The subject of yesterday’s blog reminds me of something that rankles. Has anyone been to a Memorial Day celebration that included the Peace Corps and other non-military ways of “serving one’s country”? In my limited experience, the Peace Corps is always left out in the paeans to those who’ve served. If that’s the standard case, why is the stock phrase “serving one’s country” limited to service centered on violence. I’ve been to Memorial Day celebrations that mention the Coast Guard but not the Peace Corps. The Coast Guard deserves our thanks. Why not the Peace Corps?
Peace Corps volunteers, tho probably not that many, have lost their lives and suffered injury serving their country in arguably more constructive ways than the military. And that may be the rub, along with the aspect of serving another country at the same time. Perhaps we need to justify the violence and death more than the peaceful efforts that receive such paltry funding. And jingoistic patriotism cannot cope with the ambiguity of serving other countries as much as our own.
When I was a volunteer (1980-84), the USA was not directly at war, except for the invasion of Grenada. Volunteers like myself were more at risk then than many in the “armed services,” perhaps most. I actually lived a third of a mile from a site along the Mekhong River that Laotian rebels, sheltered and funded by the Thais, used to cross into southern Laos to cause trouble. This gaeng of rocks exposed in the dry season allowed them to walk most of the way across. I once met a platoon of them heading off on a mission; they walked right in front of my house. Often, such missions ended with Vietnamese soldiers mortaring or shelling the gaeng. That was enough to make my house shake.
Still, the biggest dangers I faced were the possibility of malaria, as I lived close to the border, and the crazy overnight bus rides I took to and from Bangkok. The latter were the more dangerous threat. In those days, one driver would drive the whole 12 hours down rural highways stoked on Lipo or Mangum, the energy-speed drinks before Red Bull went international. Hair-raising.
Peace Corps isn’t about memorials, so I’m not trying to worm into the celebrations. But I do wonder about our nation’s priorities, both among the elites who run things and the strata who do the dirty work.
Still neutropenic but the doc is letting me go home for a day. Back for tests Wednesday morning.