‘Westering’s Died Out… It’s No More’

Glendora Press November 2, 1969

‘Westering’s Died Out… It’s No More’

(Editor’s Note: Glendora High School teacher Dwayne Hunn continues his series of articles describing his Peace Corps experience. He continues with his impressions of life in America which he feels lead the young into Peace Corps service.)

By DWAYNE HUNN

In many nations Americans have a bad image. They have a bad image for many of the reasons that the young criticize their affluent parents.

American tourists tend to flaunt their wealth, trample on foreign customs and cultures, believe living first class in nations whose masses live third class gives them peroga­tives. Being Americans, the most successful yet to dwell on the earth — luckily, on its richest continent, seems to mean they deserve to be treated as prima-donnas.

In the 50’s our image was worse than today’s. The high society tourist and high society ambassador inundated our foreign affairs. The Ugly American by Eugene Lederer splashed this story on the American reading market and it became a topic of discussion.

It had not been much more than a decade since we had saved Europe from poverty and the radical philosophies poverty sprouts. The Europeans, with their Puritan ethic, their assembly line know-how and our millions of dollars through the Marshall Plan, rebuilt. By 1959 we had spent 10 times as much in foreign aid as Russia had. Yet the edifices Russia built and her propaganda about us seemed to be winning more hearts than we were. She would point to the strings we attached to our aid, to our demands for a return on invest­ment (from first time entrepreneurs), and to the ex-colonial power we had as allies, and the lesser developed countries of Asia and Africa listened.

World War II had toppled the sleeping America giant from a pleasant dream that we could grow and prosper as the nation did in the era of the Davey Crocketts. World War II shot the fortress America theory and afterwards we had to get involved in the world’s growing pains along with our own. Our first adventure in this area led to the rebirth at Europe. It was not too hard. We gave lots of dollars, some skilled help, and Europe was better than before. As a world power we learned pretty fast. Putting the world in economic shape would not be too hard for the ex-sleeping giant.

For awhile we must have mislaid our history texts. We pumped money into Asia and Africa and nothing near what happened in Europe happened. We became disgusted and frustrated. That the Industrial Revolution hit Europe in 1775 and, in some parts of Asia and Africa still has not hit, did not seem to register with some impatient Americans.

Some Americans started realizing that there was a need for some human skills before a nation could start doing tricks with dollar bills. So by 1959 America had 3,200 techni­cians and engineers working in LDCs to plant the seeds for economic growth. Still Russia seemed to be moving ahead in world affairs and the acceleration of her economy was the bulk of the developing, and developed, world. The fact that in 1959 Russia had 6,100 technicians and engineers planting those same seeds, and in twice as many fields, might have been one of the reasons she was still surging while we seemed to be moving in a quagmire for the hearts of other peoples.

In a sense we had been entering a new era of isolation­ism. We, within our nation confines, had produced more than any other nation in history. To do this, we had to know a great deal — at least about ourselves. What had we learned about other nations? We were the most travelled nation in history and because we had produced so much, we travelled first class. Only minute sections of the LDCs lived first class so what we saw and brought home was not reality.

There are, and probably always will be, the narrowminded first class tourists. But the 60’s ushered in a president who wanted to put in more of a new breed into the field of economic development. Kennedy wanted dedicated men, not partygoers; he wanted them to know the native language, not just English. He got rid of much of the deadwood in the foreign affairs office. He pumped the LDCs with a fresh, energetic breed of idealistic BA.generalists. He offered them an op­portunity to rough it—a desire he sensed their building frus­tration called for, And he hoped that they were not just mou­thing slogans, that they were not yet spoiled by affluence, and that they could respond to the kind of challenges long forgotten in our history.

Kennedy’s one thousand days were appropriately termed the New Frontier. Some of his programs and his aura offered an exciting challenge to many Americans. When John Steinbeck in Red Pony lamented:

“No place to go, Jody. Every place is taken. But that’s not the worst—no, not the worst. Westering’s died out of the people. Westering isn’t a hunger any more. It’s all done…”

He was speaking of something that muscles America’s fibre; that girded her backbone. He was speaking of a loss that many were sensing—a loss based on readily having too much. To many, Kennedy offered the spirit of the cowboy. His Peace Corps offered something akin to the rawness of the west of years ago. You did not use six guns as your tools, but your mind, hands, and the accumulated experience that about 20 years of life in twentieth century America could pump into you. It was exciting and challenging, but it was cushioned too. For you knew you could always ride back to protective Marshal Sam. The sheep ranchers you left behind had no Marshal to ride to in leaving their hovels behind.

The bulk of the Peace Corp is still composed of B.A. generalists. They are not exactly technicians and engineers, and what skills they have must have been developed by participating in the life of their earlier environment. Anyway, mere technicians and engineers are not what LDCs need.

Often technicians and engineers lack the social or liberal arts education that would allow them to understand the sociology, psychology, culture, or history of a foreign land. After many years of mastering an exacting science they lack the patience or desire to measure human developments in anything but definite progressions. If the engineers’ efforts are not eliciting successful strides by the natives, then the engineers may become irritable and sometimes goad or degrade the natives, which is seldom a good policy. Against this setting the B.A. generalist, who is willing to listen and learn and who has a basic but broad under­standing of the needs of LDCs, is a greater asset to the LDCs and his own nation’s foreign policy.

In the total picture, however, LDCs need specific skills to enable them to stand on their own. The idealistic, college grad volunteer realizes his insufficiency in fulfilling this role more than anyone else. The new director, Joe Blatchford, found the present time opportune to try to remedy this situa­tion.

Some have criticized the Corps as a post-graduate trip, financed by the government, to help graduates find them­selves. Others have criticized it for being a prejudiced insti­tution, catering to that class that can finish college. But the Corps has always asked for older people, successful businessmen, carpenters, mechanics, farmers, etc. The response was never great. College kids respond, in part, because they are tired of the easy life and want to see if their mettle measures up. Mechanics, carpenters, farmers, etc., feel that they have been testing their mettle all their lives, haven’t been taught in classrooms of idealism or the brotherhood of man­kind and have been too interested in making a little more money each year, before their bodies wear out, to be interested in the Peace Corps.

Blatchford has initiated special pay incentives to attract these men to the Corps. If on top of their skills training can inject sensitivity to a foreign culture and a certain idealism, then the Peace Corps could be a truly dynamic outfit. The background of the skilled laborer rubbing with that of the college grad’s in their respective work experiences may cause some sparks to fly at first. In the end, however, the sharing of experiences, the communicating of ideas will enrich the lives of Americans at home, enlighten the officials in Washington, and brighten the lives of those LDCs they work in.

The Peace Corps was good as it was. A sign of this is the tag the Communists paste on them as CIA agents, and the tag the LCS’s ruling elites paste on them as commies. Such innuendoes will not kill the Peace Corps. Snide remarks by groups back home that returned volunteers are just a hunch of pinkies probably do more harm. Some from these groups have been the skilled laborers who look on the Corps as a government financed vacation for the college kids. Getting the college kids and the laborers together in theis venture will result in both being more worldly aware and worldly mature.

It would be tragic if their were no more frontiers; tragic if there were no more challenges for youth on which to vent their pent-up strength. And there is westering to be done—in building communications between people, in providing a meaningful education in the classroom, in giving the ghetto kid a better starting block in the race of life, in exploring space, in nurturing the ocean floor, in giving and learning in the LDCs.

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