A wise investment in peace

From recent remarks by the director of the Peace Corps at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. There are too many people across the United States who, when Peace Corps is mentioned, say: ''Oh, is that still around? I haven't heard of it in years.'' To say that this is a matter of concern for us would be to characterize it too lightly. It is of grave concern.

This loss of knowledge of the work of our volunteers, I fear, has made us lose several generations of potential American volunteers at a time when they are needed more than they ever were. Americans of all ages are not aware of the fact that right now there are 5,400 American volunteers working in 60 countries around the world.

They are living up to the true and basic mandate of the Peace Corps Act - promoting world peace and friendship by sharing America's talents and skills, its trained manpower, with countries who more and more are asking America for these volunteers, and who need them more now in 1981 than in 1961 when the Peace Corps was born. They need them more because economic conditions, due to inflation, due to the energy crisis, due to growing populations and shrinking food supply, are putting world peace and survival on the line.

This is a government program that has worked. This is a cost-effective venture that you, as American taxpayers and American business people, can be proud of.

I have now had meetings with approximately 20 ambassadors, who represent extensive overseas experience. Each one has told me that they consider our Peace Corps volunteers and their work to be one of the most positive and appreciated American presences in the countries they have served in - and they ask me to keep the same number of volunteers or, better yet, send more.

Time after time, during my trip to Central and South America, identical support for the work of the Peace Corps was voiced - by presidents, ministers, local officials, health, educational, and agricultural leaders. This is truly impressive. It is a testimonial to what has been accomplished.

But when it all really hits home, is when after hours of bouncing around on dirt roads, traversing mountainsides where no such thing as a guard rail exists, you come to a small village where one or two Americans have been serving. Suddenly, the whole village assembles at the adobe schoolhouse and you join them , sitting on kindergarten chairs on a dirt floor, no glass in the window spaces, little children, old people, farmers, animals mingling as family - the entire population pours in, and a spokesperson stands up and says, ''We want to thank America for this helper you have sent us. We know we are poor, but this person is helping us and our children to have a better life.'' How I would love to bring a film crew with me, and bring these scenes back to the American taxpayer via national television! The taxpayers deserve to know that their gift and the gift these volunteers bring is appreciated.

You'll continue to find that our program overseas has been a wise investment.

Developing countries have become the fastest growing customers of US exports, tripling their purchases since 1973, and now buying more than one-third of all US exports.

One out of every three acres of American farmland produces food for export, much of it to the third world. One to two million American manufacturing jobs now depend on exports to the developing countries. And conversely, developing nations currently supply us with more than 40 percent of our imports.

The US is increasingly dependent on third-world countries for essential raw materials vital to our economy and security. We import from developing nations 85 percent of the bauxite required for aluminum products. We obtain 93 percent of our tin from developing countries. Our country earned more than $16 billion from our direct investments in the developing world in 1978. That same year, US firms invested nearly $6 billion in that world.

Third-world development means more trade and more jobs for more Americans. When you're talking about more trade and more jobs for Americans, by helping countries develop a viable economy, which in turn makes life more livable for its citizens, then you are talking about a doubly wise investment - an economic investment and a peace investment.

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