Travel

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]
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).

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. …..”

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….

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… 

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

Categories: Thoughts, Travel | Leave a comment

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.

***

Categories: Thoughts, Travel | Leave a comment

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

Categories: News and politics, Thoughts, Travel

About my father ….

My story really begins with my father, who was the dominant figure in my early life. Nic Franzen was born in March 1911 in the town of Esch-sur-Alzette, the second largest in my country Luxembourg. The river Alzette, which gave the Luxembourg national anthem its colloquial name, enters the country from France and passes under this town as a small creek before heading north to the capital city and beyond.

Nic was the second of six children. He remembered a little bit about the Great War, in which our German neighbors crossed our country to attack our Belgian and French neighbors. There was no fighting on our soil as we did not have an army to oppose the Germans, but some action took place just over our borders. Nic was in second grade when the war ended in 1918.
I don’t remember him talking much about his youth and his first decade as an adult before the start of the second war in his life, World War II. His brief memoirs, which he recorded not long before his death in 1991, cover the period between the wars very sparsely. He did tell us his children some stories from the time in the late 1920s and early 1930s when he played dance music in local taverns on both sides of the French-Luxembourg border with his father, uncle and some of his brothers. He used to play the trumpet. By trade he was a mechanical fitter and welder. Sometimes he told us with some pride that he had read books by great philosophers such as Kant, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. He wanted to impress us with the importance of learning.
After France and Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939 my father and a friend went to the town of Audun-le-Tiche across the border and volunteered to join a unit of mercenaries that a French Army colonel by the name of Péricard was planning to assemble in order to launch suicide missions against the German armed forces. The unit was to be called “volontaires de la mort” – death volunteers. The plan fell apart when the colonel’s superior General Gamelin rejected the idea as “unnecessary.”
When World War II came to Luxembourg with a German invasion in May 1940 Nic was shocked to find that the country’s leaders around Grand Duchess Charlotte and her family fled abroad. I don’t remember him mentioning it but it was a stark contrast to the action of Charlotte’s elder sister Marie Adelheid, who as a very young head of state had stayed in the country when the German Army invaded in 1914. Marie Adelheid was later hounded mercilessly by politicians and the local press for being too friendly with the Germans, and abdicated in disgrace in favor of Charlotte. She briefly served as a nun in Italy but fell gravely ill and died of influenza at her mother’s residence in Germany before she reached age 30.
My father felt Charlotte and her cabinet had abandoned the country to save their own skins. He believed that had they stayed they might have been able to intercede with the Germans on behalf of the Luxembourg people to alleviate the harsh conditions they imposed during the occupation. Of course, perhaps Charlotte wanted to avoid suffering the same fate as her hapless sister.
Since his youth Nic had been fascinated by airplanes, and when the German Nazi Air Corps offered free flying lessons on gliders in 1941 he applied. He then went to a flight school in Germany twice for one month and returned with a license to fly glider planes. The following year he enlisted in the Luftwaffe, the German air force, hoping to learn to fly fighter aircraft. After going through basic training at Reims in France he worked as an aircraft ordnance technician at Juvincourt airfield near that town for eight months. Later he was assigned to the Richthofen fighter wing at Triqueville near the English Channel.
His dream was to fly the fighters he serviced but he learned that the Luftwaffe did not accept anyone over the age of 28 for pilot training. As he was already 31 at the time he was considered too old.
In his memoirs he wrote that he considered desertion when he realized his dream could not be fulfilled. However he did enjoy the adventurous life at Triqueville airfield, where they were almost daily under attack from British and American aircraft. He received permission from his superiors to build an improvised anti-aircraft weapon by attaching a 20-mm machine gun from a fighter to a tripod with a turntable bearing he had welded together. A hole was dug for him where he placed his device with boxes of ammunition. When his comrades were taken away to shelters before a raid he would stay behind and fire at the attacking aircraft from his hole in the ground.
Sometime later when their airfield was almost totally destroyed by heavy bombardments his unit was ordered to move to another location in northern France, and then another, and another. Nic wrote in his memoirs that because he spoke French well he was occasionally sent on errands to different places around France.
At one point he got orders to move to an airfield at Aix-en-Provence near the French Mediterranean coast. He wrote that he loved that area very much. One of his missions was to take 100 anti-ship bombs from the Paris area on a special train to Marseille, which took as long as 22 days because of sabotage of the rail lines by the French resistance.
In the fall of 1944, after Allied forces broke out from their beachheads in Normandy and in the south of France, his unit was ordered back to Germany. They stayed in a village north of Frankfurt during most of the winter but then moved east and south as they lost more and more of their aircraft. Finally, when they had no more planes, the remnants of the unit drove their trucks to Munich.
At this point there is a break in my father’s memoirs, where he mentions only that he escaped from American “detention.” He does not explain how he was captured by the Americans or where and how long he was held until he managed to flee. I remember him telling me the Americans did not feed him, and I thought he also said one or more of his fellow inmates were killed during the escape, but I am not sure memory serves.
Somehow he became a prisoner again on his way back towards Luxembourg but he didn’t explain in his memoirs who captured him or how this happened. After spending about two weeks in detention in Alsace, France he was taken in August 1945 to an improvised prison camp in Luxembourg guarded by young thugs who often amused themselves by mistreating the inmates.
The following month he was moved to the Grund prison in Luxembourg City, where he had to make bags with paper and glue all day. Soon afterwards he volunteered to join a prisoner bomb disposal squad. He and a few others were taken to Clervaux in the devastated north of the country, where the Battle of the Bulge had raged during the winter of 1944-45. As he was the only professional welder in the group he was assigned the task of cutting up disabled tanks and armored vehicles that littered the former battlefields in the area.
In February 1946 he was sent back to the Grund prison to make paper bags again until the following month, when, on his 35th birthday he had to appear in court before a special tribunal. This tribunal had to handle the cases of as many as 8,000 people accused of collaboration with the Germans, so the judicial proceedings were completed very quickly. My father was sentenced to an 18-year prison term, even though the court had testimonial evidence that he had never betrayed anyone to the Germans during the occupation, as others had done. In his memoirs he wrote that he believed some of those sitting in judgement or mistreating prisoners might have secretly collaborated with the Germans and betrayed others but were not found out after the war.
In addition to the prison term he was also divested of his Luxembourg citizenship and became a foreigner in his own country.
In February 1949 the Luxembourg government decided to reduce the sentences of collaborators like my father, who were tried immediately after the war and were given heavy prison terms even though there was no evidence that they had betrayed anyone to the Germans. Nic’s elder brother “Lux” (as he was known to us) had actually worked with the anti-Nazi resistance, and Nic knew others who did the same but he always kept that information from the Germans.
My father was conditionally released from prison at the end of March 1949. 

