Question: What would your advice to President Obama be?
Harris Wofford: Well, my first advice to the new president would be help call or call for and help get through the Kennedy-Hatch Bill with the necessary funds to achieve the goals.
It ought to be a headline right now and I think the new president has a chance that’s been increased by the ServiceNation rallying at the summit to bring that about.
Question: Why do we need more service in the US now?
Harris Wofford: Well, on the international front where we’ve just had a panel, the standing of the United States is lower than it’s ever been in my lifetime. When I went around the world as a little boy in 1938 at 12 years old, the well of goodwill for the United States, everywhere we went was so overwhelming similarly after World War II when I went to Europe and then a year of fellowship in India and then work in Africa.
When [John F.] Kennedy died, in Africa where I was the Peace Corps representative living in Ethiopia, every little hut that I’ve went into, every little home there and in other countries had pictures of President Kennedy. And a lot of them were there from the time he became president, young, optimistic, can do, offering the Pease Corps to the world. And for whatever reasons, the sharpest reason is the Iraq War that most of the world thinks we didn’t need to initiate as a way to go against the criminal conspiracy of Al-Qaeda based on Afghanistan, but that’s another issue.
But America standing in the world, I know no journalist looking at it who knows the world that is coming back and reporting this. I know no embassy that hasn’t sent in messages to their home office in the State Department saying that our… And the polls show that the standing is, it’s a shocking change in how the world is looking with United States, and international volunteering including the making the Peace Corps bigger, bolder, better can do much not everything but it can do much to restore America’s role as a constructive leader in the world.
Question: Can you talk about your history of service?
Harris Wofford: It’s maybe off message but I should confess that I don’t think anything I’ve done in my life has been under the room [break] of service. Even the Army Air Corps in World War II which, of course, was in my case voluntary military service, it was because I came home from it six months around the world with my grandmother on Tramp trips seeing the threat of Nazi Germany and Italy, Mussolini took Italy out of the League of Nations from the balcony that I heard and the fascist parade and I saw Japan’s conquest of Shanghai where they actually sell [looting] permits. And I saw World War II coming and I got home as a 7th grader and our intervention is to get into the war. It was action to stop Hitler that made me volunteer as soon as I could, and almost at 17 go to the Canadian Royal Air Force not to serve but to help win the war against Hitler, and winning the war against poverty or ignorance or discrimination action to do that.
Now, I think, it’ right that we recognize it is citizen’s service, it’ active duty service, but the lesson for my own experience is that the huge quantum leap that we’re planning here today, and the Kennedy-Hatch Bill is proposing of public investment in service will win people not by just preaching service, but by clearly stating the needs that we’re calling people to action for. And, I think, we’re doing that in the common agenda that’s been adopted here and I think for Kennedy-Hatch Bill does that and the investment in full-time or part-time volunteer service is very well focused on huge needs in education, the environment, energy independence at home, and that’s the same lesson for the Peace Corps abroad.
For the big expansion to get back on the track of 100,000 Peace Corps volunteers. The Peace Corps among other things needs in its new formulation to be clearly focused on the millennium goals of the United Nations, the goals that President Bush has set for America’s participation in fighting malaria and TB and AIDS and poverty in Africa and elsewhere. It’s those needs that we have to keep in mind and show that we’re offering a strategy that helps solve problems that people know in their common sense need to be solved. Now, that’s my pitch for thinking in terms of active duty citizens who are going to act and not just the idealistic word but not necessarily rooted in a problem of service.
Recorded on: September 15, 2008