January 1, 2002 - Con-text: Expropriating National Service for our "War" An Editorial by Gabon RPCV Joby Taylor

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Gabon: Peace Corps Gabon : The Peace Corps in Gabon: January 1, 2002 - Con-text: Expropriating National Service for our "War" An Editorial by Gabon RPCV Joby Taylor

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Expropriating National Service for our "War" An Editorial by Gabon RPCV Joby Taylor

Expropriating National Service for our War An Editorial by Gabon RPCV Joby Taylor

Expropriating National Service for our "War" An Editorial by Gabon RPCV Joby Taylor

Expropriating National Service for our "War"

An Editorial by Joby Taylor, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

© 2002

In his "State of the Union" address, President Bush announced that Peace Corps would be doubled in size, as would domestic service programs through the creation of a Freedom Corps. I suspect that many listeners interpreted this as a resounding affirmation and pledge of support for community service efforts at home and abroad. Call me a cynic but as an RPCV, a continuing supporter of community service learning programs, and a student of rhetoric, I heard something quite different.

Although it is certainly true that "national service" has operated for the past 100 years primarily with an underlying metaphor that "service is war" (e.g., "attacking social problems," "mobilizing social forces," the "Corps" traditions - ), Bush's speech, and Senator John McCaine's proposed National Service legislation represent a new era of co-opting community service programs for war (I cant bring myself to capitalize "war" because no war has been formally declared and, furthermore, with the exception of U.S. bombing campaigns, none of this resembles a war - the initial acts of September being more analogous to a crime, albeit a crime of tremendous scale). What I'm suggesting is that in a similar manner to that which saw the idealistic concept "Leave No Child Behind" effectively transformed into an educational policy of "leave no child untested," here we have grass roots community service programs being redesigned through rhetorical, policy, and funding shifts of emphasis into grassroots programs for homeland defense and international intelligence.

In a choice made prior to September 11 President Bush appointed Gaddi Vasquez as the new director of the Peace Corps, a choice opposed right up until his January 25 Senate confirmation by a large number of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. It's a major task to filter all the information, but to the best of my knowledge Vasquez does seem a totally inappropriate choice for director, especially if we are to regard Bush's sudden interest in Peace Corps as sincere. Vasquez's only resume for the job, which I personally heard forwarded by U.S. Peace Corps staff in their effort to look on the bright side, was that "He is the child of Hispanic migrant workers - so he understands poverty." As Vasquez was leaving his prior position as Supervisor of Orange County CA amidst a bankruptcy scandal to the tune of 1.7 billion dollars (our nations largest ever), he managed to transfer $100,000 of his personal campaign funds to the Bush presidential campaign. That contribution combined with the political importance and rarity of his being a Hispanic and a Republican from southern California (the state with the largest number of electoral votes) were sufficient to land him the director nomination despite the bankruptcy scandal, despite his lack of any international experience, despite the fact that he has no prior connection with Peace Corps, despite the fact that his resume for the job was last updated at his birth, despite, despite - .

But why would Bush stick with this nomination after Sept.11? One answer might be "because he could" (i.e., the nomination wasn't in danger of serious opposition) - and after following the confirmation hearings I guess I'm forced to basically accept this. Despite opposition from Sargent Shriver among other former directors and scads of Returned Volunteer letters and calls, Maryland's Senator Paul Sarbanes was the only one to put serious questions to Vasquez in subcommittee hearings. He was later unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

But additionally, consider the logic of expropriating (i.e., taking something for one's own ends) national service for the purposes of Defense and Intelligence gathering. The last thing the administration would want is a competent, concerned, even idealistic, former Peace Corps Volunteer type for the job, when the intention is to shift its organizational focus toward conservatism and unilateralism (i.e., its about what we need not them). Doubling its size and sending the majority of new volunteers to Muslim countries - are you kidding me! Any success that Peace Corps has had in shedding its "CIA infiltrated" mask is, I feel safe to say, now a matter of history. If a major issue in the current "war" is our nation's general poverty of cultural knowledge and "intelligence" about predominantly Muslim countries, then what better cover for intelligence gathering projects and what better recruiting ground for Americans with cultural and linguistic skills (i.e., future agents) in this area than grass roots efforts like those of the Peace Corps? This is multiculturalism at its exploitative worst. Personally, I think smallness of scale has always been critical to the mission of Peace Corps. I think expansion is a vision of bureaucrats, not volunteers. More is not always better and I can't imagine Gabon, my Peace Corps country of service, with twice the number of volunteers. It would simply be too much.

The doubling of AmeriCorps under the title "Freedom Corps" reveals the same underhanded logic. The proposed legislation covers not only increases in community service programs but also explicitly military programs like ROTC. One need not be radically anti-militaristic to question the pairing of military service with community service in the same bill. McCaine gives preference to those AmeriCorps programs that create an esprit de corps through explicitly military-style techniques such as wearing uniforms and beginning their day with physical training. And what are Senator McCaine's credentials legitimizing his leadership of this initiative, the fact that he served in the military and was a POW? The focus of Freedom Corps, which seems generally sub-headed under a "homeland defense" mission, will also, I fear, decrease the community interaction of community service. How much community is there in guarding a local water reservoir? Will Freedom Corps volunteers be issued guns or just walkie-talkies?

What I am saying my friends is that I think that there is a great deal at stake in this collusion of military service and community service - in exploiting people's desire to participate in building community for the political ends of promoting unquestioned nationalism. I don't feel like National Service just doubled in size, I feel like it was stolen.

About the Author

Peace Corps Online

Joby Taylor directs the Peaceworkers Program at the Shriver Center at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). He also coordinates several other programs housed in the Shriver Center, including a hands-on education class for undergraduates interested in reforming urban education and a support program for young scholars, the majority of whom are 13 and 14 years old. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Taylor came to UMBC from Gabon as a Shriver Peaceworker Fellow, a fellowship that allows returning Peace Corps volunteers to pursue graduate degrees while obtaining direction toward community service projects here in the U.S. He is on the Board of Directors of the Maryland Returned Volunteers

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Story Source: Con-text

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; National Service; Speaking Out; Peace Corps Directors - Vasquez; COS - Gabon; Intelligence Issues


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