Thoughts

My first trip to Iran and Afghanistan

Here is a full report of my first Iran-Afghanistan trip in 1972 [I have no photos as I didn’t own a camera, but I have attached some pictures of souvenirs from the trip]:


In February 1972 I turned 21, which was at the time the age of majority in my country Luxembourg. I had worked for Luxair Luxembourg Airlines for over two years.

I decided to celebrate my new independence by traveling as far as possible from Luxembourg and took two weeks’ leave from my job for the second half of March 1972. The company would request a free ticket for me from another airline but there was a limit to how far I could fly based on the length of time I had worked for them. Looking at a map I found that Tehran, Iran was the furthest I could go for free, and I received a ticket from Lufthansa German Airlines for that destination on their once-weekly flight.

I knew practically nothing about Iran. The country had been in the news a few months earlier, in October 1971, when Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi threw an extraordinarily lavish party in the desert at Persepolis for royalty and heads of state from 60 countries. Our Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte, the parents of the present Grand Duke Henri, had attended, and it was prominently covered in the local media. According to the Shah the occasion was the celebration of the 2,500th year of the foundation of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great.

It was late afternoon on 16 March 1972 when I arrived at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport on a Lufthansa Boeing 727. I found a tourist information office that was just about to close for the day. A young lady, the only person on duty, was very friendly and helpful. She booked me into one of the cheaper hotels in the city and also arranged for a taxicab to take me there.

One of the first things I learned in Iran was that local people use water to clean themselves in a toilet rather than paper. At the Asia Hotel the toilet outside my room was a squat version just like our old outhouse, and there was no paper at all, only a jug of water.

I encountered a lot of other interesting things in Iran that I had never known before, and I was fascinated. Even today I fondly remember the rice dishes I ate in Iran, which were always fabulous. I was also extremely fond of Iranian pastries, and dates instantly became one of my favorite fruits.

At breakfast in the hotel on my first morning in Iran I met two young men, one of whom said he was from Kenya and the other from Kuwait. The Kenyan gave his name as Taffy. He was a few years older than I, and somehow he didn’t seem like a typical African. I learned later that his ancestors came from the Punjab, which is today divided between India and Pakistan. He told me he was on his way to Lahore in Pakistan to visit relatives there and was looking for people who would join him for the ride in his car and share expenses on the trip. The Kuwaiti was a friend of his named Mahmood who could not go with him because he had to return home to his country.

Taffy asked if I was interested in riding with him to Lahore or at least as far as Kabul in Afghanistan. Since I wanted to travel as far from Luxembourg as possible I accepted immediately. He proposed to meet again at breakfast the next morning, when he would take me to the Afghan Embassy to get visas for that country.

Later that day I walked around the area in Tehran near the hotel but I don’t remember seeing much of the city.

When I returned to the hotel in the afternoon I ran into Taffy again. He had just seen Mahmood off – I don’t remember whether it was at the airport or a train station. Taffy proposed to go to a nearby movie theater to watch one of the latest James Bond films, and since I was a Bond fan I was happy to join him. [I am not sure I remember this correctly: my memory is not clear about whether this happened in 1972 when I was with Taffy or a year later in February 1973 when I was in Tehran again by myself]

When we entered the auditorium the movie was already in progress. I remember seeing Sean Connery as Bond entering a room with a greeting of “Salam.” It turned out the film was all dubbed in Persian, with no subtitles. Taffy and I had missed that point when we bought our tickets.

At the end of the film we stayed in the auditorium for the next showing so we could watch the first part, which we had missed.

Before the movie began huge pictures of the Shah and his consort were projected to the screen, and all the spectators rose from their seats as a recording of the national anthem resounded through the hall.

The following morning after breakfast Taffy took me to his car. It was a huge American Ford Galaxie 500 XL with a 5-liter engine and Missouri/US license plates. Taffy told me he had bought the car while studying in the United States and had shipped it to England, where he had moved from Kenya with his family in the 1960s. From England he had driven the Ford across Europe and the Middle East to Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic pilgrimage there, and then he had come to Iran via Kuwait, where he had picked up Mahmood.

At the Afghan Embassy we met a bearded young man who must have been about two meters tall. He was an American from New York who gave his name as Robert Barrett. It turned out he was also headed east, and after a brief discussion of probable costs of the trip he agreed to join us and share our expenses. Staff members at the embassy informed us that it would probably be easier and quicker to get visas from the Afghan consulate in Mashhad in eastern Iran, so we left.

Taffy and I drove back to our hotel to collect our luggage, then we picked Robert (Bob) up at his hotel and headed north out of Tehran.

The city is separated from the Caspian Sea by the Alburz Mountain range, whose highest peak is the 5,600-meter extinct volcano Demavand, Iran’s tallest. The main road north passes close to the foot of the mountain at an altitude over 2,000 meters.

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Demavand but as we drove into the mountains the view became increasingly foggy and within a short time we were caught in a snowstorm. There were policemen on the road warning drivers of dangerous conditions further up and advising everybody to put snow chains on their tires. Luckily Taffy had snowchains in his trunk, which he had used earlier that winter while traveling on perilous roads in the mountains of Turkey.

I am not sure I remember this correctly but when we fitted the snow chains it looked to me at one point as if Bob the American held up one corner of the heavy car by himself for a moment.

We drove on through the mountains but could not see much other than a short portion of the road in front and the snow swirling around us.

Some time later we left the snowstorm behind as we traveled downhill through a forest on the northern side of the Alburz range towards the town of Amol, about 180 km from Tehran. We turned east just south of the Caspian Sea, and night fell before we reached the town of Sari.

After spending the night in a shared room at Nader Hotel in Sari we continued our journey east. I remember Bob telling us he had deserted from a US Army base in Germany and was on his way overland to Australia, where he had a girlfriend.

The weather was pleasant most of the day until some time in the afternoon when we drove up a hill on the way towards Bodjnurd, about 450 kilometers from Sari. The sky darkened and snow began to fall. Soon we couldn’t see more than 20 meters ahead. At one point I had to get out of the car to remove a large stone from the road in front. As we continued the snowfall got thicker and thicker, and a strong wind blew.

Not much later we had to stop because a car was stuck in the snow just ahead of us. Taffy got out and trudged to the front to see what was happening. He came back and told us the road was blocked by several cars that were unable to move. We had to wait for the storm to pass.

A minibus filled with passengers stopped behind us, and the driver left the engine running to keep the interior warm. We didn’t have that option because there was not much gasoline left in the Galaxie’s tank.

By the time darkness fell we were shivering in the car and we huddled together to try to keep warm. There was only one blanket, which we shared as best we could. Outside, the snow kept falling and a strong wind blew. We did not sleep much if at all that night.

By the time the sun rose in the morning the storm had let up and the sky cleared. Inside the car the windows were covered with a layer of ice from our breaths. It was very hard to open the doors as we had to push away the snow that had piled up hip deep outside, and it was impossible to keep the stuff from pouring into the car.

The engine of the minibus behind us was still running, although the driver must have stopped it once or twice during the night to top up his fuel tank from some jerrycans he had on board. Taffy, Bob and I visited the minibus and the driver allowed us to stay inside for a short while to warm up. I remember that some of the passengers carried live chickens with them.

The landscape outside was beautiful, all white. There were snowdrifts in some places on the slope more than 2-3 meters high, and even on the road it was not much less than one meter.

We scraped the ice and the snow to clear the car’s windows, and Taffy tried to start the engine. Luckily it sputtered to life after several increasingly desperate attempts.

A few hours later we saw a group of Iranian soldiers in winter uniforms approaching on skis. They all carried backpacks filled with bread, cheese and I think even some dates, which they proceeded to distribute to the people stranded in the snow. They were certainly welcome. They told us there were machines on the way to clear the road and free our vehicles but that the snow was so deep in some areas they might not be able to finish the job until the next day. They said workers were clearing a path leading down the slope on which people could walk about a kilometer or so to a place on the road where buses from nearby Bodjnurd would pick them up so they could spend the next night in the town.

As luck would have it the path branched off the road very close to where we were. Taffy got the idea we might be able to drive down that path, which Bob and I thought sounded crazy. He inspected it even as workers were clearing the stretches on the slope where the snow was too deep to walk through.

It was already late in the afternoon by the time the workers finished their job. Taffy, not wanting to wait until there were too many people on the path, decided to risk driving down in the Galaxie.

The upper part of the slope directly below the road was quite steep, so we quickly picked up speed going down. The heavy car bumped up and down so much on the very uneven path that our heads hit the ceiling several times (there were no seatbelts in those days). It got so bad we feared the Galaxie’s suspension might collapse.

Suddenly Taffy noticed the steering was not responding when he turned the wheel. The car just kept going straight no matter how much he tried to change direction. I think we were very lucky there was no major curve and the wheels didn’t turn sideways, otherwise the Galaxie would have overturned.

We breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the end of the path and were back on the road, which was covered with a layer of ice and gravel. Taffy stopped the car and we got out. Then he put a jack under the front of the Galaxie and lifted it up. He was holding a length of cable with which he hoped to fix the steering system temporarily so that we could drive down the road to Bodjnurd.

When he slid under the car I remember worrying that the jack might slip on the icy road and he would get crushed.

After a few minutes he was done. We got back in the car and slowly drove towards the town as night was falling.

In Bodjnurd we found a garage where Taffy could have the steering system welded back together. We spent the night in a shared room at Izadi Hotel, very happy to sleep in warm beds again. According to some notes I wrote down that time the room rate was 150 rials, which was about 86 Belgian francs or not much more than 2 Euros today without adjusting for inflation. Unfortunately these notes I kept cover only my spending and contain very little information about the journey and my impressions. My total budget for the trip was 4,500 francs (7,830 rials) or a little over 100 Euros.

The next morning we left Bodjnurd for Mashhad, about 270 kilometers away. This part of the trip passed without incident.

