Orthopedists are busy these days fitting braces to all the jerking knees of
Peace Corps supporters opposed to ties with the U.S. military. A Pentagon program,
legislated by Congress three years ago and increasingly promoted by the military
now that its recruitment numbers are flagging, allows soldiers to join the Peace
Corps to meet part of their military obligation.
Under the National Call
to Service legislation, which was guided through Congress by Sens. John McCain,
R-Ariz., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind., soldiers could spend 3 ½ years in one of
the four branches and then fulfill the rest of their commitment with two years
as Peace Corps volunteers.
Opposed to all wars
allies are throwing major and minor fits. What's this? Soldiers trained to kill
would now become idealists trained to heal? Except in Tolstoy, war and peace don't
mix, no more than hawks and doves are nesting mates.
As a pacifist opposed
to all wars past, current and future, I'm also wary of increasing the military's
reach. But not this time. The Peace Corps should be open to all comers, regardless
of the route they take to apply. Is someone with a liberal arts degree from an
Ivy League school somehow superior in character and skills to a Marine lance corporal
educated by surviving combat in Iraq?
Elitism is at work here: The purity
of the Peace Corps will be sullied by opening the doors to militarists.
contamination is the fear, why not exclude all former soldiers who might want
to join the Peace Corps? If that idea has never been advanced, and it never has,
what's the difference between accepting those recently out of the military and
those still in? If they are qualified and can pass all the entrance requirements,
let them in.
A bias against people in the military has long infected the
American peace movement, as if denouncing war must include denouncing warriors.
It was a World War II combat veteran, Sargent Shriver, who became the first director
of the Peace Corps as the appointee of another combat veteran, President John
F. Kennedy. The list is long of soldiers who went from believing in peace through
strength to strength through peace: Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Howard
Zinn, Andy Jacobs, Philip Berrigan, Garry Davis, George McGovern, among others.
Paragons of discipline
Mahatma Gandhi, a noncombatant in the Boer War,
strongly admired soldiers. When asked about that -- how could the great practitioner
of nonviolence hold the military in high regard? -- he replied that soldiers were
paragons of discipline and resolve, virtues often lacking in peacemakers, who
sometimes think that it is enough to stage antiwar marches and hold con- ferences
to damn the military.
An alliance with the Pentagon could be an opportunity
for Peace Corps supporters to shake the Pentagon's money tree and increase the
Peace Corps budget. Congress lavishes more than $1 billion a day on the military,
which is almost five times more than what it gives the Peace Corps in a year.
That's the real scandal. With more money, fewer qualified Peace Corps applicants
would be turned away. Perhaps, with more slots, fewer people would be choosing
the military in the first place.
Colman McCarthy directs the Center
for Teaching Peace.
© 2005 Miami Herald