Nic Franzen 1971-03 and 1991-03 -c

Nic Franzen at 60 and on his last birthday 20 years later — 1991.

1-Lux Nic Mett Fränz Colas Franzen 1928

Franzen dance music band 1928 — Nic is second from left.

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How I met the Unification Movement — part 1

INTRODUCTION

Like many people throughout history I have been on a quest: a search for an understanding of ultimate reality. This has been the fundamental theme of my life. After a long, meandering journey I have found an explanation that satisfies me but is difficult to use as a guide in my life. Along the way I have come across some other philosophies of life and learned very much from them. One in particular served me as a guide for many years and set my life on a course which I can and will no longer change: the Divine Principle as taught by the late Korean religious leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

I no longer believe in the Divine Principle and Rev. Moon, who proclaimed himself with his wife Hak Ja Han as the “True Parents” of humankind, essentially the one and only Messiah. In fact I no longer believe even in the God postulated by the monotheistic religions. My idea of “God” is quite different, closer to the reality I perceive and understand. But I am no longer alone and free to pursue my quest wherever it may lead me. I have a family and a responsibility that I cannot and will not shirk. My family was begun by Rev. Moon and is inseparable from him and the movement he founded.

Here, then, is the story of my meanders.

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Chapter 1

New York City, Thursday, 6 March 1975. After a long flight over the icy wastes of Iceland and Labrador, this was Manhattan, a different world. It was after dark, on 42nd Street near Grand Central station, when I encountered what to me was a foreboding of Doomsday. The tall, dark buildings, the impression of decay given by the city’s famous potholes, and the steam rising here and there from pipes running under the streets reminded me of a haunting image I had in my mind of the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, which I expected to occur within a few years’ time.

It was a relatively warm night for this time of the year in New York. As I walked with my backpack on my back, I noticed a young man standing on the sidewalk in front of a small blackboard, alternately drawing and gesticulating rather wildly while he gave what seemed to be a lecture at the top of his voice. The funny thing was, there was no one listening.