When we arrived in Mashhad we did a little bit of sightseeing. There were large crowds in town as it was Nowruz, the Iranian new year. I remember being very impressed by the huge Imam Reza Shrine complex with its golden dome but because there were so many people in the area I decided against going inside.

As I recorded in my notes we spent the night at the “Tourist Hotel” for 150 rials. The next morning we went to the Afghan consulate and were issued 15-day visas for that country. It was the second day of the first month of the year 1351 in the Iranian/Afghan Islamic solar calendar (22 March 1972 CE).

When we arrived at the Afghan border at Islam Qala I found out I needed to prove I was vaccinated against cholera. My vaccination certificate was good only for smallpox, which was all that was required for Iran. Taffy talked to one of the officials there who, for a small baksheesh, stamped the back page of my certificate with a note in the Afghan language Dari saying it was accepted.

The first thing we did after entering Afghanistan was replenish the Galaxie’s huge gasoline tank at a filling station. Bob immediately asked a young boy there if he could sell us some hashish. Sure enough, the boy disappeared briefly in the small building of the station and returned with a bag. Bob showed him some beautiful turquoise stones and within a short time they agreed on a trade.

As we drove on towards Herat, the main city in western Afghanistan, the three of us were taking puffs from joints Bob had rolled and shared with us. Even though I was a fairly heavy cigarette smoker by this time I was afraid to inhale the hashish smoke deeply as Bob and Taffy both did. It was a first for me but because I didn’t suck it into my lungs I felt almost no effect.

In Herat we found a room at the Behzad Hotel for 80 afghanis per night for two people, according to my notes. Taffy and I were planning to spend just two nights there before heading southeast to Kandahar, the country’s second largest city. Bob said he wanted to spend more time in Herat and would not continue traveling with us, so we split up and he went to look for a cheaper hotel in town. We didn’t see him or hear from him again after this.

Among the very few things I remember about Herat were young boys we encountered in many places who were asking for handouts. In Iran I had given some coins to beggars, too, as I recorded in my notes, but I think they were mostly older people or women. I also recall the open sewers in the city streets and the myriad small shops often minded by young boys. Unlike in Iran, women and girls seemed almost invisible as they either shunned the streets or were hidden inside all-enveloping burqas.

In Herat I visited a beautiful large mosque. It was the first Islamic house of worship I actually saw from the inside, as I had not entered one in Iran. I remember a local Afghan man I met there telling me that poor people were allowed to sleep in the mosque at night. This surprised me as I could not imagine our Catholic churches staying open during nights to serve as sleeping quarters. Much less could I have believed at the time that nine months later I would spend part of one night resting on some steps in the big mosque of Mecca, the Muslims’ holiest place.

After two days Taffy and I were on our way to Kandahar, about 570 kilometers away. The road, Asian Highway 1, appeared to be covered with rectangular slabs about 20 meters long, like very large tiles. There were small ridges between the slabs where they were fitted together, and the Galaxie’s tires made a popping sound every time we crossed one of those.

In many places along the way there were swarms of small birds like sparrows sitting in the middle of the road. When we approached they flew up but some of them were not quick enough and ended up smashed and stuck to the front of the car or the windshield. I asked Taffy to slow down so they would have time to escape but he seemed to be in a hurry to get to Kandahar.

At one point we stopped at a gas station to refill the Galaxie’s tank. After a short while there a scruffy-looking man walked up to us and plucked the dead birds from the front of the car, dropping them in a metal pot he carried. We assumed he was going to cook and eat them.

The weather was good and the road ahead of us seemed to glisten in the light of the sun as if it was wet. We were about halfway to Kandahar when, suddenly, this mirage became real and the car splashed into water. The road was flooded more than knee-deep over a stretch of about 50 meters, and the Galaxie’s engine quickly sputtered to a halt. — We were lucky. A bus had stopped on the far side of the flooded area and some of its male passengers were wading in the water. When they saw that our car was stuck they came to help us and pushed the Galaxie to the other side. Taffy and I thanked them profusely.

In Kandahar we stayed at Spozhmay Hotel on the main road into the city for 100 afghanis in a 2-bed room.

At the hotel we met an American hippie couple who told us that during the opium harvest the whole city smelled of the drug. Among the very few things I remember from Kandahar is a bus I once rode into town that seemed to be made mostly of wood, with chickens and some goats among the passengers.

The day after we arrived it was already 25 March, and I felt I should not continue traveling to Kabul and beyond with Taffy because I might not be able to get to Tehran in time to catch my once-weekly flight back to Europe only five days later, on a Thursday. I had to get back to my job at Luxair the following Monday, and I didn’t think I had enough money to fly back to the Iranian capital from Kabul.

The following day we left the hotel. Taffy took me to the bus station in Kandahar and then drove on towards Kabul and Lahore.

I arrived back in Herat by bus late that afternoon and went straight to Behzad Hotel, where I spent the next night, then in the morning I took another bus to the Iranian border.

At the Tayebad border post on the Iranian side I was asked to show my cholera vaccination certificate. When I showed the officials the stamp one of their Afghan counterparts had placed on the back of my document a few days earlier they were not impressed. I was immediately taken to a room in the building that looked and smelled like a dispensary. A man in a white coat prepared a needle and then jabbed it into my shoulder so hard I was sure he had hit the bone. I winced but didn’t complain. The pain, however, bothered me for quite some time afterward.

I had to wait a short while in another room where I was soon joined by a young Sikh man wearing the typical turban, two older Afghan men and a small Afghan boy. The five of us were taken by bus to Tayebad quarantine station, a place that looked like a small fort in the middle of a desert-like landscape. To tell the truth I don’t remember much about what it was like but this was the impression left in my memory.

At the station a doctor told us in English and Persian or Dari that we would undergo a test the next day and would then have to wait there for another 24 hours for the evaluation, which would show whether or not we carried a cholera infection. The Sikh man immediately protested loudly, saying his wife was sick in a hospital in Tehran and he had to get there as quickly as possible. The doctor insisted we had to wait 24 hours, but after some discussion he agreed that we could take the test right away rather than the following day.

He took each one of us to a separate room for the test. What I remember is that he asked me to stand facing a wall, and to drop my pants and underpants. Then he asked me to bend forward and hold my buttocks apart so he could insert something into my anus. It turned out to be a long stick with some gluey substance stuck to the end, which he pushed quite a long way inside. I gasped, but then I worried about how the little boy would take this treatment.

It turned out the most difficult patients were the two older Afghan men, who almost got into a fight with the doctor — or at least it sounded like that to me.

We spent the night and the following day at the station, and the next evening we were taken to Tayebad town. After this I don’t remember seeing any of them again. I found a bus that would take me to Mashhad, with very few other passengers on board.

By the time I arrived in Mashhad it was already quite late at night. I didn’t recognize any of the few places where the bus stopped in the city, so I just got off at the terminal. The streets in this area were mostly dark, with only a few lights here and there. I walked around a bit, lugging my heavy seabag and looking for anything that might be a hotel.

There were hardly any people in the streets this late in the night. I saw one man a little older than I and asked him in English if he knew a hotel in this area. He seemed to understand but answered in broken French that there were none as far as he knew. We went on to talk a little bit in French, and he told me he was a sports teacher at the Ghazali school. His name was Gholamreza Gholami, as he wrote on a little piece of paper that I still have.

He invited me to spend the night in the house nearby where he lived. I ended up sleeping alongside 8 or 9 other men on a mat on the floor of one of a few small rooms around a central courtyard in an old brick building. There was a manual pump in the middle of the yard, which we activated the next morning to get water for drinking, for tea and to wash ourselves.

After a simple breakfast Gholami and one of the other men took me in an old car to the center of Mashhad. I had told him I needed to get back to Tehran to catch a flight back to Europe. At first I considered traveling by bus or train but I was worried that if there was any kind of delay I might get to Mehrabad Airport too late to catch my flight the next day 30 March. On Gholami’s suggestion we went to an Iran Air office to see if I could fly instead. I had only 2,100 rials left but it turned out a one-way ticket to Tehran cost exactly 2,000, so I bought one and gave Gholami the remaining 100 rials.

The flight was enjoyable and uneventful but shortly after I arrived at Mehrabad Airport I almost collapsed with pain from severe stomach cramps. I also had a very bad diarrhea and had to run to the toilet every half hour or so for the rest of the day and throughout my last night in Iran. And I had no money left to buy anything to eat or drink.

Next morning I went to the Lufthansa office to check if there were seats available on the flight to Frankfurt, since I could not have a reservation. I was lucky: several places were free. A young Iranian man who worked for the airline took me aside and asked if I wanted to earn some money by doing him a favor. I guess he had noticed how miserable and disheveled I looked.

I asked him what he needed, and he said he wanted me to buy two bottles of Black & White whiskey at the local duty-free store and take them on board the airplane, where he would come to pick them up just before the flight left. [I think it was two bottles, though I don’t remember clearly and it might have been just one]. He would give me money for the purchase and a couple of hundred rials extra for myself. I happily agreed to do it, because I was quite hungry by this time. He gave me a bag in which he wanted me to place the whiskey bottles once I had boarded the plane.

After checking in I bought the two bottles of whiskey, took them on the plane and then put them in the bag the man had given me. Sure enough, shortly before the plane left the gate he came on board and took the bag with him.

When I returned home from this adventurous trip I found it hard to go back to my daily routine. Almost everything seemed boring, especially at work.

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The ‘evil empire’ is in the west

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Weapons of war displayed at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul. Photo 2014.

