Rebuttal to Peace Corps as a foreign policy tool: Faded idealistic vision by Drew Chebuhar

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Rebuttal: Peace Corps from a first-hand experience by David Walker

Peace Corps from a first-hand experience David Walker Letter to the Editor

During my five years as a Peace Corps volunteer (Zaire, 1989-91 and Mauritania, 1992-94), I often discussed many of the same issues and questions that Drew Chebuhar has addressed in his writings for the ISU Daily and the Drummer. But Mr. Chebuhar's latest column in the ISU Daily, "Peace Corps as a Foreign Policy Tool" (Feb. 21, 1997), was a very uninformed piece full of misinformation.

Mr. Chebuhar begins his misinformed column by stating "É the important question to ask is who the 'others' are. The 'others,' as the naive may think, are not primarily the people in the countries the Peace Corps visits. The 'others' are multinational corporations and other investment interests." This is a very strong statement to make to a potential reading audience of 25,000 people. Where does your information come from, Mr. Chebuhar? You cite the sources of Chomsky, Parenti, Herman and Blum, which you linked, in a weak manner, to your Peace Corps as-a-foreign-policy-tool argument. To which sources by these authors are you referring? Chomsky (63 sources on ICAT), Parenti (14 sources on ICAT), and Herman (14 sources on ICAT) have all written extensive, specific sources that would help your large audience.

Furthermore, you advance your argument by using Ellsberg's "Pentagon Papers" from 1971, while throwing in some Peace Corps-related statistics and quotes from the 1960s and the 1970s. You then take your misinformed version of the Peace Corps from the 1960s and the 1970s and make a "great leap forward" to the Peace Corps of today. How is this possible? Issues and contexts change in a 20-year period, but you give the reader only a tired, conspiracy-like theory to account for today's Peace Corps. My point is that you, as a columnist of a daily paper with a potential circulation of 25,000, should be better informed about an organization, such as the Peace Corps, before you stigmatize it as "É a 36-year-old institution É that serves the John Deeres and the Monsantos of the First World."

Whom does the Peace Corps serve? Individually speaking, my five years of Peace Corps experience in Africa definitely points me in the direction of the villagers with whom I lived. As a volunteer, you have to ask yourself an important question when you first arrive at your Peace Corps site: Do the people want me here? I remember vividly my gracious African friends and family who helped me learn languages, cultural norms, local, technical skills, various religions, and provided me with confidence and love when I wanted to quit and return to Chicago. I do not recall ever, nor do I think that my fellow PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteer) and programming directors remember, serving the interests of the "U.S. empire." Instead, most of us were in the Peace Corps for defined and abstract individual reasons such as to learn languages, to exchange cultural ideas, to travel, to experience another way of living, to work, or to transfer skills. No, I do not think that many of us went abroad for two years and lived, in some instances, without running water, electricity, or no mail for three-month intervals to serve THE MAN (i.e., the U.S. government).

Mr. Chebuhar, you may be right or you may be wrong concerning your analysis of the Peace Corps and U.S. foreign policy in the 1960s and 1970s. However, 20 years have elapsed since that time, and circumstances change. I do know that to generalize and compare the Peace Corps of the l990s to the Peace Corps organization that existed in the 1960s and 1970s is an erroneous and inundated exercise due, for example, to differing contexts. To use quotes and sources from the 1960s and the 1970s and then propose, in a very simplistic manner, that all involved in today's Peace Corps are still adhering to the party line of the "American Empire," is to be uninformed.

If anyone wants to become better informed about today's Peace Corps, he or she should read some current sources. For example, ISU's Dr. D. Michael Warren, along with Brian Schwimmer, offer the very informative "Anthropology and the Peace Corps" (1993), Mike Tidwell's "The Ponds of Kalambayi" (1990) mirrors my experience in Zaire, George Packer's "The Village of Waiting" (1988) gives the reader a glimpse of life in Togo, and Geraldine Kennedy's "From the Center of the Earth" (1991) is a wonderful anthology of Peace Corps stories from around the world.

There are many other ways for students to inform themselves about the Peace Corps. For instance, one could stop by the ISU Peace Corps office in Room 5 Hamilton Hall and interview me, or peruse the office's current literature pertaining to specific program offerings. One could interview any of the RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) who are students and faculty at ISU. If persistent enough, one could probably interview the Peace Corps Director, Mark Geran. One could attend any of the class, club, fraternity, sorority, organizational, and resident hall slide presentations that I give weekly on campus and in the Ames community. One could attend the ISU and Ames community RPCV slide presentation and discussion held once a semester. Or, one could stop by the ISU Peace Corps information table on the ground floor of the Memorial Union, which takes place the first Wednesday of every month.

As is evident, Mr. Chebuhar, all of the above mentioned activities and informational gatherings allow anyone who is interested, distrustful, or just curious about the Peace Corps to engage in a dialogue about the organization and some of the experiences connected to living, working and socializing abroad. Yes, there are ways to become informed about the Peace Corps on this campus. The tremendous response that I have encountered in my two years working with interested and/or curious ISU students, faculty and alumni leads me to the conclusion that the ISU community considers the Peace Corps a viable option. Many of these entities are knowledgeable about the Peace Corps or are receptive to listening and making informed decisions concerning the positives and negatives of the organization. Mr. Chebuhar, I only wish that you had called me and we could have engaged in a conversation about the Peace Corps before you wrote your very uninformed article because your opinions, which I usually do respect, have misinformed potentially 25,000 people. Salaam.

David Walker

Doctoral Student

Higher Education

ISU Peace Corps Representative

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This article was published on Thursday, February 27, 1997. Copyright 1997 by the Iowa State Daily Publications Board. All rights reserved. No redistribution without the express written consent of the Iowa State Daily Editor in Chief

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