Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Transmitting Bill To Strengthen the Peace Corps.
I am pleased to transmit legislation which will authorize the appropriation of $108 million for the Peace Corps in Fiscal Year 1964. It is fitting that this request is made on the 187th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. For the Peace Corps exemplifies the spirit of that revolution whose beginnings we celebrate today.
That revolution was not only a revolution for American independence and freedom. It was, as Jefferson perceived and Lincoln proclaimed, a revolution unbounded by geography, race or culture. It was a movement for the political and spiritual freedom Of man.
Today, two centuries later and thousands of miles from its origin, the men and women of the Peace Corps are again affirming the universality of that revolution. Whether expressed by the community development projects of Latin America, or the panchayati raj program of India, the determination of people to be free, to govern themselves, and to share in the fruits of both the industrial and democratic revolutions, is one of the most profound forces at work in the world. To this revolution Peace Corps Volunteers are giving the same qualities of energy and spirit to which the 21 year older Lafayette and his equally youthful contemporaries gave as volunteer participants in our own revolution.
In less than two years their accomplishments have already been impressive. They constitute more than one-third of all the qualified secondary teachers in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and Nyasaland; they have saved a three-quarter million dollar rice crop in Pakistan; they have vaccinated over 25,000 Bolivians; they are teaching in 400 Philippines schools; they have created a thriving poultry industry in the State of Punjab in India; they are teaching in every rural secondary school in Costa Rica and virtually every secondary school in British Honduras; they have contributed to the creation of a system of farm-to-market roads in Tanganyika. But these are only isolated examples; all over the world Volunteers have surveyed roads, taught students and teachers, built schools, planted forests, drilled wells, and started local industries. In their off-hours they have conducted adult education classes, organized athletic teams, and launched programs ranging from music clubs to debating teams.
As important as these achievements are, they are far less important than the contribution Peace Corps Volunteers are making in building those human relations which must exist for a happy and peaceful understanding between people. The United States and a few other fortunate nations are part of an island of prosperity in a world-wide sea of poverty. Our affluence has at times severed us from the great poverty stricken majority of the world's people. It is essential that we demonstrate that we continue to be aware of the responsibility we fortunate few have to assist the efforts of others at development and progress.
With Americans, Lord Tweedsmuir wrote, "the sense of common humanity is a warm and constant instinct and not a doctrine of the schools or a slogan of the hustings." By the careful selection and training of men and women in whom that instinct is a reality, the Peace Corps has already erased some stereotyped images of America and brought hundreds of thousands of people into contact with the first Americans they have ever known personally. "When the Peace Corps came to my country," wrote the Minister of Development of Jamaica, "they brought a breath of fresh air. They came and mixed with the people. They worked closely with the people. They dosed the gap and crashed the barrier. And because they did this, they have paved me way for our own people to understand ..."
It is no accident that Peace Corps Volunteers have won this kind of acceptance. Nor is it a coincidence that they have been greeted--as the Ethiopian Herald stated-"with open arms." They have been warmly received because they represent the best traditions of a free and democratic society--the kind of society which the people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America long for as the ultimate end of their own revolution.
The Communist system can never offer men optimum freedom as human beings. The people of the world's emerging nations know this. Their aspirations for a free society are being stimulated by the presence of Peace Corps Volunteers who have come not to usurp but to encourage the responsibility of local people and not to repress but to respect the individual characteristics and traditions of the local culture. "What is most remarkable about America," wrote German scholar, Philip Schaff, "is that over its confused diversity there broods a higher unity." Because Volunteers of different races and different religions nonetheless come from the same country, they represent the hope of building a community of free nations wherein each one, conscious of its rights and duties, will have regard for the welfare of all.
Already the Peace Corps idea has spread to other nations. Last week I attended the official inauguration of West Germany's own Peace Corps program. The first group of 250 young men and women will be ready for service next year and will eventually include more than a thousand young Germans working around the world. Three other European countries--the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway--have started similar programs. Argentina and New Zealand have already established volunteer organizations. These efforts have been stimulated and assisted by the International Peace Corps Secretariat, established by the International Conference on Middle Level Manpower last fall in Puerto Rico. The bill I am transmitting would enable the United States to continue to encourage this movement.
The first American Volunteers are already returning to the United States after two years of Peace Corps service. They are bringing home important skills and experience which will greatly enhance our knowledge of the world and strengthen our role in international affairs. More than one-third of the 700 Volunteers returning this year have indicated a desire to work international programs. Their ability and usefulness is attested to by the action of thirty-five universities in the United States which have established two hundred scholarships for returning Volunteers. 'One of these scholarships was created by the donations of the foreign students studying in California. I am also recommending a provision which would authorize the Peace Corps to assist these returning Volunteers to make the most of their opportunities for further usefulness to the Nation.
The funds I am requesting will enable the Peace Corps to place some 13,000 Volunteers in training or abroad by September 1964, a significant increase over the 9,000 who are expected to be enrolled before the end of this year.
Three thousand Volunteers of next year's increase are destined for service in Latin America and one thousand in Africa. In both of these areas an historic opportunity is at hand for the United States. In Latin America, the Peace Corps can, within the span of a relatively few years, write an important chapter in the history of Inter-American partnership and kindle faith in the possibilities of democratic action on the community level. In Africa the Peace Corps will concentrate its efforts on meeting a critical teacher shortage. The opportunity to teach hundreds of thousands of African students is unparalleled in our history.
It is my hope, therefore, that the Congress will enact this legislation making it possible for the Peace Corps to continue to share with the new nations of the world the experience of a democratic revolution committed to human liberty.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the Senate, and to the Honorable John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives. The text of the draft bill was also released.
On December 13, 1963, President Johnson approved an act extending the Peace Corps for another year and authorizing the appropriation of $102 million for its operation (77 Stat. 359).
John F. Kennedy, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Transmitting Bill To Strengthen the Peace Corps. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/237117