March 1961, the US Peace Corps is formed
On March 1, 1961, US President John Kennedy issued an executive order calling for the formation of a Peace Corps, whose stated tasks would be to send young Americans to poor nations to provide technical assistance, teach citizens there about the US, and learn about other cultures themselves.
In reality, the World Socialist Web Site has reminded us, the Peace Corps was an instrument in the tool kit that sought to counter the growing hatred of “Yankee imperialism” all over the world. Three days later, Kennedy placed his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, as the first head of the program.
The proposal illustrated the contradictions of American liberalism, then at its zenith, and those of the Peace Corps’ progenitor, Kennedy. While aiming to provide a facelift for the US abroad, supposedly by combating poverty, it also aimed to establish a foothold in nations where the US had little credibility and where revolutionary movements threatened important interests.
The Peace Corps would appeal to the idealism of American youth, which Kennedy was inspiring through his speeches. The president called on a new generation to enlist in “a grand and global alliance” to fight tyranny, poverty, disease, and war. “To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery,” he said in his inaugural address, “we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves.”
He was at the same time escalating the American military presence in Vietnam and pushing a dramatic expansion of military spending, and would soon promote another new body for American youth, the “Green Berets,” otherwise known as the US Army Special Forces.