Diary entry Monday 31 August 2020 (excerpt):
The volume of anti-China and anti-Russia disinformation spread by western media and western governments these days is beyond anything I have seen and heard before – almost unbelievable.
It’s a huge campaign to vilify those countries that don’t toe the capitalist-oligarchist-white supremacist-militarist-fascist-Zionist-Judeo-Christian-centered line.
The USA has truly become a huge criminal enterprise and an “evil empire“ in my view, bombing and occupying other countries, supporting evil regimes like Saudi Arabia, which is destroying Yemen, threatening and coercing others around the globe, strangling nations like Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and others with sanctions, lying, cheating, stealing, murdering and plundering in so many places, etc.
I am not “anti-American.” I just want to see peace, cooperation and harmony in the world, and in my view it is primarily the USA and Israel who are working against those ideals, even though they pretend otherwise. More than anything I would like to see peaceful cooperation among nations and non-hostile competition. But the USA and its “allies” (lackeys, really), and Zionist Israel go out of their way to destroy any chance of that happening.
They have really been doing this ever since they were created even though they publicly espoused great ideals in which many of their people believed. They were deceived and hijacked from the beginning by selfish, lying, evil people who quickly gained great power.
Today these powerful people cannot bear the fact that the leaders of China, Russia, Iran and others stand in the way of their efforts to gain absolute power over the world. They want to crush them either by inciting revolts in their countries or – if they become desperate enough in case “regime change” attempts meet with no success – by destroying them with military force. They believe they have God on their side, and that God wants them to take control of the whole world.
Our Moon [Unification] movement also wants to take over the world and build what they describe as the “Heavenly Kingdom under God and True Parents.” They focus on winning leaders of countries and powerful people in all spheres of life to their side. In essence they are building an oligarchy that they want to rule the world under the guidance of Rev. Moon’s widow Hak Ja Han and her successors.
But have they built a really peaceful, harmonious, cooperative society on a small scale anywhere? Yes, they get people to cooperate harmoniously (I guess) in order to organize their many spectacular, lavish events such as big rallies and conferences designed to entice world leaders in all fields to join their fold. But I don’t see any real progress at the grassroots level towards building a real harmonious society that could become a model for a future world of peace and love.
Perhaps I don’t know enough about what may have already been achieved or be in the process towards that goal. Until now I have seen no sign at all of the building of an ideal society. It seems the focus is totally on a top-down approach, which in my opinion is doomed to failure because it will almost certainly be hijacked by the most powerful, devious and ultimately selfish people – just like almost any society created by humans before.
I hope I can be proven wrong in this. I do hope so. – Right now it doesn’t look good.

How my view of the USA changed over time:
https://erwinlux.com/2019/09/19/thoughts-on-the-18th-anniversary-of-9-11/

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More on the Unification (Sun Myung Moon / Hak Ja Han) movement and the USA:  

Fighting the Good Fight – or not …

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Also: Why I cannot go back to my previous ‘faith’


On death (mine):


Diary entry Thursday 3 September 2020 (adapted):
I’m reading an article in Psyche magazine about how to overcome our fear of death.
Do I fear death? In one sense, yes. It’s the fear of the unknown, a natural fear.
But I believe in essence I do not fear death itself – being no more. What I fear far more than anything else is the likely and the possible consequences of my death for those I leave behind – my immediate family. My wife and our children.
How could they cope when I am gone? I worry about that much more than about myself dying. Also, I worry very much that I might become a burden to them if I lose my mind or parts of my body.
This is what I fear and what I worry about much, much more than my own demise. I believe I am now fully reconciled with the idea that I will die. I certainly would not want to live too long – only long enough to be able to take care of my family as much as possible. I do want to leave this existence once I feel I have done my best in this. … And I definitely do not want to exist beyond this earthly life.
I, this self – whatever it is – clearly began at some point in time after I was conceived in my mother’s womb. I believe it is quite natural that I should cease to exist at some point in time.

Categories: News and politics, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Why I cannot go back to my previous ‘faith’


Diary Tuesday 30 June 2020: In recent days I have thought about whether it is possible for me to return to a belief in the God of the Divine Principle and True Parents (Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han of Korea), etc. My wife and daughter remain committed to that belief. Many of my old friends, too.

I support my wife and daughter in this, of course. I know I could not pull them away from it because I have nothing else to offer them in its place.

But what about the possibility of myself returning to the fold, so to speak? Am I insisting on staying away, closing myself off, or perhaps afraid to contemplate the possibility that the Divine Principle is the Truth after all?

Am I avoiding this or figuratively running away from it – as I wanted to put it in the title of my prospective memoir “On The Run From God,” which may never end up being completed?

Well, I just have to remember what it was like when I was a supposedly fully committed believer. One of the most if not the most important missions of a believer is witnessing, proselytizing – spreading the good word and bringing others into the love of God. How did I feel doing that – even at the best of times when I was inspired by a good prayer or a great talk I heard from Rev. Moon or some other leader? How did that feel?

I’m afraid the answer is unequivocally negative no matter how deep down in my heart I dig. I always felt artificial. I could never, even once, put my heart into it. Not at all.

I always did it not because I really wanted to but because I felt obliged, pressured or otherwise duty-bound to do it.

Why was this so? The answer is simple: I did not really believe in that God and in the True Parents. I never really did. I wanted to believe. Yes, I wanted, sometimes almost desperately, to believe. But deep down I could not really believe.

Why not? I don’t know.

Before I first decided to join the Unification Church back in Barrytown, New York, in March 1975 I faced a stark choice. My goal at that time had been to put myself through an ultimate life-or-death test. I wanted to survive completely alone in the wilderness of central British Columbia for at least one year. I was not planning to go back to Europe and my family – ever.

This was because I expected a nuclear war that would destroy our modern civilization, and I believed humankind would have to start its history again or rather a new history from Stone Age. I was aware that I might die in the wilderness. In fact, when I thought deeply about it I felt my chances of survival were not very good. But I was desperate enough to try anyway, because I was totally fed up with our civilization and had concluded that I could never really fit into it, adjust to it.

I felt I had to go through a life-or-death struggle to find my true self. And I believed I had to do that in a wilderness environment so that if I survived I could become completely one with nature, like any wild animal. In a way I felt the whole of humankind had to go through something like this, and a nuclear war would start it by destroying our civilization. Humankind would have to try again from scratch and to avoid making the mistakes that led to the disastrous history we know. It was of utmost importance that we always remained totally in harmony with nature, I believed.

So I was ready – or thought I was – to face death in the wild, in the unknown, and I felt I absolutely had to do it. But then when I learned the Divine Principle and got to know those bright young members of the Unification Church I thought maybe there was an alternative, a way to avoid the destruction of our civilization by changing it into a “kingdom of heaven” that was also in harmony with the natural world.

I would also avoid having to face death in the wilderness. In a way my decision to join the church was an escape from the stark reality I had chosen to face. I was not truly convinced that Divine Principle was the ultimate truth but gradually it came to represent a lifesaver or a kind of spiritual anchor to me. However, deep down I always knew I did not really believe in it – I just wanted to believe.

This fact became starkly clear to me every time I tried to convince another person that it was the absolute Truth. I simply cannot truly believe in it. 

My first serious doubts about God – May 1994

Escape from God …?

Also: On my first Far East trip and on God

Categories: Thoughts | 3 Comments

Father figure — and the inner voice

Erwin Franzen with fishing boat crew Tunis July 1973-Bild-15

My father took this picture of me with a fishing boat crew in Tunis in July 1973. It was the only time I went on a vacation with him alone, one of the best memories.  

Diary Tuesday 21 April 2020 [with updates 3 May and 7 May below]:

Recently I converted many old VHS-C and mini-DV videos of our family to MPG files on my computer and in doing that I saw a lot of film I had recorded 10-20 and more years ago.

I heard in the films how I talked to our children and felt very embarrassed by the impatient, even angry tone I used all too often. Then the other day I read for the first time the quote from Peggy O’Mara: “the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” It really hit home. I feel very bad about it now, but why didn’t I realize that much earlier when I could have changed it?

When I think back to my own childhood I remember my parents also often spoke that way to me and my younger brother. The four siblings who were born later were lucky, because my father especially mellowed very much after the first of our sisters joined the family. I don’t remember him beating them or even screaming at them the way he did to us from time to time. My father didn’t humiliate and belittle them as he tended to do with us elder sons. My mother did the same to us, too, though she hardly ever beat us. She mostly just followed my father’s example as he was always the dominant figure in our family.

When I joined the Unification Church (as it was then called) in America in 1975 I gained a new father figure: Rev. Sun Myung Moon. We, his followers, learned to regard him as the “True Father” of humankind, meaning the restored Adam of the Bible.

Diary Sunday 3 May 2020 (continued from 21 April):

I have always had an inner voice telling me I am no good, I will fail at almost everything, and I should just give up. That voice was sometimes so strong it paralyzed me.

Also, whenever I had an argument with someone there was always a voice inside me supporting that other person’s side. So I could never really be sure of anything at all. I could never completely believe in anything or trust anyone fully, and I could never have self-confidence.

At the same time I could never really fit in anywhere and was always ill at ease with myself, even when I was alone in nature. I am nearly 70 years old now and this is still mostly the same.

I was also always in silent rebellion, against any authority figure, any group to which I belonged, any environment in which I found myself, and of course most especially against God, or rather the very concept of God which I had been taught. This has not changed as I have aged. I don’t know why this is the case but I feel it has something to do with my peculiar sense of justice.

I remember discussions I had with my father when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Today I don’t recall details of any of those discussions but what remains clearly in my mind is that we disagreed on questions of justice. My father tended to support the authority of the state, the police, the military, whereas I always argued in favor of people who opposed it – rebels, dissidents and minor criminals (though never rapists and murderers).
Of course, there was always my inner voice agreeing with my father. I don’t think I ever really won any argument.

When I joined Rev. Moon’s Unification Church I tried very hard to find God and love, which somehow remained an alien concept to me even though I do believe my parents loved me. I now think I never really understood their love because to me it meant simply that I was indebted to them, which is a point they tended to over-emphasize. This caused a feeling of deep alienation in me, because it was clear I could never repay that debt.

It turned out that Rev. Moon’s love was the same, and so was God’s love the way he always explained it. We and all humankind were hopelessly indebted to God and Rev. Moon for all they had done and suffered for us fallen, sinful, faithless children.

