We have something to add to the celebrations now under way of the 25th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's proposal to establish the Peace Corps. A great deal has been said and done in recent days to honor the extraordinary -- and sometimes heroic -- achievements of Peace Corps volunteers all over the world in the decades since the agency came into being.
To all of this we say amen, and we also join in commending President Kennedy himself for having espoused the idea and helped push it into law. The Peace Corps, with its youthfulness, its energy and excitement and commitment, became a kind of symbol of the Kennedy administration at its early best, and this was fitting. The agency got its momentum and its enduring personality in those years, and it reflected what was most innovative and idealistic about the Kennedy administration.
But something is missing here. The something is Hubert Humphrey. It is always a wise idea, when celebrating a proposal of this kind, to check out the Humphrey record. The late Democratic senator (and vice president) from Minnesota introduced the Kennedy administration Peace Corps bill in the Senate in 1961 because President Kennedy asked him to. President Kennedy asked him to because Mr. Humphrey had in fact proposed the Peace Corps idea three years before JFK espoused it in the 1960 campaign speech whose silver anniversary is now being commemorated. We think JFK wouldn't mind our calling this to your attention or even sharing the credit with his friend Hubert -- and to this end we will let Mr. Humphrey have what he always loved best: the last couple of hundred words. They are from his memoir, "The Education of a Public Man":
"I introduced the first Peace Corps bill in 1957. It did not meet with much enthusiasm. Some traditional diplomatquaked at the thought of thousands of young Americans scattered across their world. Many senators, including liberal ones, thought it a silly and unworkable idea. Now, with a young President urging its passage, it became possible and we pushed it rapidly through the Senate. It is fashionable now to suggest that Peace Corps volunteers gained as much, or more, from their experience as the countries where they worked. That may be true, but it ought not to demean their work. They touched many lives and made them better. Critics ask what visible, lasting effects there are, as if care, concern, love, help can be measured in concrete and steel or dollars or ergs. Education, whether in mathematics, language, health, nutrition, farm techniques, or peaceful coexistence may not always be visible, but the effects endure."