The nation was powerful and prosperous, the president was vigorous and young, and a confident generation was gathering its forces to test the New Frontier. The cold war was well under way, but if you could just, as the song went, “put a little love in your heart,” then “the world would be a better place.” The Peace Corps, conceived in the can-do spirit of the sixties, embodied America’s long pursuit of moral leadership on a global scale. Traversing four decades and three continents, this story of the Peace Corps and the people and politics behind it is a fascinating look at American idealism at work amid the hard political realities of the second half of the twentieth century.
More than any other entity, the Peace Corps broached an age-old dilemma of U.S. foreign policy: how to reconcile the imperatives and temptations of power politics with the ideals of freedom and self-determination for all nations. All You Need Is Love follows the struggle to balance the tensions between these values from the Corps’ first heady days under Sargent Shriver and beyond to the questioning years of the Vietnam War, when the Peace Corps was accused of being window dressing for imperialism. It follows the Peace Corps through the years when volunteering dropped off—and finally into its renewed popularity amid the widespread conviction that the Peace Corps preserves the nation’s finest traditions.
With vivid stories from returned volunteers of exotic places and daunting circumstances, this is an engrossing account of the successes and failures of this unique governmental organization, and of the geopolitics and personal convictions that underpin it. In the end, the question that is most compelling is whether the Peace Corps most helped the countries that received its volunteers, or whether its greater service was to America and its sense of national identity and mission.
In this brief but brilliant book, Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman sets out to explain the enduring appeal of Kennedy and 'his' Peace Corps… [She] adds a welcome international perspective to a concept—and an era—that most American scholars continue to examine through their own parochial lenses… Hoffman has written a superb and—in the best sense—old-fashioned book. Although concepts such as 'national character' and 'national identity' went out of style long ago, she successfully shows how the Peace Corps embodied important strands of both. Second, Hoffman's qualified praise of the agency stands in sharp contrast to the arch, postmodern sensibility that marks so much contemporary scholarship about American politics. Finally, she writes in a lucid, jargon-free prose that will make her book accessible to any intelligent reader, not just her fellow historians. Like the Peace Corps itself, Hoffman's effort to reach the nonexpert resonates loudly with 'The Spirit of the Sixties.'
Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman has given us the most comprehensive, balanced history of the Peace Corps to date. Grounded in a multinational archival base and supplemented by interviews with former volunteers…her book covers the span of the Peace Corps' existence from 1961 to the 1990s… This finely crafted book demonstrates the author's sophistication in her ability to tell stories and explain developments at many levels. From the opening chapter, Hoffman deals carefully with both the ideology and the institution of the Peace Corps as each changed over time. She reveals both the construction of U.S. foreign policy by presidents and their advisers and the experiences abroad of individual volunteers. While focusing on this specifically American agency, she also clarifies the international context of 'a larger global movement of volunteers' from Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, and the People's Republic of China… [The 'soft' face of empire] has found one of its best and most sophisticated historians in Hoffman. Her book abounds in insights and will reward a close reading by all whose business is either the 1960s or the American relationship with the rest of the world.
A thoughtful history setting the Peace Corps in its place and time… [The] chapter [on volunteers] is the truest, most moving thing I have ever read about Peace Corps service.
With breathtaking eloquence and a strong objective tone of analysis, Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman has re-created the mood of the New Frontier's 'can do' ethos in the 1960s and delivered an exhaustive and up-to-date examination of successes and failures of the Peace Corps… Overall this very thoughtful and readable account of the Peace Corps' ongoing history stands as a marvelous testament to all those who have given their time, effort and skill for nearly forty years of developmental aid around the world. The Peace Corps was and is, a tool of self-interest for the United States, but in adversity it also stands as a monument to hope and promise that transcends borders, cultures and politics. The author has brought the legacy of both these positions into sharp focus with this excellent account.
Elizabeth Hoffman has written a thought-provoking, scholarly account of the Corps' development… By using compelling stories from former volunteers and gently weaving them into the underlying politics of each era, Hoffman's work becomes more than a historical account—it's a good read.
How can we not love this book? It confirms what we hoped for ourselves when we first joined the Peace Corps. It was this notion of 'love' that kept us going on long nights when we were alone in a strange land and asking ourselves the hard question, why? And we were alone in the highlands, on the islands, in the tropical forest when we first heard the Beatles sing 'All You Need Is Love' on our static-filled shortwave radios. And we knew that they were singing our song. Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman has written us a love letter. A thank-you note. She has offered us a wonderful toast in her book to the unheralded and often forgotten work we did as Peace Corps Volunteers. From the safe distance of time, All You Need Is Love is how I want to remember myself as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Thank you, Elizabeth, for caring. Thank you for telling our story.
Hoffman's work is the latest and probably the strongest in a line of objective examinations of the Peace Corps… Hoffman writes persuasively about the Peace Corps as an expression—almost a nexus—of dualities in the American national identity as we relate to the world: a balancing act between the extension of power and virtue; between idealism and pragmatism; between populism and professionalism; between market forces and human compassion. One of the genuinely interesting things about Hoffman's analysis is how she sheds light on these tensions in everything from placements of volunteers, rumors of C.I.A. connections, outlooks of agency directors, battles over sustainable development programming, Cold War strategy, agency advertising propaganda, and what might be called the spiritual journey and adjustments of Peace Corps volunteers at their sites… An important dimension of this book is Hoffman's careful comparison of the American program to other volunteer-sending groups formed before and after the Peace Corps: the National Union of Australian University Students, the British Voluntary Service Overseas, Canadian University Service Overseas, the Dutch, Japanese, German, and French volunteer programs. No on has examined the similarities and contrasts so well, connecting the Peace Corps to wider populist and secular volunteering trends in the industrialized world… [This is an] admirable and even wise book… Read Hoffman's All You Need is Love.
Exploring the paradox of a foreign policy that simultaneously embraced altruism and destruction, [Cobbs Hoffman] observes: 'desirous of but uncomfortable with power, the nation is driven to find ways of convincing itself that its power is beneficial.
Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman carefully documents why America was ready to accept Kennedy's challenge to venture beyond the safe and familiar into the 'New Frontier' and chronicles the trials, successes, and failures that have ensued. The best part of Cobbs Hoffman's account lies…in the flavor that she provides to the lives of volunteers (strikingly supplemented with 18 pages of photographs and early Peace Corps advertisements).
Hoffman ably describes the genesis of the corps in the search for meaning that characterized [the 1960s]…and the desire to ameliorate America's heritage of racism… Treating both policy matters and the experience of the volunteers, Hoffman places the Peace Corps in the context of other international volunteer efforts, including the Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) and the British Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), to incorporate humanitarianism into foreign policy. Though intended for an academic audience, Hoffman's accessible writing will reach any interested reader.
Ms. Hoffman, a professor of foreign relations at San Diego State University, eloquently structures the story of this institution's genesis and development around the question whether the Peace Corps was more useful to host countries or to the United States. Using a wide range of private and public archives in the United States and abroad and extensive personal interviews, she provides excellent insight into the thoughts and motives of many of the players… Painting on a large canvas, both globally and historically, with a wide palette of vignettes, Hoffman persuasively depicts the innovative, consequential, and enduring features of the organization.
- 318 pages
- 5-7/8 x 8-7/8 inches
- Harvard University Press
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