Shanti Sena Stories: Peace Corps “Work”
People join the Peace Corps for a number of reasons, including, no doubt, travel, adventure,
and cross-cultural experiences. Some of us even want to be of service to others. But we
expect very modest results, if any: perhaps a slight improvement in the lives of a few individuals
with whom we work directly.
Many of us found that the biggest improvements were in our own lives. We found our
understanding of the world greatly changed, and deepened. As I was reflecting, in 2005, on ten
years of Christian Peacemaker Teams work against the oppression of Palestinians and the
steady worsening of their oppression, something I had learned long ago suddenly reframed
I served in Thailand, 1965 to 1969. On paper, Thailand at that time was a democracy. In reality,
the military controlled the government. Corruption was rampant. Thai infrastructure was
growing, but very slowly. The Minister of Interior was the most corrupt, and the most powerful,
man in the country… or so everyone said.
In 1973 unrest against the corrupt government reached a peak. Students began to
demonstrate, and to march. Popular support for the students immobilized the economy.
Students began to confront the police in their headquarters. A few students turned to violence.
Two police, and 70 protestors, were killed,
But then something uniquely Thai happened. King Bhumidol, who has no governing power
whatsoever but has earned almost as much respect in Thailand as Mother Teresa in India,
called in the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior. He explained that the country was
extremely close to civil war, and asked them to go into exile. His moral power was, and is,
virtually absolute. They crawled, literally, out of his presence, and complied. This is known as
the Student Revolution of 1973.
In 1977 we visited my wife’s family in Thailand. One day I stumbled upon a bookstore, and a
small paperback analyzing the 1973 Student Revolution. The author had apparently
interviewed many of the student leaders of the revolution. He was searching for the factors that
had created their leadership. I was startled to read what he found. The single most common
factor turned out to be that they were students of Peace Corps Volunteer teachers. None of us
ever dreamed of creating a democratic revolution. Yet our idealism, selflessness, commitment,
service, or something, had “worked” in ways outside of our own understanding and vastly
differently from what we had imagined.