I know Rev. Moon said many beautiful and inspiring things in his innumerable, lengthy speeches to us members of his movement. I heard many of them when I was in direct attendance in America and in recorded versions later. But what often struck me more than the good points he made were his accusations that we had failed, causing God and him and his family much grief. He always claimed credit for himself for any success achieved by our movement and blamed us for absolutely all failures.

He claimed or at least implied that he always, without fail, did his utmost best to win a victory, seemingly wanting us to believe he was perfect. This is what most of us tended to believe. He created around himself an aura of invincibility, of perfection and near-omniscience. When one of his sons died in an accident he blamed us for it because we had allegedly failed to fulfill the spiritual conditions required to protect him.

He also often threatened us with persecution by evil spirits because we failed to accomplish the very high goals he always set for us in terms of money earned by fundraising or people recruited into the movement or gathered to attend his public speeches.

Rev. Moon’s accusations, threats and frequent angry outbursts left a much deeper imprint on both my heart and mind than all the good, positive things he always spoke about God’s love and beauty. When I think about it I am sure he did say a lot more good than bad. But the good was always like ice cream – it tasted great for a moment but quickly melted away. The bad is what remained in my memory, not the details but the general impression.

The same goes for talks I heard given by many high-level lieutenants of his, all of whom I can only regard as sycophants, bootlicks.

Of course, as usual, there was always an inner voice in me mostly agreeing with what Rev. Moon said. Thus, even though his speeches often made me angry, I was still impressed and even awed at times. And I kept going back for more of the good, inspiring stuff – the “ice cream.”

I was never sure my judgment was right, so in the end I left it up to him and my leaders and also the more faithful members around me to guide me. I did go my own way again and again in the movement when my feeling of alienation became too strong. But in those cases I always just insisted on changing jobs or “missions” or places within the movement rather than leaving altogether.

This continued for 20 years until the mid-1990s when I began to gradually shed my belief in Rev. Moon as the Messiah and “True Parent,” and his teaching the Divine Principle, and finally the whole concept of God itself. The most that idea of God had ever represented to me was a good, warm but brief feeling I sometimes enjoyed in prayer. That was all. I never found God.

Today I remain connected to Rev. Moon’s movement through my family only. 

Important addendum 20200507: Over the years after I joined the Unification Church Rev. Moon came to completely overshadow my own father as a domineering figure because he seemed to have no vulnerabilities or weaknesses, unlike the man who raised me.
A blog post about my father’s story with pictures

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Leader or Follower?

At our Shinto wedding ceremony Takaharu Miyazaki Japan 1987

Diary Thursday 16 April 2020: A little self-reflection:

It is said there are leader types and follower types among humans. When I think about which of these two categories would apply to myself I feel I belong to the follower types. This is because, when I look at my life, my past, I find I was rarely self-motivated and had little ambition.

I always looked to others for inspiration and stimulation – even in my marriage. In the 32 years I have been living with my wife I have mostly relied on her as a guide and motivator. I almost never took charge of our family, mainly because I never really felt I knew what was right for our lives together and for our children.

I have tended to be confused and easily sidetracked, never sure of myself. So in many ways I have always depended on others for guidance, inspiration and motivation. But there was always a problem: I was never a good follower, simply because I needed solitude very much. It’s a dilemma since, not being self-motivated I could not really live all by myself. Yet I was unable to fully adapt to being part of a group either. I always hated crowds, and in any kind of group I was always at least a silent rebel. I needed leadership but I could never follow a leader for long.

In our marriage my wife and I have worked out a modus vivendi in which I defer to her for most decisions about our family but she gives me enough space and time for my own pursuits. This agreement took many struggles over many years to come to fruition, and it’s still not quite stable.

We were total strangers who couldn’t even really talk to each other when we were matched by Rev. Sun Myung Moon in Seoul in October 1982. He blessed us in a 6,000-couple mass wedding just 4 days later. After this we didn’t see each other for close to 4 years as she worked in Japan and I in Cyprus. During this time we wrote to each other but we always depended on others to translate our letters. I tried to call her on the phone once 3 years after our church wedding, but we could not talk at all because it was just too difficult.

In 1986 we spent one week together in my parents’ house in Luxembourg – in separate rooms. Then in 1987 I went to Japan for one month and traveled with her to different places, always staying in separate rooms. We also visited her family. We got legally married in her hometown in southern Miyazaki Prefecture on Kyushu Island and also held a Shinto wedding ceremony in a nearby temple.

I met her two older brothers and their families, and other relatives. Her parents were long gone. Her father had left the family and broke off contact when she was just 5 and her mother died a year before we first met in Seoul.

She and I finally started our family in Tokyo in April 1988, 5½ years after our church wedding. We later lived together in Greece, where our first son was born, then in Egypt and Cyprus before settling down in Luxembourg in October 1991.

Rev. Moon was the one who brought us together and launched us on this path to create a family. We were both followers of his movement – then known as the Unification Church. I had joined in the USA in March 1975 and my wife in Japan in October 1979, which just happened to be the time of my first visit to her country – not knowing her, of course.
(see About my first journey to Japan, across Siberia, in 1979
and On my first Far East trip and on God )

I still do feel grateful to the since-deceased Rev. Moon and the movement he began for having made our family possible. My wife continues to be a loyal follower of his movement, now led by his widow Hak Ja Han.

I was always racked with doubt about him, about God and about the Divine Principle, the teaching that had inspired me to join his church. By the late 1990s I had mentally separated from Rev. Moon and even the whole concept of a God postulated by the monotheistic religions.

My wife and I went through some struggles over this until we agreed that for our children’s sake I would continue to go through the motions as if I was still a believer and would refrain from criticizing Rev. Moon, the church, its leaders and their idea of God.

I have since drifted further and further away from the ‘meme’ — the enthralling myth, really — of the God of religions. Inspired by many ideas in books I have read and discussions on the Internet I followed I have put together an alternative view of a God that satisfies my desire to have an understanding of what ultimate reality might be. (see Escape from God …? )

I needed such an alternative idea because I wanted to escape, in a way, to get away from the strong pull of the myth of God that kept me in thrall for so long. As I am not a leader type I cannot inspire anyone else with my idea, least of all my wife ….

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The time I went crazy

My parents — 1984

Diary Friday 10 April 2020:

I don’t remember how I said goodbye forever to my parents, my family. All I know is that I really meant it.

I don’t remember my mother’s tears but I know she cried. Her oldest son, the first of her six children, was crazy. That is most likely what my whole family thought at this time. But they knew they could not stop me, dissuade me from my crazy ideas.

During the last months of 1974 and the early part of 1975 I behaved ever more strangely. I kept talking about a coming nuclear war that would leave our civilization in ruins and wipe out most of humankind. What was even worse was that I actually wished for it to happen. I felt it was both inevitable and necessary.

Sometime in 1974 I had read Jack London’s book ‘The Call of the Wild,’ about a dog who took to the wilderness of Canada’s Yukon Territory. I had also heard a lot about ‘The Late, Great Planet Earth’ by Hal Lindsey, though I never read that book. These stories undoubtedly influenced my thinking.

By 1974 I had shed any vestige of belief in the triune God of the Catholics with whom I grew up and also the Allah of the Muslims whom I had encountered in the Middle East.

I believed in nature, in a kind of pantheism. Human civilization defiled our planet. It was like a cancer that gradually overwhelmed the Earth. It had to be destroyed so nature could recover. Our civilization would annihilate itself in a nuclear war, and bands of human survivors would roam parts of the Earth living a new Stone Age. I wanted to be part of these, perhaps even a leader.

I don’t remember how this thought came to my mind but I believed the nuclear war would devastate the world in 1979.

At first I wanted to travel to western Canada and live in the woods there, awaiting the holocaust. But an American friend pointed out to me that the southern hemisphere was more likely to escape total destruction since most nuclear targets were in the north.

I changed my plan and decided to travel eventually to Patagonia. The Canadian woods remained my first destination, though, because I felt a strong attraction to them, perhaps inspired by ‘The Call of the Wild.’ I also believed I had to pass a survival test before heading to my final destination in Patagonia.

So my plan was to try to survive for at least a year more or less in a Stone Age setting in western Canada, and then head south to Argentina. I didn’t give any thought to how I could accomplish that feat, crossing all the countries on the way after basically becoming a Stone Age man.

Thinking back today I feel I really was crazy.

My last job in my home country Luxembourg was as a van driver delivering refrigerators, washing machines and TV sets to households throughout the tiny nation ….

(continued here:  How I met the Unification Movement — part 1

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My view of the Unification Church / Movement

Barrytown International Training Center NY-USA 19750524-cropped

Unification Church’s Barrytown training center & theological seminary – mid-1970s

[posted 20191124 — addendum below 20191125] [more addenda 1995 and 2020 further down] 
I joined the movement in Barrytown, upstate New York (on the Hudson River northeast of Kingston) in March 1975. After about 8 months I left the movement temporarily because I wanted to travel and collect my thoughts independently, without being influenced by other members. I hitch-hiked from Washington DC to California. After some unusual experiences (Memory of California Thanksgiving 1975) I ended up in Berkeley and decided to visit a local church center, as I had promised my fellow acolytes on the East Coast, but couldn’t find one. Near the University of California campus in Berkeley I met two young men who said they belonged to a group of students calling itself the Creative Community Project, and they invited me to a free Thanksgiving dinner.

As I had lost almost all my possessions in a robbery earlier that day and was short of money I was happy to take them up on it. At the dinner I found out the Creative Community Project was the Unification Church by another name. I joined again, only 16 days after leaving Washington DC….

I remember the first time I saw Rev. Sun Myung Moon himself, the founder of the movement who had developed its core teaching, the Divine Pinciple, and whom we members regarded as the Messiah — the Christ of the Last Days. It was in Barrytown, in the spring of 1975. He spoke to us at length. To me he seemed very arrogant and mercurial, very fond of exercising power over others. I did not feel drawn to him at all. But I told myself, as I had been taught in the church, that it was my own sinful, fallen nature that made me see him like that, similar to the way the Pharisees saw Jesus.

