July 27, 2003 - New York Times: War-Zone Peace Corps?

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: July 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: July 27, 2003 - New York Times: War-Zone Peace Corps?

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 9:57 am: Edit Post

War-Zone Peace Corps?





Read and comment on this letter to the editor of the New York Times commenting on the proposal in an op-ed that Peace Corps volunteers work alongside the military in hostile situations. The letter instead proposes to build up the civil affairs section of the military or encourage better relations between the military and nongovernmental groups to address humanitarian problems in hostile areas. Let's not militarize the Peace Corps. Read the letter at:

War-Zone Peace Corps?*

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



War-Zone Peace Corps?

to the Editor:

Re "Send In the Peace Corps," by Avi M. Spiegel (Op-Ed, July 23):

The proposal that Peace Corps volunteers work alongside the military in hostile situations discounts several aspects of the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps is disproportionately composed of young people with limited life experience who often lack the training and supervision to work effectively in hostile situations.

The two-year term of service limits the corps' institutional memory in some areas. (In Senegal, where I served from 1989 to 1991, volunteers in a particular village were not replaced after their service.)

Volunteers live and work in areas where poverty and underdevelopment can fuel violence. By learning indigenous languages, living in rural villages and working side by side with marginalized groups, volunteers fight anti-Americanism.

Let's build up the civil affairs section of the military or encourage better relations between the military and nongovernmental groups to address humanitarian problems in hostile areas. Let's not militarize the Peace Corps.

AMY S. PATTERSON
Grand Rapids, Mich., July 23, 2003



July 23, 2003 - Send in the Peace Corps?





Read and comment on the op-ed piece referred to in the previous piece from the New York Times on July 23, 2003 by Morocco RPCV Avi Spiegel that says that instead of making the military better at humanitarian assignments (in Iraq, Afghanistan and perhaps Liberia), humanitarian groups should strive to become more comfortable in military situations:
"Today the war on terror guides America's foreign policy, and it is all-encompassing. No nation is totally immune from danger. If it only allowed its volunteers in safe, stable countries, the Peace Corps would risk being shut out of too much of the world. The security situations in these countries may not change, but the Peace Corps can.

Unfortunately, the Peace Corps removes its volunteers just when they are needed the most: when anti-Americanism is running unchecked and the need for contact with ordinary American citizens is greatest. Volunteers who have just graduated from college may not be prepared to serve in these challenging settings. But there are surely Americans, given the right amount of training and experience, who would relish the chance."
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers have been discussing when the Peace Corps should return to Afghanistan at:

When should Peace Corps return to Afghanistan? 15 March 2002


The issue of the relationship between the military and humanitarian aid organizations is one that RPCVs like Representative Chris Shays have strong opinions about. Read his point of view at:

RPCV Congressman Chris Shays travels to Iraq - Says Humanitarian Aid Organizations are frustrated 23 April 2003


Read the op-ed then read another op-ed by Spiegel following this one on how the US should enlarge existing programs like the Peace Corps to help meet the growing demand for dialogue with Arab youth at:

Send in the Peace Corps*

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



Send in the Peace Corps
By AVI M. SPIEGEL

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's dreams of a leaner and meaner military, a smaller yet more modernized force, are in jeopardy. Faced with continued resistance in Iraq and peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials are now considering proposals to expand and restructure American forces amid fears that longer deployments will result in an overextended military.

Their focus may be misplaced. The question of how to reorganize the armed forces should be turned on its head: instead of making the military better at humanitarian assignments (in Iraq, Afghanistan and perhaps Liberia), humanitarian groups should strive to become more comfortable in military situations.

The Peace Corps, America's oldest overseas volunteer program, should equip itself to enter regions it now deems too dangerous. A force of trained and educated volunteers could improve its cooperation with the military and learn how to conduct itself in such settings.

With Congress debating spending on the Peace Corps and Americorps, it is time to update the Peace Corps' mission. Even in the face of mounting budgetary concerns, neither the military nor the Peace Corps is likely to react well to calls for a more active, less gun-shy Peace Corps.

Indeed, most humanitarian organizations cling to their independence and worry that any semblance of cooperation with the military might jeopardize their credibility. In postwar Iraq, on the other hand, the military was slow to allow international humanitarian workers into the country because of concerns over their protection, and volunteer organizations complained about lack of access.

The lessons are telling: there are humanitarian workers who are capable of entering dangerous situations, and better relations with the military just might allow them better access.

Even journalists in Iraq gave up reservations about being "embedded" in the military. No one is suggesting Peace Corps volunteers answer to the military. But isn't providing humanitarian assistance at least as important as reporting the news?

Amid tales of declining troop morale or of soldiers assuming draining humanitarian duties, America's volunteer humanitarian force the Peace Corps has been notably absent in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reluctance to send volunteers into potentially dangerous situations might have been understandable in the past. The agency was formed in 1961, during the cold war, when the battle against Communism shaped United States foreign policy. Peace Corps volunteers were frequently withdrawn from any country in which the political situation became unstable.

Today the war on terror guides America's foreign policy, and it is all-encompassing. No nation is totally immune from danger. If it only allowed its volunteers in safe, stable countries, the Peace Corps would risk being shut out of too much of the world. The security situations in these countries may not change, but the Peace Corps can.

Four years ago I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. Today I simply would not have that option. The Peace Corps withdrew earlier this year from its lone outposts in the Arab world, Morocco and Jordan. (The organization announced yesterday that it would return to Jordan next year.) Meanwhile, the Pentagon is planning to expand its military presence in the region.

Unfortunately, the Peace Corps removes its volunteers just when they are needed the most: when anti-Americanism is running unchecked and the need for contact with ordinary American citizens is greatest. Volunteers who have just graduated from college may not be prepared to serve in these challenging settings. But there are surely Americans, given the right amount of training and experience, who would relish the chance.

From North Africa to the Persian Gulf, the sole face of America is too often the face of a soldier. American citizens deserve the chance to change that image for their own good and for the good of their country.

Avi M. Spiegel, a student at Harvard Divinity School and the New York University School of Law, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco from 1998 to 2000.




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