As a contrarian response to the recent campaign by armed forces veterans called Veterans Against the Deal (VAD) to lobby against the proposed anti-nuclear proliferation, former Peace Corps members who served in Iran are countering with their own Volunteers For the Deal for a variety of reasons that are both personal and political.
The veterans group's main argument is that veterans know Iran better than Washington, D.C., does, according to VAD executive director Michael Pregent. "You've got a lot of veterans out there who are pretty upset about this, so we are looking to capture their voices and make sure they are heard," he said. "These guys want to be heard. They know this enemy. They have a constant reminder of permanent loss because of Iran."
Ex-Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Iran also want to be heard and have voices that should be heard because they know Iranians at least as well -- if not better -- than their military counterparts. Also, most of them feel that they have a constant reminder of permanent personal gain - not loss - because of Iran, and more importantly, they feel it is the best way to prevent another Middle East war.
More than 1,700 Peace Corps volunteers served in Iran from 1962 to 1976 in areas like community development, education, health, and agriculture. At the last reunion of ex-Iran PCVs at the University of Texas in Austin last May, the discussions and presentations by renowned foreign policy and Iran Studies experts heavily sampled the current anti-nuclear proliferation talks. One of the major themes of the conference was the notion that a Peace Corps volunteer's service doesn't end after two years but continues throughout their lives.
One of the featured speakers at the Austin conference was John Limbert, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, who has had a distinguished 34-year career in the United States Foreign Service and who himself was a Peace Corps volunteer in Iran from 1964 to1966, as well as one of the fifty-two American diplomats and citizens taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. To view the video of Limbert's presentation, click here.
According to the Peace Corp Iran Association's web site, its mission is to "preserve the legacy of Peace Corps Iran, foster a better understanding of Iran in the U.S., and build a climate of mutual understanding between Americans and Iranians." President Kennedy hoped that PCVs "would come back from their service with a new perspective of the world and promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans." In that spirit, the vast majority of the 233 attendees favor the agreement, many for very personal reasons.
My wife Sabina and I were two of those attendees in Austin. We joined the Peace Corps in 1969 after our graduation from college and had no preference as to where we would be sent. It was to be Iran, where we taught middle school English in Arak, as small city in the center of the country. We so enjoyed the experience that we spent five years teaching in Iran and later returned to two other Middle Eastern countries to teach English for a total of 16 years.
Why do we support the non-nuclear proliferation agreement? For one reason, our only child Chris was born in Iran 44 years ago and has been part of a family that has lived somewhat of a quasi-Persian life when considering the food we eat, the slang we use, the rugs on our floors, and especially the reminisces from that time that we savor every day.
Second, while in Iran, an Iranian citizen became part of our family: Fatima Khanom was our son's nanny for his first two years. I'll never forget coming home for lunch one day and watching Chris and Khanom stemming raisins on the kitchen floor and her teaching Chris the Farsi word for raisin, keshmesh. She was a surrogate grandmother to him; their love for each other was limitless. And there were many other friends and colleagues with whom we were - and still are - connected, some in the States, and some still in Arak.
Finally, our Peace Corps city would be, if not the first, one of the first cities there to be bombed should a nuclear war break out -- should the deal not be passed. Arak is the home of a heavy water production plant and reactor that is suspected of being able to produce weapons-grade plutonium - the same fissile material that America produces near our current place of residence, Albuquerque, New Mexico (Los Alamos National Laboratories), where the first atomic and first hydrogen bombs were produced and tested. That too might have something to do with our feelings on this issue.
Here are some of the takes that other former PCVs-Iran have about why they are for or against the proposed anti-nuclear proliferation agreement with Iran:
I favor the approval of this agreement. My reasons are these:
(1) The deal does more to prevent or impede the development of a nuclear weapons capability by Iran, for a longer time, than any other option, including military attack.
(2) Military action is unjustified, given the uncertainty of even an intent to create such weapons, never mind their existence.
(3) Continued sanctions primarily hurt the Iranian people, most of whom have done nothing to deserve such punishment." [Alexander Patico served in Firuzkuh from 1968-1969]
"On the anniversary of Hiroshima, we need to keep a perspective on what nuclear war could mean. I visited Iran as a tourist recently. Iran has changed dramatically over the years, but the people remain as friendly as ever. When they learned we were from America, it was smiles and hugs. The message was consistent: 'We love Americans, we don't like your government.' I responded in kind. I suspect, they don't like their government as well. It was clear to me the people want peace with the US." [Doug Schermer served in Semnan]
"My take on The Iran Deal is the same as President Obama's: that the opponents of the nuclear deal are behaving just like those who pushed for war with Iraq; that opponents both in Congress and on Main Street have exactly the same mind-set and policies that failed us in Iraq; and that the United States should choose diplomacy instead of another rush to armed conflict." [Anonymous served in Tehran]
Official Peace Corps Iran Resolution
On Aug. 5, 2015, the Peace Corps Iran Association Board of Directors adopted the following Resolution in support of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action:
In consideration of the benefits of strict limitations on, and oversight of, Iran's nuclear program, and the relief that lifting economic sanctions may offer the people of Iran, the Peace Corps Iran Association Board of Directors unanimously supports the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Board believes that supporting this agreement offers a best chance at averting a significant threat to peace in the Middle East and is in keeping with the values and mission of our Association.
The PCIA Directors add: "We encourage every American to read the full language of the Joint Plan of Action and discuss the facts. Please consider what this agreement means to you, to the U.S., to Iran, and to the safety and security within Middle East region over the longer term. Our members have a unique understanding of Iran acquired through years of service living and working alongside Iranians. Most importantly, we learned to respect the people of Iran, understand their points of view, and care for their strengths and well-being."
What can you do if you're not sure whether you are for or against the deal?
Watch Charlie Rose's interview with NY Times columnist Roger Cohen.
What can you do to urge support of the deal?
The first thing you can do is sign this petition, which calls on New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the only Democratic senator thus far to oppose the deal, not to lead the Democrats to war. And also contact your own senators and representatives to urge the same action.