Sunday, July 28, 2019

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE: THE PEACE CORPS AND THE SPIRIT OF THE 1960S


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All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s, Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, Harvard University Press, 1998, 259 pp
 
Summary from Goodreads:
The nation was powerful and prosperous, the president was vigorous and young, and a confident generation was gathering its forces to test the New Frontier. The cold war was well under way, but if you could just, as the song went, "put a little love in your heart," then "the world would be a better place." The Peace Corps, conceived in the can-do spirit of the sixties, embodied America's long pursuit of moral leadership on a global scale...More than any other entity, the Peace Corps broached an age-old dilemma of U.S. foreign policy: how to reconcile the imperatives and temptations of power politics with the ideals of freedom and self-determination for all nations.
 
My Review:
I read this as research for my autobiography. It is a history of the Peace Corps from its beginning as a program created by President John F Kennedy in 1961 through to the late 1990s. The Peace Corps is still going today though we don't hear much about it. After finishing the book I discovered that they have a presence on Twitter and now follow their posts there.
 
The book is good thorough history. It tracks the political scene all through the years covered, as the organization was built, and as changing times had their effects on the Peace Corps in its attempts to live up to American ideals.
 
Though sometimes a bit dry, I made it through the book at my usual non-fiction reading pace of 10 pages a day, finishing it in a month. 
 
Of course I was aware of the Peace Corps during my high school and college years, but I was more aware of Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. I was strongly in favor of the first and rabidly against the second. Back then I thought I was "with it" but looking back now, I was in truth quite unsavvy when it came to politics. Most of what I knew came from radical friends. This book was like a crash course in what I had missed and dove-tailed nicely with the biographies of JFK, LBJ and MLK I have read over the past few years.
 
I find it odd that I never knew personally a single Peace Corps Volunteer and have still never met one to this day. 
 
Reading the book made me rather sad about the lost idealism of the 1960s. Despite our current cynicism about the world, I think many boomers still wish we could get that spirit back. It got me wondering if the Cold War and all that has followed was not so much a political and ideological fight but a financial conflict between the "haves" and the "have nots" of the world. Certainly the "haves" hold the power with no intention of letting go or sharing or helping if that means giving up an inch of that power.
 
I recommend the book to anyone grappling with ideas, politics, the uses of power, and what that means for the future.
 
Were you ever a Peace Corps Volunteer or have you ever known one?

20 comments:

  1. no, but i share your nostalgia for the 60's... it was a time of hope and merriment and it's amazing how it all seemed to vanish into a miasma of despair... i don't know if this sort of phase is cyclical or not, but i would like history to repeat itself... any time now.... waiting....

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    1. Well said...any time now...waiting...

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  2. Great post. I also love to tie books I read to big ideas. I think that I would enjoy this. The optimism of the early sixties was really really something else. I may be a bit contrarian on this, but I think a lot of it came to fruition. Despite terrible setbacks, in the long run, liberal ideas have spread throughout the world. I believe that the well being of humanity has improved immeasurably since then. Many of the ideals that this book seems to cover have driven that improvement.

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    1. Thanks, Brian. I thought about you a lot when I was reading the book and when I was writing the review. I agree that liberal ideas do have more traction in the world since then. I have also run into people of the next generation after mine that make fun of or are critical of boomers, as if they don't get it that we were the ones that dreamed of making those ideals reality.

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  3. My step-father was a peace corp volunteer and was in Nepal. It's a part of his life he doesn't talk about much and doesn't like to answer questions about... I can't say as I blame him. My understanding is that he became really sick and had lost a lot of weight during his stint in Nepal and had to return home before his term of service was up with the Peace Corp.

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    1. Somehow I figured you would know someone! I understand that it was a very hard gig and not everyone had success with it. In the book she explains how sometimes the higher ups in the Peace Corps would blame or shame the volunteers when this happened, which I think really stinks. The important thing is that they volunteered, they went, they gave up a lot to do so.

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    2. I just reread what I wrote... Oops, apologies for the typos!!

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    3. No problem. I knew what you meant.

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  4. Despite all the cynicism out there -- I'm still hopeful idealism is not completely dead ... there's a lot of young people starting out their careers etc that are trying to make the world a better place. I met quite a few idealists & peace corps volunteers when I was in the DC area ... which often gets a bad rap. hmm

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    1. I know there are young people doing great things to make a better world. I am glad you met some of them.

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  5. I think I'd like this one!

    My future brother in law's best friend (that's a mouth full) was a Peace Corps Volunteer. I never met him but I know they were close until the man fell off a cliff that he was trying to scale. He did serious damage to his brain and now he's not the same person at all. It's rather sad...

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  6. I only remember meeting one peace corp guy - a young American - in fiji = he was very idealistic and nice. Those were the days... Cheers

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    1. Thanks, Carole! Those were the days indeed.

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  7. There are plenty in my generation too who I think would like to get that spirit back. With all the protests now going on in various countries around the world, and right with our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico...maybe change is coming.

    I've never met anyone who volunteered, as far as I know. Interesting, now that I think about it too. Maybe I had family members who did, I'll have to ask!

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    1. So glad to hear that about your generation. I think I spend too much time on Twitter where everything is so dire.

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    2. I feel like "Millennials" are unfairly portrayed still by the media - it's like everyone has forgotten that we are all in our 30s and 40s now, and it is the generation after us that is really vapid. BUT, I also absolutely can't stand the term Millennial and am actually proud to say I am from the Xennial micro-generation born from '78-'83. But we are ready - as soon as we get off of Twitter and start doing the actual work!

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  8. I do remember the idealistic '60s and I was very excited about the Peace Corps and wanted to join. It's actually one of the regrets of my life that I didn't, but I took a different road and here I am!

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    1. That is so great, that you had the desire to become a PCV, as they are called. You still could but I am sure your husband and your gardens need you.

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