Thank a Democrat: United States Peace Corps

Updated: May 28

J. Michael Atherton, RPCV, Swaziland (Eswatini)

On March 1, 1961 President Kennedy, a noted Democrat, started the United States Peace Corps. This year marks its 60th anniversary. More than 241,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 143 countries around the world. The mission is threefold: help developing countries meet their need for trained men and women; promote understanding of Americans on the part of people served; and, promote understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Put more simply: help meet needs, and mutual understanding.


Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) have consistently led lives of exemplary service to the world and their nation. Christopher Dodd became a senator, Jim Doyle a governor, Chris Matthews of MSNBC served in Swaziland as did Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix; Donna Shalala was Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration and later served as a Representative in Congress; and then we have Lilian Carter, Jimmy’s mother.


Some people say Americans should serve stateside. Period. Is such isolationism a mark of a great nation? Granted many places in the US need help, but surely the USA, the richest nation in the world, can let a few of its more adventurous people help other countries too. This harms no

one stateside, and they win friends around the world. On their return these adventurers bring back with them an ever-growing sense of service. They learned some amazingly difficult languages. They slogged through storms, illness, and general homesickness to serve their host country. How else do you make friends around the world if not by eating their food, speaking their tongue, and sitting around a fire hearing tales?


So the question must be asked, “Should the USA make friends around the world?” If yes, then we can ask further if military actions are the only way to win “friends”? Or perhaps the big business model of building bridges and dams is the only way to win friends? What about talking to someone in their own language while you share a meal? What about teaching their youth about the rest of the world? What about sharing a crowded bus seat and listening to local music while you pretend to ignore the box of chickens teetering above you? Do these have merit?


The US Peace Corps Volunteers serve the needs of other nations; learn life-enhancing skills; make friends for our country; and understand on a very personal level that we are part of a larger world where people love their country as much as we love ours. If these seem good to you, then thank a Democrat.


About the author:

John Michael Atherton (Mike) has retired from 30 years of teaching philosophy (after 20 years of teaching a variety of subjects from elementary to graduate school). Four years in the Peace Corps in Swaziland (now Eswatini), followed by marriage, first child, and PhD all at the University of Chicago. Moved to Southwest Pennsylvania where wife Cynthia Walter taught ecology and he taught philosophy while they raised two daughters. Moved to Dover in 2019 to be near their two grandsons in Maine. He has consistently found the Dems to be a group that publicly and privately follows their stated values: compassion, honesty, integrity, respect the dignity of all people, expanded freedom, responsible citizenship, promoting civil society, and protecting our environment. Just add that they are great fun to be around and you have a winning combination.

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