Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Soldiers Deserve a Place in the Peace Corps: Is Elitism at Work Here, as If the Peace Corps Has a Purity Not to Be Sullied by Pentagon Baddies?

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Soldiers Deserve a Place in the Peace Corps: Is Elitism at Work Here, as If the Peace Corps Has a Purity Not to Be Sullied by Pentagon Baddies?

Article excerpt

You're a farmer in the backcountry of Senegal. The crops are in and it's time to cart them 10 miles to market. But a bridge over a creek has been washed away by a flood. To rebuild the bridge, whom would you rather be helped by: someone just out of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or an English major from Yale?

Not a tough choice. And it could be happening soon. The National Call to Service Act, recently passed by Congress and sponsored by Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Evan Bayh of Indiana, would allow members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to join the Peace Corps for two years and have that time count as part of the time owed to the military.

Not so fast, is the reaction of many supporters of the Peace Corps, both former and current volunteers: If there's one place the military assuredly has no place, it's the Peace Corps. Soldiers, after all, are public employees trained to solve conflicts by killing or threatening to kill people, which isn't exactly the mission of the Peace Corps.

As a pacifist opposed to all military violence, whether past, current or future, and as an admirer of the Peace Corps who believes there is no federal program more needed, more enduring or more honorable, I'd usually be among the first and loudest to tell the Pentagon to keep its grubby distance. But not this time.

The Peace Corps should be open to any applicant and accept anyone who can qualify. It shouldn't matter where you've been--whether a combat veteran in Iraq or that Yalie in New Haven, Conn.--as much as where you want to go. Since sending its first volunteers to five continents in 1961, and with Sargent Shriver as the inspirational first director, the Peace Corps has been a model of public service. Why discriminate against a certain kind of applicant? Is elitism at work here, as if the Peace Corps has a purity not to be sullied by Pentagon baddies? …

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