Practical Idealism

How Sargent Shriver Built the Peace Corps

On January 18, 2011, Sargent Shriver died at the grand old age of ninety-five. His passing came half a century—almost to the day—after John F. Kennedy, newly sworn in as thirty-fifth president of the United States, summoned him from Chicago to take the lead in designing and developing the Peace Corps that Kennedy had pledged in his campaign to create. These twinned events, last year’s fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the Peace Corps together with the death of its illustrious founding director, provide occasion to reflect anew on the Peace Corps’ singular contribution to American peacemaking and public policy, and on the practical idealism of the man who brought John F. Kennedy’s campaign pledge to life.

Fifty years ago the Peace Corps represented a brand-new idea. Nothing like it had ever been tried by the U.S. government, and the nation greeted it with widespread enthusiasm—one Harris poll showed over 70 percent of Americans favored its creation. Today we are no longer as curious about the organization and what it does; with familiarity has come the easy assumption that we already know all we need to know about the Peace Corps. It is now easy to overlook the distinctive approach to peacemaking that Sargent Shriver and his staff built into the program, and to forget that...

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About the Author

Jamie Price is director of the Insight Conflict Resolution Program at George Mason University and executive director of the Sargent Shriver Peace Institute.