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Tucson Opinion: The Peace Corps is America's last best hope
Tucson Opinion

Tucson Opinion: The Peace Corps is America's last best hope

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Granted, I might be the most biased person on the planet to offer up this proposition, but I feel compelled to do so. This I do on the 60th anniversary of JFK’s formation of a terribly unique, globe-spanning institution.

The point I wish to make regarding this proposition is based on looking back on a life that started 78 years ago.

During my early 20s, I graduated from the University of Arizona and dashed off to be a member of the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers to be sent to the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, today known as Micronesia. This was the best experience of my life.

For two years I lived on an outer island of Truk District that was one-half mile long, one-quarter mile wide and was 12 feet above sea level. Here I learned more about the value on living in tune with nature than I could have learned anywhere else.

Surviving typhoons, enduring long-distance outrigger sailing canoe voyages and relating to Malayo-Polynesian people who survived Japanese soldiers’ atrocities during WW II equipped me to face virtually any challenge thrown my way during the course of my lifetime.

After Peace Corps service, I was accepted as a graduate studies student at the University of Arizona and was humming along happily immersed in my secondary education work. Then came the letter in the mail trumpeting, “Greetings from the President.” Two months into my graduate work, I was drafted into the Vietnam War during the height of the Tet Offensive.

Whisked out of school, I was on my way to basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas, and then Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Carson, Colo. At both posts, every time I got the opportunity, I voiced my opposition to the war in Vietnam. Some called me a “Peace Creep,” and others admired my stand. Thank God for the Unified Code of Military Justice that allowed me the opportunity to express myself. No other military in the world, to the best of my knowledge, allows its soldiers the freedom to do this.

Because I’d studied German in high school and college, after I completed training in Colorado I was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Army Europe in Heidelberg. Here I performed such duties as going from West Berlin to East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie to help my commanding officer translate his discussion with East Berliners on the Communist side of the Berlin Wall.

After military service, I returned to my beloved Tucson and taught journalism, American history and English at Amphitheater High School for 25 years. I loved teaching at that ethnically diverse institution. I finished my teaching career at the Glen Urquhart School on the North Shore of Boston. This was a private school experience that was quite different from teaching at Amphi. But, this too, proved to be a very rewarding experience.

Since retiring from teaching I’ve resided in beautiful Green Valley, with my lovely wife, Betty. And as long as I’ve lived here, American forces were involved in the war in Afghanistan, another war like that in Vietnam, that made no sense in making “The world safe for Democracy.” God bless the men and women who fell in these two wars. The last thing I wish to do is to defame their good names and intentions.

But what I wish the reader will consider is this: What could the money, manpower, national resources and determination to make the world a better place have produced had they gone toward Peace Corps efforts the last 40 years rather than toward military ventures.

Love me or despise me, please give thought to what I proffer.

James Herman is a retired high school teacher and Peace Corps volunteer living in Green Valley.

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