[As promised, here is the first of Rosemary Benton’s regular articles for Galactic Journey. Science ficton is about progress, and not just of the nuts and bolts kind. Sociological progress is fertile ground for a myriad of stories. I can easily imagine an intergalactic version of the new development Ms. Benton writes about below…(the Editor)]
Salutations everyone! On March 1st our president made good on a proposed project from back in 1960 which we, especially the young, hoped against hope would come to fruition. The Peace Corps, a volunteer organization tasked with providing technical assistance and fostering cultural exchange abroad, is now a reality. Granted, it is only on a trial basis, but the enthusiasm that the very concept has generated has been momentous.
Sharron Perry is one such prospective volunteer I had the pleasure to meet when visiting the campus for a prospective job offer at the university library. A succinct and highly motivated lady, she told me all about this revolutionary new federal program that was started just earlier this month. As a conscientious objector and active member of her university’s organization, Americans Committed to World Responsibility, Sharron is a graduating senior who seems to vibrate with the energy that embodies her age group. She was nice enough to share with me the following letter which she hopes will galvanize other young people at her school, the University of Michigan, to join her on this new adventure.
Perhaps she will motivate you, as well:
To the current students, upcoming graduates and alumni,
I hope that you read this opinion piece with a desire for a sense of purpose in your life–a sense of dignity, respect and compassion for your fellow man. As the school year draws to a close and our paths take us outside of the walls of our alma mater, I find that I am cornered in a difficult position not unknown to our generation. To survive and flourish by the principles of goodwill and hard work, but at the same time to serve our country, our people, and live for the betterment of the world. As the next generation of Americans – the next line of teachers, doctors, and civil engineers – it is our honor bound duty and privilege to serve our country and fellow man.
But to serve and protect through the military is no longer the only honorable path, and it is no longer only a man’s prerogative. Wouldn’t it be better to have our men serve their turn of duty through a less destructive, more diplomatic means that will encourage societies throughout the third world to turn away from the Soviets? Women of America, wouldn’t it be better to offer much needed assistance abroad while traveling the world? With Janet G. Travell holding the position of physician to the president, the first woman to hold this station, shouldn’t we strive to break even more boundaries? Americans of all races, shouldn’t we support a federal organization which will not segregate and discriminate against our heritages? Our newly elected president challenged us University of Michigan students on October 14, 1960 to imagine such a global service, and now in March 1961 he has given us the opportunity to put the same enthusiasm we had for the idea into practice. It is up to our generation to rise to this challenge. As President Kennedy said at 2 AM in front of the University of Wisconsin Union, “On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete.”
The philosopher William James wrote in his essay The Moral Equivalent of War, that “the gilded youths” should hold a responsibility to serve in order for them “to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas”. As we leave behind the safety of student life, heads full of new and exciting ideas, we too must go out and come back to our native land with a better understanding of the challenges that will be posed to America in the coming decade. To be better Americans we must know the world. “Unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you, this country can’t possibly move through the next 10 years in a period of relative strength.”
As a conscientious objector I will be wearing my black arm band this May at my class’ graduation. As a woman I will wear the black arm band because I intend to rise to President Kennedy’s challenge, and peacefully fight against the perception that America can only fight through the CIA. We students graduating in 1961 are very lucky to have been offered an honorable alternative to the draft. Us students lucky enough to have spent our educational lives in a school as progressive as the University of Michigan, with our study abroad program and our campus organizations like Americans Committed to World Responsibility, now must act upon our belief in sustainable peace. It is not merely a choice to volunteer for the Peace Corps, but an obligation of our generation.
The letter and its writer are fictional, but nevertheless representative.