Teaching the Article
Hearts, Minds, and Student Exchanges
The end of World War II saw a remarkably quick transformation of erstwhile allies into bitter foes, a change that was not unlikely but nevertheless swift and severe. Less than twelve months after the fall of Nazi Germany, former British prime minister Winston Churchill proclaimed that an “Iron Curtain” had descended on Europe; a year later President Harry S. Truman stood before Congress to declare his resolve to provide economic and military aid to countries threatened by Communism.
For the next forty years, the world was gripped by a Cold War that consumed the attention and resources of the world’s most powerful nations. Billions of dollars flowed into building military might. Programs that sought to promote person-to-person contact also received support. This article discusses one effort to bring African students to study in the United States, part of a broader, growing interest in exchange programs. In July 1959 President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed more than 1,100 high school American Field Service exchange students from more than thirty-six countries. Saying that he hoped to see that number reach 11,000, he offered his belief that such personal exchanges were the best chance to make the world better.
Two months after Eisenhower spoke, a man left Kenya to attend school at the University of Hawaii, where he met a woman from Kansas and fathered a child. Undoubtedly, Eisenhower was not thinking about that particular union when he endorsed expanding exchange programs, yet he did recognize the powerful role that such exchanges might play.
Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, initiated what may stand as the best-known example of U.S. efforts to win the hearts and minds of the world’s people: the Peace Corps. Indeed, the U.S. government undertook an array of programs designed to promote person-to-person interaction, from sponsoring jazz tours to helping bring African students and scholars to the United States. Yet those who advocated such activities as person-to-person and cultural exchanges found that throughout the Cold War the hard power of military strength always received far more support by one real and fundamental measure: dollars. The Peace Corps director appointed by President Ronald Reagan, Loret Miller Ruppe, was fond of pointing out that the budget for military bands was more than that of the entire Peace Corps. In November 2008 U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a similar comparison: that the nation has more people serving in military bands than serving as foreign service officers.
At the 2008 Democratic National Convention former president Bill Clinton assessed the influence of the United States in the world: “People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.” This formulation, while modern in its language, harks back to the Puritan notion of “a city upon a hill,” an image that President Reagan used for years in his portrayal of the United States. As the United States seeks its way through the twenty-first century, it finds that old questions—how many tax dollars and other resources to commit to hard diplomacy? how many to soft diplomacy?—remain. As you consider the sources in this exercise, ask: How, historically, has the United States used its power and its resources to win hearts and minds in the world? Have the outcomes fulfilled officials’ wishes?
- John F. Kennedy’s “Peace Corps” Speech,
Audio and transcript of Kennedy’s “Peace Corps” speech, October 14, 1960, at the University of Michigan. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, http://www.jfklibrary.org/Historical+Resources/JFK+in+History/Peace+Corps.htm.
- Recent Actions on African Students,
Memo for McGeorge Bundy from Philip Coombs, Aug. 4, 1961, box 2, National Security File, Presidential Papers of John F. Kennedy (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston, Mass.).