Website of Joe Landsberger

But those who have been under the shadow,
who have gone down at last
to elemental things,
will have a wider charity.
H. G. Wells, 1866 – 1946
English author, War of the Worlds, Book 2

1968 - 1971 A young man in Africa

1969 in Lome, Togo as part of the Peace Corpstrader joe of NigeriaLife's journeys are not destinations but rather processes, acts and thoughts within and through experiences. My early life was pretty much confined to the boundaries of my city, Saint Paul, Minnesota. We were a large (unskilled) working class family with no experiences other than survival and car trips to outstate farms of our extended families of my mother and father. We were possibly a typical post-WWII baby boomer family of few means and great hopes.

However I was as an informal pacifist and as a high school graduate in 1963 I volunteered for the Peace Corps established by Senator Humphrey and President Kennedy—but I was too young. My college years (unique in my family) I spent in a spiritual rather than religious search even though I studied for the priesthood for two years. I hated the idea of the Vietnam War and the continuation of the colonial subjugation of a national and cultural people by the US, by France, China etc. I actively opposed the war and even campaigned for Eugene McCarthy.

My arrival in Lome, Togo West Africa, January 1969. When I graduated (international relations) in 1968 my application again for the Peace Corps was “lost” but a quick trip to Washington D.C. resolved the matter and retrieved my application. I literally stood at the national desk and said I was not leaving until my papers were found. If not found, I intended to “stop by” Canada on my way home to Minnesota. I got my wish to be stationed in West Africa—in Togo. My assignment was to provide materials for the digging of village wells and grain conservation. Most of the wells were completed by my predecessor, conservation was thwarted by established commercial interests so I received a new middle school teaching assignment further north in the country.

A large group of African children in white and khaki clothing, gathered outside a one-story school building.After eight months I moved up country to Soutouboua which was a crossroads of the Tem/Kotokoli, Kabiyè, and Éwé tribes. I also took the opportunity to travel through countries of West Africa and the Sahara--at times on the top of a truck filled with peanuts! It was beautiful living experience with never a cross word—qualified by the troubles back home.

People bowed down in prayer in a desert.A small hut at the foot of some hills, a cross is erected in the foreground.There was some catharsis in Peace Corps training over the war. At least one trainee left for CO status, and one for prison for principled objection to the draft. So also at the time it was said that the mortality rate was higher for active PC volunteers, including Terry of my Togo team of 25, than for soldiers in Vietnam. I myself was incapacitated by dysentery, then a brain infection of a couple months. Upon my return, it took over a year to dispel bacterial and microbial infections.

I bore no animosity for those who served in the military in Viet Nam. I think that since my family upbringing was not very “sophisticated” I realized that I avoided a war fostered by the American military industrial complex and that so many of my generation did not have the mindfulness/ability to defy or escape. I am still troubled by those lost to war of my generation, as well as for those lost to AIDS of my same generation.

In 2016 I visited Viet Nam on an educational book signing tour throughout the country. Looking into the eyes of the high school students (1400!) I was amazed that these beautiful, engaging, youthful, smiling a faces concealed a resolute determination that defied and defeated the aggression and weaponry of the US, of France, of China, of Cambodia, etc.