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While window is still open

Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Open Forum:

“Gorbachev world needs you.”

Gorbachev we miss ya...?  But push Putin to do the right thing anyway.
Gorbachev we miss ya…? But push Putin to do the right thing anyway.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, 9-15-1989

While the window is still open, FORUM

Dwayne Hunn

Gorbachev  has  opened  a window of opportunity to  the  world.   His changes give all politicians fewer excuses to not redirect military spending to pressing  social and humanitarian needs. While the window of  opportunity  is open,  we must establish programs that will open so many windows  that  the fresh, warm  air of new ideas will never again be closed by cold or hot wars.

One means of doing that is with an American-Soviet Peace Corps.

An American-Soviet Peace Corps would act much like the American Peace Corps established by President Kennedy in 1961.   Soviet  and  American volunteers  would  train for at least three months in  language,  custom, and work  skills  essential to their job performance.  From the  start  of  training until completion of service (usually two years later) a Soviet and an  American would  be roommates and workmates. This small program difference from the American Peace Corps could make a world of difference.

The results should be clear to all of us who have experienced living and working alongside strangers on projects that we knew were  worthwhile endeavors.   Interpersonal bonds will be built between the Soviet and  American volunteers as well as with those in whose nations the work is done.

From  their  time of service onward, each volunteer’s  “working  bonds” will allow all involved to more easily “reach out and touch someone” who  may be  half way around the world.  The world will more quickly become a global village of friends.

These working bonds will make it more difficult for radicals or  narrow minded bureaucrats to develop national hatred for nations  whose  volunteers have  worked at the grassroots level with their people.  The world  will  more personally  understand national needs and desires  because more people  from the  world’s  most  powerful nations will have worked face-to-face with  the people of nations in need.

Since 1961 approximately 125,000 American Peace Corps have served  in underdeveloped  nations  around the world.  Millions of people in underdeveloped nations  have  been  touched by the  efforts  of  those  volunteers. Without those efforts and resulting relationships, many of those nations would probably have more antagonistic policies toward America.

Consider this.  The Peace Corps was withdrawn from Nicaragua in  1979, as  the  Sandinistas  wrenched  power away  from  the  American  supported President  Somoza; and from Iran in 1976, as the Ayatolla’s  campaign against the  American supported Shah began toppling the Shah’s regime. An  American Peace Corps may not have been wanted in those countries during those troubled periods, but had an American-Soviet Peace Corps been in existence then, an option other than military support could have been added to the means  of reducing tensions in those areas.

Neither the American Peace Corps nor the American-Soviet Peace  Corps should  be  a  tool  of  diplomatic  policy.   It  is  obvious,  however, that international  crisis most often stem from the failure to provide  unmet  basic needs  — such as food, sanitation, health and literacy.  The state of today’s world does not presage that delivery of those needs is about to drastically improve.

  • The Green Revolution that started boosting world grain production in the late 60’s peaked in the mid-80’s. Consumption and population has continued to increase and carryover stocks of food have been falling.
  • Each year land area 6.5 times as large as Belgium becomes so impoverished  that they are unprofitable to farm or graze.  Desertification  marches on  as people in need cut trees for fuel and heat; erosion results from  the lost  root structures; rains erode fertile lands; rangelands for grazing are reduced and what remains is overgrazed.
  • Global temperature records spanning the last century show that the five warmest  years have all occurred in the eighties – 1980,1981,1983,1987,1988.   With  global  warming  comes  the  depletion  of  the  ozone    Scientists tell us that restoring the lost rain forests is one of the means of checking the disasters global warming and ozone depletion bring.

Of course, the profligate lifestyle lead by those of us born into the rich nations  of the world — carbon dioxide spewing automobiles for  the  shortest trip; chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs, alias freon) dumped into the atmosphere  from  air  conditioners,  refrigerators,  aerosol  sprayers  and  fast  food  carryout containers;  plastic, aluminum and convenience throwaways substituted for the most  minor social inconvenience polluting our shrinking landfills;  these  acts do  more  to  ravage  the  atmosphere than do  the  forest  cuttings  of  the struggling,  uneducated  and  unaware poor.

Yet, it may  be  that  only  by working  with the poor on their needs can we learn enough to make the  rich and  the poor more aware of the care needed to preserve our  fragile  planet. Watching the destruction of our environment on the television news or reading about  solutions in a newsmagazine will never foster the lifestyle change  that results from working on and against the problem.

Returned Peace Corps volunteers often say that the Peace Corps experience “taught them more than they  were  able  to teach.”  The same lessons would be etched into the American-Soviet  PCVs character.  Coming from the classroom of the world where needs and desires are more basic, their experiences would help change the wasteful lifestyle that harms the environment and harmonious social progress.

While attending Cleveland’s St. Ignatius High School, the Jesuits had me reading books by Dr. Tom Dooley and Albert Schweitzer.  Thoughts about the authors’ work among the poor in less developed areas of the world never left some  corner  of  my mind.  Years later I was part of a  Peace  Corps  Urban Community  Development Group working in the slums of Bombay where  maimed beggars,  poor  people  scavenging  garbage piles for  food became common sights and where rats  outnumbered  the population 5-1.

Years later, from comfortable Marin County California, those memories prompted me to try to start a model Soviet American  Peace  Corps  with  foundation funding.  Failing to raise the needed funding, I sought Congressional support.

In the spring 1989 session of Congress, Congresswoman Boxer introduced HR 1807 requesting:

“… the President to conclude agreements with the appropriate representative of the Government of the Soviet Union to create the United State-Soviet Peace Corps.”

A United States-Soviet Peace Corps could give the world cleaner skies under which fewer hungry and fewer angry people could sleep.