I liked most of the teachings of the church because they clarified a lot of things that troubled me in the world and in the Bible. They seemed very logical and plausible, and I felt the world would certainly be a much better place if all people lived according to them. Most of the fellow members and leaders I dealt with also seemed like really kind, unselfish and yet very intelligent and capable people. Today I continue to feel that way about the majority of the members I have met, although I have long ago given up my belief in the Divine Principle and even the God it describes (Category: Thoughts). For an account of how my view of God and the Divine Principle evolved over the years, please see: https://erwinlux.typepad.com/

About Moon himself there were always ups and downs in my feelings, depending on what he said and how he said it in the many long speeches he gave which I attended. There were times when I felt he seemed really kind, gentle and funny but at other times he appeared like an extremely arrogant, power-hungry yet petty dictator.

My closest encounter with him came in a big hall at the Little Angels School in Seoul, South Korea on 10 October 1982. There were hundreds or even thousands of members in the hall, women on one side and men on the other. We were there to be matched for a planned mass wedding of 6,000 couples four days later. Moon walked between the rows and picked men and women from the crowd seemingly at random to match them up as couples.

At one point he asked through his interpreter, whom he always used even though he spoke English, for western men who wanted to be matched with oriental women to come forward. I stood up together with perhaps a few hundred other men and moved closer to him. He matched several of our group with oriental women on the other side. Then he came and reached over the shoulder of another member who stood in front of me, took me gently by the chin and asked in English (to my surprise) why I volunteered to be matched to an oriental woman. I said I thought it would be more interesting and I could learn more that way. Then he asked my nationality and what my “mission” was in the church (at the time I was preparing to join other members in Cyprus where we were going to start the Middle East Times weekly newspaper), and I answered.

He nodded and took me a short distance along a row of mostly Japanese women members, then stopped in front of one of them and pointed to her. She got up, stood next to me and we were sent off to discuss our match. Later, after we agreed to accept the arrangement, we returned to the hall and bowed to him to indicate our assent.

This was my only direct contact with Moon.

…………….

From a comment I wrote in early 2000:

“… I wonder how many members or ex-members would say, as Mike says here, that they were sort of in love with SMM (Sun Myung Moon). I, for one, didn’t feel good about him the very first time I saw him (that was in Barrytown in the early spring of 1975).

This changed a bit later, and there were times when I thought he seemed like a deep-hearted, loving person one moment only to become an ogre the next, based on what he said and how he said it, and sometimes he was very amusing, too. He was always very mercurial. I/we were told the impression that he was so fickle came from my/our own fallen nature, etc. — and I was ready to believe that. But he lost me more and more with his boundless arrogance and self-glorification in speech after speech, claiming credit for just about everything under the sun …. 

I stayed in the church, I think, more because of the good that I saw in many loving members than because of him or anyone in his family. I have always wished I could fully return the love and support I was given by many members in different places and at different times in the church — and that has always been a major reason for continuing to support the movement as a whole. DP [Divine Principle, the teaching] had something to do with it, too, until I started looking at it from a bit of a distance, so to speak, and found more and more holes in it.

Anyway, I really wonder how many members, especially male members — since it’s obviously harder for us — are “in love” with SMM the way Mike says he is (SMM himself has, of course, said many times that that is the way our relationship with the “messiah” is supposed to be)….”

——

From a message to a friend in June 2000:

“…. I must admit that I found a lot of good ideas in the DP and in Moon’s speeches and actions, apart from all the garbage, and those I want to keep and put into practice as much as I can. As far as Moon the man is concerned, however, by wanting to be everything and trying to grab all the credit and all the glory he has made himself irrelevant in my eyes. He has become almost like the antithesis of all the good he once taught. He is finished. …..”

Partial view of one of the movement’s properties at Cheong Pyeong Lake, Korea. Photo 2014.

Diary Sunday 10 November 2019:

Today I want to write down some more thoughts on religion, belief and philosophy.

I have heard and read many speeches by Rev. Moon (Sun Myung) over the years I followed him, and during that period he inspired me very much at times. There were also times when something he said or did angered me because I felt it was self-serving, self-glorifying, condescending, arrogant, hypocritical and also harmful. I also detected some exaggeration and signs of ignorance on certain subjects in his talks.

The fact that he never made a serious effort to learn English properly and to speak it also put me off. He lived in the USA for so many years but insisted on speaking to us only in his native Korean, using a translator to put it into English. He always claimed to be a world citizen yet he clung to his Korean ways and expected the world to come to him.

Yes, he claimed to be “the messiah,” “the True Parent,” but he also said he was walking “in the shoes of a servant,” and “sacrificing” himself for the world. He traveled a lot and spoke a lot at many lavish events around the world, spending huge amounts of money earned by his followers for him, and contributing a lot to world pollution in very many ways.

I also didn’t like the fact that even in his speeches to members he always wore suits and ties, expensive western clothes, even though he spoke only in Korean. He also expected us male members to wear ties, which I always hated, or at least his subordinates insisted in his name that we wear them.

By the mid-1990s I came to feel Moon had totally run out of ideas and had nothing new to say. His speeches sounded like a broken record. This is also my impression of his widow Hak Ja Han Moon nowadays. She keeps harping on the theme of herself being “the only begotten daughter,” born in the providential (how?) year of 1943, but she has absolutely nothing new to say. She sounds even more like a broken record than he did during the twilight of his life.

Today I find nothing at all inspiring in the talks by Hak Ja Han or any of their children, all of whom do at least speak English, unlike their parents. They are all broken records.

I find it amazing that so many people still follow and listen to them, but perhaps this is primarily a reflection of the sad, spiritually impoverished state of the world today, where appearances mean everything. People are attracted to lavish, spectacular events, which is almost all the Moon movement has to offer these days — or at least those seem to be what inspires people the most.

To me those events are just a terrible waste of money and human and other resources contributing greatly to mental (spiritual) and physical pollution.

I must say I find a lot more inspiration in talks by Sadhguru (Jaggi Vasudev by his real name), the Indian Yogi, these days than in anything coming out of the “Mooniverse.” I don’t accept or agree with everything Sadhguru says and does by any means, but I find he has a lot more interesting and inspiring things to say than I have heard from Rev. and Mrs. Moon and their children at least since the 1990s.

I cannot and don’t want to try to pull my family away from the Moons, though, because I have nothing to offer them to fill the void such a move would produce, and also because it would cause too much anxiety and antagonism between us, I feel. I ony wish for them to be as happy as they can be, and if following the Moons mostly accomplishes that I am fine with it.

***

Diary Tuesday 12 November 2019:

I’ve reread and thought about my last entry here of 10 November, and I feel I should qualify some of what I wrote on the Moons to better reflect the truth.

My feelings about Rev. Moon were always mixed during my time as a follower but I did believe in him as the Messiah and as the True Parents with his wife Hak Ja Han. I wanted to hear what he had to say because his speeches were often quite inspirational to me even though they tended to be too long.

There were, of course, also many statements in them that I really disliked because they sounded self-aggrandizing, arrogant or hypocritical to me. Sometimes, too, I feared his angry outbursts, as if they were coming from God Him(/Her…)self.

In some ways I did regard Rev. Moon as an earthly expression of God. Through what I learned in Rev. Moon’s church I also came to believe in a spiritual world hidden from our view but whose denizens, our ancestors, could strongly influence us and haunt our dreams. And I believed in the existence of evil separate from God, although I never really managed to accept the reality of angels or of a fallen angelic being we called Satan.

I was really impressed when I first heard Rev. Moon’s teaching The Divine Principle in New York City back in March 1975 and later during workshops in Barrytown upstate. Several months later, near the end of 1975, I was again impressed by the way the workshop teachers in Boonville/California explained the same ideas in a different style.

I always had unresolved and ultimately unresolvable questions about The Divine Principle and many of Rev. Moon’s additional explanations given in his speeches.

Often, when I had serious doubts I would pray and repent to God, which usually made me feel good for a short while. Then I would cast my doubts and misgivings aside, telling myself the world would be a much bleaker, more terrifying place for me if I hadn’t found Rev. Moon. I did express my doubts and ill feelings in writing in my diaries, though, because I believed that was a way to relieve them.

It was not until the mid-1990s when I finally started to question not only Rev. Moon and his teachings but the whole concept of God’s nature itself, as taught by the monotheistic religions….

My first serious doubts about God – May 1994

Addendum Monday 25 November 2019:

Over the last 7 years since Moon died I have followed the sayings and doings of his widow Hak Ja Han. I must say honestly she doesn’t seem very bright to me at all. Her speeches are utterly tedious, and to me they sound quite superficial apart from being repetitious.

She wants to continue the work started by Moon to build the “Cheon Il Guk,” the “Heavenly Kingdom” on earth. Moon died before the date he himself had chosen as the official founding day of this “Cheon Il Guk,” which fell in February 2013.

Just as Moon always lived amidst a crowd of sycophants, so does Hak Ja Han. They make her feel she is the most important and the greatest human being not only on earth but in all of history and in the “cosmos.” They have drafted a constitution for that “Heavenly Kingdom,” and there is an academy to form and train a rudimentary police force and army, it seems. I must admit I know very little about the efforts that have been made in this direction.

The main elements of the formation of the “Heavenly Kingdom,” however, seem to be what is called the “Heavenly Tribal Messiahs.” This is something Rev. Moon himself began and which his widow continues to emphasize. Every Unification “blessed” family (blessed by the Moons) is supposed to bring together a “tribe” of at least 430 families, as their “Messiah.” These will then also be blessed and likewise become “Heavenly Tribal Messiahs.” The idea is that, ultimately, this will create one world family “under God,” in practice meaning under Hak Ja Han and her prospective successors — though she and her husband would forever stand as the one and only “True Parents of Heaven and Earth and Humankind.”

