to give poor people all over the world better lives, partly out of a genuine desire to help them but partly also to win new friends and supporters for the United States.

Foreign aid did not always take the shape of food, machines or money. Sometimes human skills were sent, in the form of teachers and technical experts. Soon after John F. Kennedy became President he started a new scheme of this kind when he set up an organization called the Peace Corps.

The idea of the Peace Corps was to use the enthusiasm and the skills of young Americans to help the people of “underdeveloped”-that is poor-nations to help themselves. All members of the Peace Corps were volunteers, who agreed to work for twro years in the poor countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Some Americans disliked the scheme. They said that the idea of sending immature young Americans to show the people of distant lands how to live was both naive and arrogant. But others thought the scheme worthwhile and ex­citing. “These kids represent something many of us thought had disappeared from America,” said a New York psychologist, “ — the old frontier spirit.”

Whoever was right, the Peace Corps achieved at least one thing —for a while it gave a human face to the bare financial statistics of American foreign aid.

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