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50 Years Old, Peace Corps At A Crossroads

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy visiting Peace Corps members in 1966. (AP)

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy visiting Peace Corps members in Tanzania 1966. (AP)

Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps. He was savvy to the fact that in the 1960s, you couldn’t name an agency “peace” anything without freighting it with politics.

“Our Peace Corps, I want to emphasize, is not designed as a weapon of propaganda, is not designed as a tool in the Cold War,” Kennedy said. “It is a genuine effort by the people of the United States, particularly those who are young, to play their part in working for peace, to improve the lives of all mankind.”

And so it has been. Two-hundred-thousand young Americans have volunteered around the world since Kennedy created the Peace Corps. But the real question now isn’t so much what the Corps has done in the past, but instead: What’s the point of the Peace Corps now?

We’re told we’re living in a flat world, after all. Young Americans fresh out of college no longer represent the pinnacle of ambition, skill and expertise. Nations that once benefited greatly from Peace Corps volunteers can now grow that kind of college expertise at home. And they do. (China produced 6.3 million college graduates in 2010.) American know-how may no longer carry the premium it once did.

The gloss has come off American intervention of any kind as well. Kennedy didn’t want the Peace Corps to be a “weapon of propaganda”, but the program has been used by various presidents to advance an American message. Is the world so willing to hear it any more?

We take a look back at 50 years of the Peace Corps — celebrating its past accomplishments and taking an unflinching look at its current relevance.

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Host Meghna Chakrabarti introduces us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and brings us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3 p.m. and 10 p.m.

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