Under her and her close associates’ leadership the movement organizes huge gatherings in many countries around the world during which thousands of couples are “blessed” to become “Heavenly Tribal Messiahs.” There are also many conferences in which scholars and religious leaders from all backgrounds discuss ways to resolve the great problems of our world and to reform the existing order aiming to bring about a hopefully more peaceful and equitable society. I am sure these efforts do have some merit, though they are nothing new or unique.

One problem I see is that there is too much emphasis on VIPs, the powerful, rich and famous. Mrs. Moon and her crowd of flatterers crave access to power and wealth, so they want to bring the powerful and the rich to their side, and to show the world they are recognized as great leaders.

Mrs. Moon talks about the evils of colonialism and exploitation from time to time but she and her entourage seem set to keep the existing capitalist and corporation-dominated system in place, perpetuating those problems. It sure looks like the “Cheon Il Guk/Heavenly Kingdom” would not be much different from the oligarchies and plutocracies we have in the world today. A kingdom? Tribes? — Would there be serfs, too, like the common members of the movement today, many of whom are struggling to meet their financial obligations towards the church, including the large amounts of money they are supposed to cough up to pay for Hak Ja Han’s lavish rallies, banquets and conferences, and for the “liberation and blessing” of their own ancestors in the putative spiritual world.

I do applaud and support Hak Ja Han’s oft-proclaimed dedication to bringing peace to the world as the “mother of peace.” But I don’t see any sign that a better, kinder, peaceful and more equitable society is being built anywhere by the movement.

As far as the separate organizations led by some of the Moons’ sons are concerned, I feel they are actually worse than their mother’s, although they are smaller.

***

Here are two earlier posts on politics of the Unification Movement:

Fighting the Good Fight – or not …

and:  Thoughts on the 18th anniversary of 9/11, and more…

See also: On my first Far East trip and my view of God today

MORE BELOW THE PICTURE

The Moons’ royal palace (top right) on a hillside overlooking a village in the Korean countryside. Photo 2014.

Here is a revealing excerpt from my diary written about three years before I completely abandoned my belief in the God of the monotheistic religions and of course also in Moon’s Divine Principle:

Sunday 8 January 1995: This year began with mixed feelings, both positive and negative — though I want to do my best to take a positive attitude and to overcome my almost overwhelming negativity. It’s a tall order.

I fasted the last 3 days of 1994 to try to make a good start into the new year, but I don’t think it made much of a difference. According to what we have been told by our Korean leaders, God will judge and punish us Blessed Couples more and more. Or at least the drawing closer together of Spirit World and Physical World will allow spirits to accuse and attack us much more than in the past. Whenever I hear this kind of statement, from anyone including Abogee himself, I feel like throwing in the towel and rejecting God completely. This turns me into an enemy of God — or at least of the theoretical God I have come to know through Rev. Moon and his church.

If anything serious happened to me or anyone close to me and I was told or given reasons to assume that it was caused by God or by spirits to punish me for my negativity or for my failures, then I would turn utterly cold to God as I know Him in this church, and I would reject Rev. Moon completely. I have no choice, because to accept it and repent would lead me down a slippery slope of doing things only for fear of punishment. All thoughts of love would be automatically excluded, and love itself would be nullified. I have already gone too far in that direction. — Not that I don’t want to repent. I will repent for mistakes and failures when I can clearly understand the true background that makes them stand out as such, and when I can clearly understand my own responsibility towards God and True Parents.

I accept judgment only when I myself understand how it is just. — And yet all this talk of judgment and punishment raises fears in me, because I am not sure whether God and Rev. Moon are just. Rev. Moon makes many statements that confuse the issue for me and that make it very much harder for me to understand him and accept him. I often cannot see love in his statements even though he uses the word a lot. His idea of love is certainly very different from Paul’s definition in the New Testament — or is it not? It’s true, he does seem to include some of those definitions, but there are also very big qualifications/limitations. Rev. Moon often uses language that is really straight from the Old Testament.

He used to emphasize God’s grief in the past but now he emphasizes God’s anger/resentment much more — because, he says, we failed over and over again. That means there is no more love from God. Love is only for those who fulfill. There was never any truly unconditional love anyway. Yes, there is love without preconditions. But there were and are always strings attached. Love is given, but you have to pay for it later. And you pay more, because interest is charged. You are given many things that you may not even want — but you have to pay for them. And they are actually very, very expensive — as you find out bit by bit. Even life itself is like that. You are given life and you cannot say no if you don’t want it because you realize that the price charged for that dubious gift is too high. —

Here, I guess, my negativity is again taking over. But all these things locked up inside me have to come out and be dealt with somehow. I write them down now but I have no idea how or when I can deal with them in the sense of resolving them.

— Abogee/Rev. Moon has said many times that we are thieves because we take and don’t give. Actually, we are given. Sometimes things are almost pushed down our throats. — He says we stole the Blessing, for example. Actually, I never felt that I wanted the Blessing in the first place. I always felt that I was unworthy of the Blessing, and actually I did not even consider myself a full member anymore at the time when I was sent to Korea for the Blessing. Yes, I was pushed to go. Not forced but strongly encouraged and persuaded, even though I had misgivings because I felt I was not at all ready for it. It was the same when I joined the church. I was pushed by the members. I was always weak in character, very impressionable, gullible and very insecure — so I simply obeyed what I thought was probably God’s will.

I also said Pledge for the same reason. I never really pledged what I read out there — that text which was so weird and all but incomprehensible to me. Certainly I tried to understand that Pledge but I never did and I never agreed with most of it. I said it because of peer pressure and because I was told many times that if I just did it long enough I would come to understand it — and anyway, it was God’s will. Later Rev. Moon said or implied that we were liars and cheats because we pledged those things but failed to fulfill them. What’s this? Is the same thing going to happen with the new Family Pledge?

If I were by myself I would never say Pledge now because I don’t want to be accused later. Again, I don’t agree with it and I cannot feel it or understand it. It’s like saying: obey now — pay later. The Blessing, too, presents a big problem. I was told I was included in the Blessing because a quota of so many couples had to be fulfilled. In recent years I have found out from Rev. Moon’s statements that in accepting the Blessing in 1982 I signed a (spiritual) contract under which I owe a huge debt that I never knew about. I am obligated to do all kinds of things that I never believed I could do, and there is more to come ad infinitum. Again, what’s this? And there is no way I can renegotiate that contract or tear it up — because it’s impossible to change or cancel a spiritual contract.

So, what does all that mean? I am ready to pay, but Rev. Moon asks much more than I can ever pay. Is that God’s way? So then what is love? Where is this so-called unconditional love? It is priceless, but we have to pay the price forever. — And yet I don’t want to close all doors. I follow Rev. Moon (more or less and at a great distance), not because I believe in him or love him, but only because I am a total failure and a reject from the society in which I grew up — and I have found no alternative to his teaching in the Divine Principle. I cannot swallow Divine Principle, but most other ideas I cannot even touch with a 10-foot pole.

See also: Escape from God ….?

Categories: Thoughts, Travel | Leave a comment

English

Saturday 2nd November 2019:

Today I want to write about my languages, and how English became the most important one to me.

Like most Luxembourgers I grew up speaking Luxembourgish as my native tongue. It was and still is the language – or dialect for those who regard it as such due to its limited vocabulary – that we use in speaking to our parents, siblings and most commonly in local society as a whole.

I never learnt Luxembourgish in school because it was not officially considered an important literary language at the time. We learned to read and write first in German, then in French, the latter being the main official language in this country. I didn’t know any English until I was about 15, when my younger brother, who had started learning it earlier, persuaded me that it was a useful and interesting language. I began to take an English evening course offered by our hometown for a small fee — just an hour or so a week.

The following year, when I was 16, I switched schools and started studying English more seriously – a few hours a week. I liked it because it seemed relatively easy as it had a lot in common with German and French, and also with Luxembourgish, and in my view it was somehow more logical, more compact and more direct than those languages.

My parents knew hardly any English at all. Only my mother had learned some in school but never used it.

Most of what I wrote in my teenage years was in German, which is closest to my native Luxembourgish. While I thought I could write well in German I gradually came to feel that writing in English gave me more satisfaction even though it was harder. In later years I wrote in German, and occasionally in French, only when I corresponded from abroad with my parents and siblings, or some friends who didn’t know English.

Since the mid-1970s the vast majority of all I have written, perhaps over 90 percent, is in English.

When I joined the editorial staff of the just-founded New York City daily newspaper The News World at the end of 1976 I got my first chance to write articles in English for publication. My very first story appeared in the newspaper in March 1977.

Of all the editorial staff of the paper I was most likely the least educated, as I had never finished any schools except elementary. So it was a matter of great pride to me when my editors accepted my articles and then made fewer and fewer changes in them as my English improved.

I learned a few words in other languages during my time in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Far East. Today I can still count in Arabic, Greek and Japanese but I cannot converse in those languages. I made rather half-hearted attempts to learn Greek and Japanese on my own but gave up when I felt they were too difficult and not really worth-while for me to know.

One reason I felt this way was that I believed I still had a lot of work to do improving my English, which had by then become my bread and butter. I still believe this, and I find new or forgotten English words in my reading and in my dictionary almost every day.

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On my first Far East trip and on God

Tokyo Japan 19791022 two days after arrival fm Siberia

My postcard from Tokyo on 22 October 1979, two days after arrival from Siberia

Diary Sunday 6 October 2019:

Forty years ago today (6 October 1979) I set off on my first journey to the Far East.

The trip, lasting about 4 months, took me by train from Luxembourg (where I had returned from New York just 3 months earlier after 52 months – 4 years 4 months in the USA) to Liège, Belgium, then to Moscow in what was then the USSR, – Soviet Union – then from Moscow across southern Siberia to Nakhodka on the Soviet Far East coast, then from Nakhodka on a Soviet passenger ship [SS Baikal] to Japan through the remnant of Supertyphoon Tip in the Pacific, to Yokohama, Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Itoh (on Izu Peninsula) and Chiba for 2 weeks, then on an Air India Boeing 707 through stormy weather via Hong Kong (Kaitak Airport) to Bangkok (Don Muang Airport), my final destination.

