Sometimes a point can be so obvious that we all overlook it. Consider the Peace Corps.
Over the past five decades, we've become so accustomed to hearing the name that we can forget
the importance of the first word: peace.
Within the Peace Corps community, we talk often about the agency's three goals, which can be
paraphrased as: 1) help others help themselves, 2) help others understand us better, and 3) bring
the world back home. Disappointingly, there is a lot less talk regarding the agency's overall
mission established in the Peace Corps Act of 1961: promote world peace and friendship
Promoting world peace was the overriding concern of Sargent Shriver, the architect of the
Peace Corps. As a World War II combat veteran, Shriver understood keenly the importance of
a strategic and disciplined approach to waging peace. In his last major public address at Yale
University in November 2001, less than two months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Shriver suggested
that the Peace Corps must place a much greater emphasis on peace. He lamented that:
No matter how many bombs we drop, no matter how skillfully our soldiers fight, we are not
responding to the ultimate challenge until we show the world how and why we must all learn to
live in peace -- until peace becomes the only permanent alternative to war.
Shriver also knew that to succeed at winning peace would require comparable resources to
waging war. In that same speech he said:
Peace is much more than the mere absence of war.
Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human
beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Although the Peace Corps was created to help promote the recognition of our shared humanity,
Shriver lamented that the agency had fallen short of its promise, noting that "our dreams were
big, but our accomplishments were small."
"We did not do enough," he added.
We still aren't. The United States has never really put the necessary resources into waging peace.
In fact, the amount of the Peace Corps' entire budget in its first 50 years -- roughly $8.7 billion -- was spent by the Department of Defense budget in just five days this year.
Our mission is not to head to the war's front lines. The Peace Corps is not now and has never
been engaged in those places where peace is at the greatest risk, such as Sudan, Iraq and
Afghanistan today. But we are indirectly engaged. If you go to Khartoum, Baghdad or Kabul,
you will meet Peace Corps alumni who are striving to create better conditions in those war-torn
In a recent column
, Tom Friedman of the New York Times
contrasted the return on our
investment in $13.1 million in merit-based scholarships in Lebanon and $1.3 billion in tanks
and jets for Egypt. The marked difference in goodwill and positive relations between investing
in people and spending money on weapons is something that everyone in the Peace Corps
community implicitly understands.
As the Peace Corps moves ahead in its second half-century, we need to strive harder to promote
the recognition of our shared humanity abroad as well as the understanding of the value of doing
so here at home. We must remain on the front lines of peace.
Kevin F.F. Quigley (Thailand 76-79) is president of the National Peace Corps Association, the
nation's leading nonprofit organization supporting Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and the
Peace Corps Community. To learn more, visit: www.peacecorpsconnect.org