The Corner

A Breeze from Belize

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. I have a piece on this program in the current National Review. (I am particularly interested in conservatives’ involvement in it.) I also have an item in today’s Impromptus. And I have just received a letter from Belize I would like to share with you. (It’s an e-mail. We’re still allowed to say “letter,” aren’t we, especially when an e-mail is long?)

Mr. Nordlinger,

I am an avid reader of National Review, a solid conservative in the Texas sense [!], and a current 57-year-old Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize. . . .

People often forget that the Peace Corps was part of the “soft power” we Americans deployed against Communism.

Today, one in seven Volunteers serves in one of the 15 countries that used to form the Soviet Union. I tear up just typing the preceding sentence. When Nikita Khrushchev was pounding his shoe at the U.N., he certainly didn’t see that coming. “We will hang your volunteers’ hammocks — and you will sell us the rope.”

I am a great believer in the Peace Corps, especially when it adheres to its basic idea of energetic young people teaching basic skills in the world’s poorest places.

I am a Columbia Law School grad and ended up in a capital city (Belmopan) drafting laws on a daily basis (a very odd assignment for the Peace Corps). I mention this because in my position I witness the effects of the U.N. and NGOs on a developing country. Day after day, the best and brightest of developing countries spend their time fulfilling the requirements of these agencies in order to obtain grants.

My deep capitalistic soul thinks that these talented and driven people should be starting businesses instead of jumping through hoops for a handout. The lesson derived from these exercises often appears to be that people’s time is of little importance compared with a “donation” directed by a third-party central planner.

The Peace Corps takes a different approach, working to develop human capital mostly through some form of education, including business training. We are even involved in microloans. The emphasis is on the value of the individual and small groups. While many in the Peace Corps have a liberal slant, at its essence, the Peace Corps message is profoundly conservative. . . .

I have been extremely impressed with my fellow Volunteers, and Americans should be extremely proud of the young people who are representing them. It is a high honor to be able to serve the United States in this way.

Now, there are less friendly assessments of the Peace Corps, as you don’t need to be told. I have aired them, in various writings. But isn’t that a wonderful letter? The kind of letter an agency deserves on its golden anniversary, I suppose.

P.S. I especially like the phrase “my deep capitalist soul” — something you don’t hear from just any Peace Corps volunteer (or, honestly, just any person).

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