Blueprints for National Service

October 31, 1986

Report Outline
What can be done for the Country?
Pilot Projects: '60s and '30s Style
The Military Connection: Pro and Con
Special Focus

What can be done for the Country?

Now the trumpet summons us again.” On an icy cold January day in 1961, President Kennedy urged his fellow Americans; “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Within six weeks of his Inaugural Address, the new president signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. There was in America, Kennedy said on that occasion, “an immense reservoir” of men and women eager “to sacrifice their energies and time and toil to the cause of world peace and human progress.” Life in the Peace Corps would not be easy, he said, but it would he “rich and satisfying.” Thousands of young Americans agreed, and within six months the first groups of trained volunteers—teachers and road surveyors—were hound for Africa.

The Peace Corps and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), a domestic version established in 1964 that also recruited, in the main, young college graduates as volunteers, represented one form of American idealism. But it was soon overshadowed by another—the Vietnam War. As a result of that unhappy experience, a disillusioned America has seemed little inclined to heed any sonorous calls to national sacrifice and service. Military conscription was brought to an end in 1973. During President Reagan's first term, his administration repeatedly, if unsuccessfully, tried to bring to an end the VISTA program, too. Even the Peace Corps had only 6,264 volunteers in 1985—two-fifths the number in 1966. To many in the early 1980s, America and its youth seemed more preoccupied with material wealth and private gain.

But now there are signs that American idealism may be stirring again. On college campuses, there seems to be new interest in volunteer community service. Just a year ago, 75 university presidents announced the formation of a coalition to encourage students to take part in such service. Brown University President Howard Swearer said there were indications that “there are more students willing to take advantage of public service opportunities if they are presented with opportunities to do so.” Brown offered fellowships to students who spent a year in public service; by the university's 1985 estimate, a fourth of its undergraduates were involved in community service.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Peace Corps, National Service, and Volunteerism
Mar. 12, 2021  The Boy Scouts' Future
Jan. 11, 2013  Peace Corps Challenges
Jun. 30, 2006  National Service
Dec. 13, 1996  The New Volunteerism
Jun. 25, 1993  National Service
Jan. 25, 1991  Peace Corps' Challenges in the 1990s
Oct. 31, 1986  Blueprints for National Service
Jan. 25, 1985  International Relief Agencies
Dec. 12, 1980  Volunteerism in the Eighties
Jun. 15, 1979  Future of the Peace Corps
Apr. 03, 1963  Domestic Peace Corps
Nov. 28, 1962  Peace Corps Expansion
Jan. 04, 1961  Government Youth Corps
Charities and Philanthropy