The train and boat rides across Siberia, the Sea of Japan, Tsugaru Strait (between Honshu and Hokkaido) and down the Pacific side of Honshu through very heavy seas to Yokohama took exactly 14 days — 2 full weeks.

In Thailand I traveled twice to Si Khiu near Nakhon Ratchasima to bring supplies to a refugee camp, also visited Thonburi across the river from Bangkok and Bang Pa In just north of the city, and went twice by bus and train for a few days to Georgetown on Penang Island, Malaysia to renew my Thai stay permit. I did not have enough money for tourism there.

Si Khiu refugee camp Thailand December 1979

At Si Khiu refugee camp December 1979 with Japanese doctors and nurses

After about 3 months I was invited to return to my work in New York (for The News World daily newspaper), and since I was fed up with Bangkok anyway I gladly accepted. At the beginning of February 1980 I flew in a TAROM (Romania) Airlines Boeing 707 via Abu Dhabi or Dubai or Manama (Bahrain — I forget which of the three) to Bucharest Otopeni Airport and then on a Tupolev 154 to Frankfurt, and from there by train to Luxembourg, where I stayed about 2 weeks before traveling by car to England, London, Nottingham and Mansfield for a few days, and flying from London directly back to New York.

It was a very memorable journey, and I was most impressed with Japan.

————–

On God:

Not long ago I went to an African evangelical Christian service and was struck by how much the believers there praised God. To most religious people, especially those of the monotheistic faiths, this would seem quite normal. Many seem to believe that our lives here on earth and in the hereafter have meaning only insofar as we can serve and glorify God. From my experiences with Muslims and Christians, and Jews to a lesser extent, I know that praising God and thanking Him (/Her…) for our existence and for saving us or at least offering us salvation is one of the most important elements of worship (this term itself says it all).

The implication is that we live at His pleasure and have to offer Him devotion and praise. This is the most extreme in Islam, where God’s name is invoked for just about anything, as if believers had to be afraid to be punished for not praising God enough.

I have often wondered what this reveals about the personality, the psychology of the postulated and adulated God. Why would God, who is supposedly almighty, all-knowing and eternal, need to receive so much praise and glorification? Doesn’t that seem extremely narcissistic?

In Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church we believed that God was suffering, grieving for fallen humankind, which was mostly in thrall to His adversary Satan — whom God Himself also originally created as a good angel, Lucifer. We believed God could not interfere directly with humankind’s responsibility to recognize our fault and return to Him. This was because God had to follow the Principles which He Himself had laid down in creating the Universe and us.

But we also believed God was ultimately almighty and would certainly succeed in His effort to bring humanity back. His will to do that was paramount and unchanging. This was because we were to be God’s children, whom He originally created for love, a love that is supposedly the greatest force in the Universe.

So if we wanted to return to God we had to repent and do penance (pay indemnity as we called it in the church), and to love God by doing His will. God was our original parent, we believed, and He created the Universe for us. But this God was not only a pitiful suffering God. He was also an angry, even vengeful God, as Rev. Moon implied many times in his speeches to us members of his church, and as is told in many passages of the Bible and the Qur’an as well as in some of Jesus’ parables. God was suffering because we had fallen away from Him and spurned His love, and we continued to either ignore or oppose His efforts to win us back. And we had to pay a ransom to this imaginary Satan, and repent in order to alleviate God’s anger (I think this is the underlying reason for the need of repentance).

Over time all these ideas lost every vestige of sense and meaning to me. This God was either a conceited narcissist or a pathetic yet vengeful character whom I simply could not love or praise. Believers of monotheistic faiths could not convince me that there is such a God. I have come to think this God is really a delusion.

We are not children of a God — we are God, in a way. We are infinitesimally tiny parts of God, yet God develops and changes through us. As individuals we are just sparks in time that leave a residue in God’s Universal Memory when we fade away. But as humankind we represent a substantial part of God.

My first serious doubts about God – 1994

***

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Thoughts on the 18th anniversary of 9/11, and more…

0-Thailand article 1977 TNW NYC-c

One of my early articles in The News World under my pseudonym Aaron Stevenson

Diary Thursday 12 September 2019 [continued on 20 September]:

Yesterday was the 18th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, when 2 towers and one large building collapsed, killing around 3,000 people. As usual, the anniversary (9/11) was marked around the world with ceremonies in which people expressed their support of the great USA.

I want to take stock of my feelings for that USA, which I long regarded as a second homeland.

My father always professed to hate the USA — though by no means all of her people or even the culture. He watched plenty of American movies, for example. He used to say the US were dominated by “Jews,” who were an ethnocentric tribe of money-grubbing Shylocks, in his mind.

His view of “Jews” was colored by his involvement with Nazis in World War II, when he was a mechanic in the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, in which he had enlisted because he loved airplanes and had hopes of becoming a fighter pilot [he was not accepted for that special training as he was past their age limit of 28 at the time].

I don’t think he ever knew any real Jews. They were mostly just caricatures in his mind, I think. So, to him they were all one kind, all the same, with the same Shylock-type attitude.

I don’t know now if my father’s feelings about the Jews and the USA influenced us his 6 children in any way. Perhaps the only one really affected by this is my brother Gilbert — but in an opposite way. Among all of us Gilbert was the one most in opposition to my father’s ideas and visceral impulses. So Gilbert has become a very ardent supporter of the USA and Israel, and the Jewish people in general — whom he almost completely identifies with Zionism.

So what about me? I don’t think my father’s expressed feelings about the USA and the “Jews” affected me very much. Like most kids my age I was fascinated by many aspects of American culture and by the USA as a whole.

The assassination of President Kennedy and the mystery surrounding it affected me, though. I was close to 13 years old (12 y. 9 mo.) when it happened in November 1963 (actually, the day before Gilbert’s 11th birthday). I remember staring at the large black and white pictures in the German magazine “Stern,” which my father used to read. I found it hard to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was shot dead by Ruby right after he was nabbed by the police. Somehow the assassination itself and the aftermath, followed a few years later by the murders of Martin Luther King and Kennedy’s brother Robert, seemed totally sinister, evil — and in my mind a cloud descended on the rosy image I had of the USA.

When I saw pictures and film of what the US were doing in Vietnam I even joined a protest march to the American Embassy in Luxembourg City once; I think that was in the winter of 1968-69. However, this did not mean I hated the American people or the culture. Around the same time I met Ben Barker in Clervaux (Luxembourg), my first American friend. He was a middle-aged itinerant evangelical preacher and puppeteer, on a bicycle tour of Europe. We corresponded for a few years after that, though I never saw him again.

In school, where I started learning English from the age of 16 (February 1967 — in the Lycée de Garçons/Esch-Alzette), I tried to speak the language with what I thought was an American accent — to the displeasure of my teacher, who spoke the purest Oxford English.

Also, in 1968 or 1969, I applied for a scholarship offered by the American Field Service that would have allowed me to study for one year at a high school in the USA. I wrote an essay for them — I think it was about American-Luxembourg relations — and was accepted. The only problem was that my parents had to pay for my air ticket to the US and give me some money for expenses, as I did not have any except in a special savings account that could not be debited until I was 21 (1972) [I had already earned a small salary in 1966-67 when I worked as an apprentice fitter in the ARBED Belval steel mill for about 6 months — but that money mostly went into the savings account]. My parents could not afford to pay, so I had to cancel my application for the AFS scholarship.

Syria and US visas 1972 — I didn’t use the US one until 1975.

By 1972 I was desperate to get away from Luxembourg, so I got my first visa for the USA from the same Embassy I had marched against a few years earlier. In my correspondence with my friend Ben Barker during those years I had learned quite a bit about America but we had a mild dispute about the US bombing of North Vietnam, which he supported but I abhorred. He wrote from different places as he moved often — from Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island, etc. He always wanted me to read the Bible and accept Jesus as my personal Savior. I still have 5 of the letters Ben wrote me, from 1969 and 1970.

In 1972 I also went to Brussels to visit the Canadian and South African Embassies and to ask what I needed to do to immigrate to either of those countries. The Canadians said I first had to find a job in Canada, and for the South Africans it was more or less the same — though they told me my qualifications were insufficient.

Between 1975 and 1982 I spent a total of just over 6 years in the USA, mostly working with the Unification Movement (Korea’s Sun Myung Moon) and its offshoot companies, especially the daily newspaper The News World in New York City, which we launched at the end of 1976.

I never returned to the US after 1982 but worked for ABMC, a US Government agency, from 1992 until my retirement in 2016. ABMC (American Battle Monuments Commission) maintains the (WWII) Luxembourg American Cemetery where I was custodian-guide and associate those 24 years.

In my time in the US and later in the cemetery I got to know many Americans and learned a lot more about the USA.

In the Unification (“Moon”) Movement in America we were very patriotic, very positive about the country and its role in the world. This was, of course, reflected in our newspaper. I edited and wrote many articles with a strong pro-American, conservative bias in those days, because like most “Moonies” I believed the US was the most important country, without which the world could not be saved from evil communism and socialism.

I shook off the unease and even horror I had felt earlier about what the US had done to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The USA had withdrawn from that region and now those countries had fallen to communism.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s I had been curious about the Soviet Union, and my father always viewed the Russians positively as a counterweight to the USA. I sometimes read a pro-Soviet magazine in German, Sowjetunion Heute, and found it quite interesting although I was not attracted to Russia nearly as much as I was to the USA. At one point in 1971 I visited the Soviet (USSR) Embassy in Luxembourg-Beggen to sign a book of condolences for the 3 cosmonauts killed in space during the Soyuz-11 mission. I received a free lifetime subscription to Sowjetunion Heute, which my father went on to keep after I left Luxembourg.

