Buffeted by controversy, an American institution faces an even deeper question: why it exists at all
Fifty years ago this spring, President John F. Kennedy breathed life into what had seemed at first like simply an ingenious campaign promise: to send idealistic young people — “America’s best resource” — out into the furthest villages and towns of the developing world to boost the image of the United States abroad.
This was the Peace Corps. In the years since, more than 200,000 Americans have served as volunteers, and the Peace Corps itself has become more than just another government agency. It has become an idea, the perfect embodiment of America at its best: selfless and unobtrusive, trying to do good in the world by helping the less fortunate achieve their potential.
This year the agency is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a plethora of parties, expos, and panel discussions. A support lobby has coalesced around the motto “More Peace Corps,” asking for additional government money to fund even more volunteers. But as it celebrates, it is also being confronted with an uncomfortable doubt being raised by more and more of those who were themselves once those idealistic and young volunteers: The Peace Corps — an agency with a budget that reached $400 million in 2010 and which sends nearly 9,000 volunteers into risky environments every year — may no longer have a real purpose. Read More…