March 17, 1999 - Washington Post: The Peace Corps' Secret

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The Peace Corps' Secret

Read and comment on this story from the Washington Post in 1999 by Michael Kelly, the first American journalist killed in Iraq. Friends say he was an exuberant man of boundless energy and a dedicated historian who died pursuing justice. The story highlights the work of Timothy Carroll, the first executive director of the organization that later became the NPCA. Our condolences to the friends and family of Michael Kelly, a friend of the Peace Corps. Read the story at:

The Peace Corps' Secret*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

The Peace Corps' Secret

This column was originally published in The Washington Post on March 17, 1999.

By Michael Kelly

In 1963 Timothy Carroll, a 24-year-old from Michigan farm country, was sworn in as a volunteer in the Peace Corps, which was two years old and officially dedicated then as now to the promotion of "world peace and friendship."

The Peace Corps sent Carroll to northern Nigeria. There, he established a pilot program in educational television -- the sort of thing the Corps placed great faith in then. "This, you will recall," recalls Carroll, "was back in those glorious days when we believed we could leapfrog all the deficiencies of the Third World through technology." Alas, Carroll's work as a promoter of global friendship was slightly overshadowed by a personal friendship.

"I had the distinction of becoming best friends there with a gentleman who one day unfortunately blew up the political and spiritual leader of northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello," Carroll says. "Blew him up with a hand grenade, him and about six of his wives, and that event was the beginning of the travails of West Africa, leading on to the destruction of Biafra and all the rest of it. It was a curious footnote to my two years of peace."

This sort of thing might have given rise in a less confident soul to a loss of faith in the whole idea of the perfectibility of man through man's imperfect works. But Carroll was not discouraged. He went on to spend much of his life in and about the Peace Corps and doing the sort of work he learned in the Peace Corps. From Nigeria, Carroll spread the religion of government TV in Samoa, Iran and Saudi Arabia. In 1976, after a brief ("thank God," he says) interlude in academia, he wandered off to Haiti.

"I fell in love with a nun there who was about three feet tall and three feet wide and who was running an orphanage for the handicapped," he says. The square sister enlisted Carroll in a campaign to open a clinic for eye diseases. "I turned into a professional beggar overnight," Carroll says. In 10 years, he raised enough money to build a $5 million network of eight clinics in Haiti.

In 1986 Carroll was appointed executive director of the Corps' nongovernmental alumni association, in which capacity he was a pest. "In 1990 the director of the Peace Corps, I suppose to get me out of town, asked me if I would like to become a country director," he says. Carroll served as a country director for five years, in Pakistan, Poland and Russia.

The Peace Corps is 38 years old this month. On March 3, the House of Representatives voted 326-90 to reauthorize the agency for four years -- its first multiyear reauthorization -- and to increase its budget so that it might, by 2003, send 10,000 volunteers overseas, the most since the early 1960s. A similar measure is sure to pass the Senate. "It has reached a point where it is essentially stipulated that the Peace Corps is a good thing," says the Corps director, Mark Gearan.

It is a good thing, and for reasons that should be noted by weavers of grand governmental schemes everywhere.

The Peace Corps is modest; the legislation establishing the agency required it to perform only three tasks: "to help the peoples" of host countries, "to help promote a better understanding on the part of the peoples served, and a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people." Done, almost by definition.

The Peace Corps is, on America's behalf, self-interested. In his 1960 Cow Palace speech proposing the Corps, John F. Kennedy made repeatedly clear that the primary strategic function of Corps volunteers was not to altruistically help the world's suffering poor but to serve as anti-Soviet propagandists by deed for the American way.

The Peace Corps is, on its own behalf, not self-interested, at least by bureaucratic standards. Its charter forbids its officials to serve more than five years, which forces the agency to remain young and active, and discourages careerists. This structurally enforced ethos attracts thousands of people each year to volunteer for two years of hard, dangerous work (220 volunteers have died in service).

