The Public Interest

My time in the Peace Corps

Sarah Waldorf

Winter 2001

WHEN President Kennedy created the Peace Corps in the early 1960s, he appealed to the idealism and patriotism of American youth—promising them an opportunity to change the world through volunteerism. But beyond such altruism, the Peace Corps had a strategic, Cold War purpose: to flood the world, especially the Third World, with young, bright, well-educated Americans, who would aid development, plant the seeds of democracy, and check the spread of Soviet communism. While its impact even during the Cold War was marginal at best (except perhaps as useful propaganda), the Peace Corps was at least then a defensible program—largely ineffectual, but defensible. Today, as the Peace Corps celebrates its nearly 40 years of existence, one needs to ask if it really has any substantive role left to play and whether the program justifies its fairly hefty expense here and abroad.

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