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My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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WASHINGTON, D. C—I was somewhat surprised the other day to see that Rep. Frances Bolton of Ohio, for whom I have great respect, is opposed to the idea of a Peace Corps. If the reports I read are correct, she has certainly misunderstood much of what has been planned on this subject. Rep. Bolton is quoted as saying at a meeting: "Young people and even middle-aged people would go overseas without any training, without any understanding of the places they are going, and without any certain knowledge of what they are doing."

This does not in any way correspond with my concept of the plan. Neither do I have any sympathy with another speaker, Mrs. David Fernald, who said: "I am honestly skeptical. I would suggest: Spare them the ordeal." If we cannot learn to get on in any part of the world, then I would mildly suggest that we are not going to be able to survive the struggle we are now engaged in.

The Peace Corps program, of course, is something that will evolve slowly and be modified many times according to experience. One of the things needed by young and old alike when adjusting to life in different areas of the world is self-discipline. It is hard to realize that it takes time to adjust to new climates, foods and living conditions, and that you cannot immediately adopt the same customs and routines as the natives. If your stay in a new country is to be short, and you wish to remain well while you are there, you had better observe all the rules which have been laid down for you. If you are going to stay for a long time and wish to live as the natives do, then you must be prepared to go through some periods of extremely uncomfortable illnesses, or certainly to take all the precautions which you are told are necessary. This requires self-discipline and a full realization of the dangers and differences under which you are living. But people are doing this all over the world, and for us to think that we are unable to do it is an admission of inferiority.

I also see that another criticism of the Peace Corps which I had anticipated—namely, that it is an organization provided for "draft dodgers"—has already been made by one of our Congressmen. In reply I would like to suggest that we look a little more realistically at our situation today. The draft is not really an assurance that everyone will serve his country to the limit of his ability in a military way. Far from it. It is a most unfair way of demanding from an occasional young person here and there that he come in for training, while the rest of his neighborhood is exempt and goes on about its daily business. He spends two or three years being trained, usually for some phase of nuclear war, and just when he has about reached a certain competence he is let out of the service.

This training has cost the government considerable money. Yet should the young man be needed again after a few months or years have passed he will have to be re-trained, for inevitably the machines or weapons he has learned to use will by that time be vastly different. Could we devise a more wasteful and unfair method of service?

Our draft program, moreover, leaves the women out completely, although it is certainly as important that girls as well as boys have a sense of responsibility for the good of their nation. Here again it is a matter of continuing a practice simply because at one time it was useful. But our plans now need re-thinking, because the world has changed. Our young people are fine young people, but the times we live in ask for discipline and service from everybody. Work can be found for people of different capacities. A slight physical defect is no reason not to render service.

"Draft dodgers," the epithet used by the Congressman, has no meaning anymore, for all of us should be working to prevent the next war and the mass annihilation that would come with it. The Peace Corps is one small way to take part in this effort—an effort in which every one of us should be active in any way we find possible.

E. R.

(Copyright, 1961, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, March 13, 1961

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.