MAKING A DIFFERENCE: The Peace Corps at Twenty-Five by Milton--Ed. Viorst

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: The Peace Corps at Twenty-Five

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A celebrity volume comissioned as part of the silver anniversary of the Peace Corps, begun in 1961 by John F. Kennedy in the spirit of his famed ""Ask not. . ."" plea. Viorst, a Washington journalist and author of many books on politics and international affairs, gathers a list of prominent people who either were instrumental in the Corps' formation, directed it, or who slogged for it in exotic and not-so, exotic places. After a brief preface from Ronald Reagan, the reminiscences begin with that of Sargent Shriver, the Corps' first director, who extols the spirit of the early days and interprets the current ""pugnacious nationalism"" as a sign that the Corps' ideals need to be reasserted. Alan Guskin tells how he and his wife, inspired after hearing candidate Kennedy speak at the University of Michigan, set in motion the wheels on their campus that led ultimately to the idea of the Corps becoming reality. The book is a fond hodgepodge. There are, for example, excerpts from letters written home from Peace Corps assignments. The most interesting of these pleads the plight of a young lady in traditional Iran, where women were chattel and women who did what she was attempting, sans traditional dress, were subjected to leers, abuse, and ""strategic bumping"" on the streets. Bill Moyers relates LBJ's advice to those starting the Corps: keep it away from ""the folks downtown"" or else when they had problems, they'd end up seeing Dean Rusk's deputy's deputy. ""And who the hell is going to volunteer to go to Nigeria for the second deputy secretary of state? Who the hell is the second deputy secretary of state, anyway?"" Also, Paul Theroux tells of his time in the Corps (and of how he was thrown out of it), as does Senator Christopher Dodd. Viorst also includes excerpts from interviews with various foreign leaders who seemed to be generally amazed that well-to-do American kids would voluntarily want to do what they did for two years. A good browse, but it awaits a genuine history of the Corps.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (10 East 53 St., New York, NY 10022)