The Peace Corps is subversive. It attracts idealists and free spirits, and it does not tell them that they are to advance American foreign policy. But they are, and they do, because they think they are not so doing. "Of course 90 percent of Peace Corps alumni will assure you that they were never, ever an arm of American foreign policy," says Carroll. "Which simply proves that the whole thing works: It is an arm of American foreign policy precisely in as much as it is not an arm of American foreign policy."

A creation of government that actually understands and exploits human nature. What an idea.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal.
More about Journalist Michael Kelly

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U.S. Journalist Michael Kelly Killed in Iraq

U.S. Journalist Michael Kelly Killed in Iraq
Fri Apr 4, 4:53 PM ET

By Greg Frost

BOSTON (Reuters) - Michael Kelly, a former editor in chief of The Atlantic Monthly, was killed along with an American soldier in an accident involving their Humvee military vehicle in Iraq (news - web sites), magazine staff and U.S. officials said on Friday.

A staunch advocate of removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) from power, Kelly, 46, was the first American journalist and the first "embedded" journalist to die in the 2-week-old conflict.

The Atlantic Monthly said Kelly, who was embedded with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, died on Thursday night while on assignment for the magazine. He also wrote a weekly syndicated column for The Washington Post.

"Some people knew Michael as one of this country's most gifted writers and editors. Many knew him as a fiery columnist. I knew him as an honest, funny, caring and even gentle human being," John Fox Sullivan, president and group publisher of Atlantic Media, said in a statement.

In an online obituary on Friday, The Washington Post called Kelly a "caustic conservative who was merciless in his criticism of Bill Clinton (news - web sites) and Al Gore (news - web sites)." A strong supporter of President Bush (news - web sites)'s plan to oust the Iraqi president, Kelly chastised those who opposed the war.

"To march against the war is not to give peace a chance. It is to give tyranny a chance. It is to give the Iraqi nuke a chance. It is to give the next terrorist mass murder a chance. It is to march for the furtherance of evil instead of the vanquishing of evil," he wrote in a Feb. 19 column.

U.S. defense officials said the circumstances and cause of the accident were still under investigation, and they withheld the identity of the other person killed in the accident pending notification of family members.


Kelly, who was until recently editor in chief at The Atlantic Monthly, covered the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites) as a freelance correspondent for The New Republic, GQ, and The Boston Globe.

He won high praise for his reporting on how U.S. funds helped pay to rebuild lavish palaces of Kuwaiti leaders after the conflict. Based on his experiences in Iraq, he wrote the book "Martyrs' Day," which won the PEN-Martha Albrand award.

"I was so mad at him for going back a second time. He had a good war -- he didn't need another one," said Martin Beiser, outgoing managing editor at GQ.

Pentagon (news - web sites) chief spokeswoman Victoria Clarke lauded Kelly, noting that several journalists had died "trying to tell the very important story" of the U.S.- and British-led war.

"Mike was just a phenomenal journalist, with an enthusiasm for his work that was surpassed only by his passion for his family," Clarke said during a Pentagon briefing.

Kelly was the fourth journalist killed in action in the war. That is equal to the number of journalists killed in the Gulf War 12 years ago. Two additional journalists are still missing in Iraq.

BBC cameraman Kaveh Golestan was killed by a land mine as he climbed out of a car in the northern town of Kifri this week. The first victim, Australian cameraman Paul Moran, was killed in the north last month by a car bomb Kurdish officials blamed on the militant Islamic group Ansar al-Islam.

Terry Lloyd, a reporter with Britain's Independent Television News, was killed after coming under fire on the way to Basra in the south. Two of his crew are still missing.

Britain's Channel 4 TV reporter Gaby Rado was found dead at an Iraqi hotel, but his employers said the death appeared to be unconnected to combat.

Some 600 journalists are embedded with U.S. and British forces.

Prior to his arrival at The Atlantic Monthly, Kelly was the editor of National Journal from 1998 to 2000 and of The New Republic from 1996 to 1997. Kelly is survived by his wife, Madelyn, and two sons.

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