In October 1979 I crossed the Soviet Union by train on my way to Japan. The country appeared rather shabby to me, almost like a Third World nation, not at all like a great superpower that threatened the west. A few months later when I was living in Bangkok I heard and read about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (a country I had visited in March 1972 on a very memorable trip). I was shocked. I hadn’t followed events leading up to the invasion — at least not closely. In the newspaper in New York during 1978 and 1979 the Iranian Revolution dominated the headlines and our attention. Afghanistan seemed a sideshow. Now the Soviets, the “evil communist empire,” had broken out of their underbelly and seemed poised to march to the shores of the Arabian Sea.

Later, during the 1980s when I worked for the Middle East Times, I wrote many articles about Afghanistan and traveled to some of its eastern border areas three times with mujehideen from Pakistan. All 3 times I came under artillery fire from Afghan and Soviet forces. My articles were, of course, biased against the Soviets and their Afghan allies/”puppets.” I was still very pro-American, keeping the mindset I had acquired during my time in the USA.

Yet I began to have some doubts. Actually it had already started when I was still in New York working for The News World. The first stirring of my doubts about what we were doing began when I was asked to write our top story of the day, under a banner headline, hailing the military coup d’état in La Paz / Bolivia led by General Luis Garcia Meza Tejada in July 1980.

At the time our company published a right-leaning, anti-communist Spanish newspaper, Noticias Del Mundo, whose offices were located one floor above our newsroom in our building — the former headquarters (until ca. 1940) of the famous Tiffany & Co., at 401 Fifth Avenue (37th Street entrance).

Noticias Del Mundo newspaper, 1982. It was launched in 1980.

The editor-in-chief of Noticias Del Mundo was an Argentinian journalist named Rodriguez Carmona, who I believe had ties to his country’s intelligence service under the bloodthirsty dictatorship of Gen. Jorge Videla. Rodriguez Carmona provided the information based on which I was to write my article. I was reluctant because I had doubts about the character of the coup plotters in Bolivia. In the end I wrote the story as suggested by my editor, Robert Morton, and it was published at the top of our front page under my pseudonym byline (in the paper, whenever I was in New York City, I always wrote under the name Aaron Stevenson, which was chosen for me in early 1977 when my first story appeared, due to concerns about my status as an illegal alien; when I worked for the paper out of Washington DC in June 1979, for some reason, my real name Erwin Franzen was used with my stories).

I was not happy about that story on the coup and it became one of the reasons I quit my job temporarily a month later (late August 1980) and returned to Luxembourg for 4 months until I got fed up there again and came back to New York and The News World at the beginning of 1981.

Bo Hi Pak, our publisher and our founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s interpreter, and my editor Morton and most of our staff welcomed the Garcia Meza coup because it kept Hernan Siles Zuazo from gaining power as he would have in fair elections. We regarded Siles Zuazo as a dangerous leftist. Pak and some of our members went to Bolivia and were well received by the coup leaders. They were enthusiastic about the prospect of being allowed and even encouraged to teach Victory Over Communism (our anti-communist doctrine) in schools there and to establish chapters of CAUSA International — our church’s new anti-communist political organization, which focused mainly on Latin America and Hispanics in the USA.

From the beginning it was clear that the Bolivian coup was backed by Videla’s dictatorship in Argentina, and some of our people were happy about that because they were regarded as staunch anti-communists.

Soon, however, it also became clear that those nice, friendly anti-communists were torturing and massacring opponents and even anyone who could be labeled a leftist or human rights activist. The coup leaders also enjoyed active support from some Nazis such as Klaus Barbie, the “butcher of Lyon” in World War II, who was responsible for the murder of thousands of Jews.

Garcia Meza and his henchmen were also deeply involved in cocaine trafficking. When Ronald Reagan became President early in 1981 his administration learned from the FBI about the Garcia Meza regime’s involvement in drug trafficking, and quickly began to distance itself from them. Articles about this drug business appeared in American newspapers, and soon La Paz became isolated.

We also ended up having to distance ourselves from them. But the episode taught me that our stance of almost blindly supporting anyone who professed anti-communism was at least very naive if not outright dangerous.

I began to have doubts about US support for dictatorships like that of Pinochet in Chile and Videla in Argentina. Jimmy Carter had emphasized human rights and tried to push some US allies to improve their record in that area. Under Reagan, however, human rights violators were only criticized and punished if they were leftist or communist, or did not submit to US pressure. Our members whole-heartedly agreed with this idea, and I tend to believe a majority of them still do even to this day.
[For more on this see my earlier post: Fighting the Good Fight – or not …]

CONTINUED on Friday 20 September 2019:

During the 1990s I was somewhat ambivalent about America’s role in the world. The Soviet Union had collapsed and it seemed the US now regarded itself as the ultimate power in the world. A first glimpse of this emerging reality was, in my view, afforded by the 1991 Gulf War.

While it is true that the GHW Bush administration consulted with Soviet leader Gorbachev at the time, it was clear the US was in the driver’s seat. There was already no doubt in anyone’s mind that the USSR was crumbling, dying. And China was still mostly a Third World country, though, like India, equipped with some nuclear arms.

I certainly didn’t like Saddam Hussein but I felt the crisis in the Gulf when he invaded Kuwait should be resolved by diplomacy, not war. When the US built a coalition of military forces to attack Iraq I did not like it because I felt it was not necessary and could lead to great disaster. I remember Bush sought advice and support from evangelist Billy Graham before he launched the assault. I did not like that at all. It seemed like a Christian leader gave his blessing to a war of choice, not a defense of the United States. The US was not threatened by Iraq, and everybody knew that country would not stand a chance fighting America — with or without a coalition of other powers.

Then the inevitable happened. Iraq was devastated, leading to vastly more death and destruction than it caused in invading Kuwait. Then there was the so-called “highway of death,” what US airmen called a “turkey shoot.” American bombers totally butchered hundreds or thousands of Iraqi soldiers who were retreating from Kuwait. That was absolute, wanton mass murder and a war crime in my book. Yet I gave the United States the benefit of the doubt.

It took many more years before I finally changed my mind. When Clinton later bombed Serbia in 1999 I thought he and NATO were fully justified because of what I had heard and read about what the Serbs had allegedly done to Bosnia and Kosovo. I would change my mind about that only much later when I learned more about what happened from non-western points of view.

In the cemetery where I worked we always held ceremonies to mark Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and often on other occasions as well, such as the anniversary of the liberation of Luxembourg (10 Sep. 1944) and the start of the Battle of the Bulge (16 Dec. 1944). We always had American general officers or top diplomats speaking at these events. Invariably they would equate what American military forces were doing around the world at this time with what the GIs did in World War II — defending the US and Europe against the forces of evil.

Reception office of the Luxembourg American Cemetery — my workplace for about 24 years.

They also always portrayed the deceased soldiers as heroes who died on the battlefield for a great cause. One word that I missed in most of their speeches was peace. I also missed it in our agency ABMC’s publications and in the instructions given us for guided tours of the cemetery. Our motto became: “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds,” taken from a statement by Gen. John Pershing, the founder. The emphasis was always on “glory.” The soldiers rested “in honored glory.” Their deeds in war were “glorious.” So that meant in a way war was good, because it brought glory to those who won, who defeated their enemies, anyway.

But I took very many family members and close friends or war comrades to the graves of their loved and cherished ones over the years. The family members and buddies clearly felt sorrow over the loss of those young men (and one woman, among over 5,000 dead), not glory. They did not say they were happy that their loved ones rested in “glory.” I think they mostly wished for peace, that almost forbidden word / idea. Most said they hoped there would never be another war like World War II, no conflict in Europe or — God forbid — in America.

I felt there was a major change after 9/11, a hardening of the attitudes of many Americans towards people of other cultures such as Muslims. There was also a big change in our agency, ABMC. Whereas in the 1990s we had struggled financially and our mission was not considered especially important, after 2001 the US Congress greatly increased our budget, and our work was given a major impetus. But the idea of peace was buried ever so deep, it seems to me. America was at war and had to continue in this state indefinitely. So those who had fought in the world wars of the 20th century were honored even more than before, because they had made America not only great but the greatest of all the major powers of history. [SEE MORE ON THIS BELOW]

I read several books and a lot of articles on the Internet that gave me insight into unsavory aspects of American history, and foreign and military policy, of which I had hitherto known very little. In recent years I have become almost totally disillusioned with the USA as I have observed how they strive to put a stranglehold on the whole planet with their enormous military and economic power and their gigantic intelligence apparatus, which they use to destroy, to coerce, to lie and to cheat others.

In my opinion the US use by far the largest proportion of their power and their wealth to dominate or crush other countries, and only a comparatively puny share to help and support those in need. I believe Russia and China and Iran, and other potential rivals or foes of the US build up their own military forces and intelligence capabilities as much as they do because they feel rightfully threatened by the US.

ADDENDUM: 

Excerpt from my diary Sunday 22 July 2012:

…. I have also thought about the meaning of my job in the cemetery [Luxembourg American Cemetery – WWII].

The US government agency I work for, ABMC (American Battle Monuments Commission), has received a lot more money than we used to get before the so-called ‘Global War on Terror’ was launched by the US in response to the Sep. 11 (2001) terror attacks.

We are spending a lot on renovation but also especially on promoting an agenda of shoring up support for the US in Europe and elsewhere by emphasizing and advertising how US military forces brought freedom and democracy to the world in the two great wars of the 20th century. We have built big new visitor centers in various places and plan to create many more, where people are taught about the great sacrifices made by the US when it sent its soldiers to fight overseas in order to liberate other nations from oppression.

The idea is to make other people feel they owe a debt of gratitude to the US and thus should support US policies and military activities overseas today. Our agency does not state this explicitly but it is patently obvious that this is the real goal. There is no need to promote a certain interpretation of history and to advertise our cemeteries if it is not to serve an agenda that is really focused on gaining friends and allies for the US and strengthening existing bonds at a time when people everywhere increasingly doubt the validity of Washington’s claims that the US has to defend itself by bombing people in many other countries and sending its troops to impose its will by force.

Partial view of the Luxembourg American Cemetery in deep snow.

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