Another young man stood a few meters away, apparently waiting for something or somebody, but he seemed to pay no attention to the first one. I looked at the blackboard but the figures the lecturer had drawn meant nothing to me. I caught the words “Last Days” in the stream of his talk, and then something about the Bible and a “Divine Principle.”

Tired as I was after the long flight, the man’s lecture seemed too arcane for me to be able to figure out what he was talking about even though his mention of the “Last Days” had intrigued me. Also, I was hoping to catch a train to Montreal rather than having to spend the night in New York. So I asked the bystander where I could find out about trains to Canada. “Sorry mate, I can’t help you there,” he said with an accent that didn’t sound American. He turned out to be an Australian who knew little more about New York than I did.

As I walked on, down Park Avenue, then over to Fifth Avenue and back up towards 42nd Street, I saw more young people giving lectures in front of blackboards set up on the sidewalks. Some of them had an audience, others did not. They all seemed to preach the same message and draw the same figures.

One of the city’s yellowcabs stopped at the curb in front of me and two well-dressed young women got out, one black, the other oriental. Both came right up to me and introduced themselves: Barbara from Guyana and Tamie from Japan. They asked me if I needed some help. I told them I was from Luxembourg and asked where I could catch a train to Montreal. Barbara said I had to go to “Penn Station” below Madison Square Garden. She told me they would take me there but could not because they had an appointment in the building in front of which we were standing.

She explained that they had to attend an important lecture about a new revelation about God and a new understanding of the Bible, and she invited me to attend if I was interested. I said I might be interested but first I had to find out about trains to Montreal, as I was hoping to catch one that same night. Barbara gave me directions to Madison Square Garden and both girls handed me their business cards, suggesting that I call them if I needed any further help.

I walked slowly down Fifth Avenue, lost in thought. Yes, this big city really conjured up the feeling that it was doomed, and the entire civilization that created it was doomed. It would all be annihilated in the nuclear war that I saw coming within a few years’ time. That holocaust had to happen — and I actually wished for it to occur. Because I felt that something was fundamentally wrong with this civilization. More than that, something was fundamentally wrong with humankind.

In my view, the earth and in fact the entire universe was a harmonious whole, like a gigantic organism within which every part played a certain role and all parts were complementary to each other. Only man did not fit into this harmonious whole. Man was like a malignant cancer that, though originating from the whole, spread uncontrollably and destroyed other parts of the organism. Man alone was going against the purpose and design of the universe, and modern human civilization represented a cancer that had grown to such proportions that it threatened to overwhelm an entire planet. It had to be destroyed. Actually, because of its inherent contradictions, it was bound to destroy itself.

But I believed there could be, there had to be, a new beginning — because the universe had brought forth humankind and it was thus meant to exist, but it clearly had somehow gone wrong. Modern civilization would be destroyed but there would be survivors in different places. Those people would have to live in nature and start anew, but they would have to avoid the original mistake that made man go in the wrong direction.

I felt that those survivors had to become completely one with nature, one with the spirit of the whole, the essence of the universe. And they should never ask the question “why?” To me, this was the root of all the problems. We had to attune our hearts and minds to the harmonious whole of the universe without ever asking why things were the way they were and why we were what we were. Asking “why?” somehow meant that we separated ourselves mentally from the whole — and that was what caused humankind to go astray.

Our ancestors in Stone Age had made this mistake, and the survivors of the expected nuclear holocaust would have to go back to Stone Age to try again. I was on my way to Stone Age. I was planning to go to a remote area in the wilds of British Columbia and to try to live in nature on my own, ridding myself gradually of all the implements of civilization that I carried with me to help me get over the initial shock.

I felt that if I could survive like this for a year or so, then I was ready to become one of the survivors of the nuclear war to come — and perhaps even a leader of a new humankind. I was 24 years old and I believed the nuclear war would come in 1979, which was four years away. After spending at least a year in British Columbia, I wanted to make my way down to Patagonia, where I would wait for the holocaust to begin. The reason why I had chosen Patagonia was that I felt there would be less nuclear fallout over the southern hemisphere because most worth-while targets for nuclear strikes were in the north.

In front of Madison Square Garden I saw two blackboards like the ones I had encountered before. Several people were standing around either listening to two preachers who were lecturing about the Last Days or talking to others.

I watched the scene for a moment and then looked for the passage to the train station below the building. Just as I started moving toward the entrance an Oriental lady in her 30s approached me and asked if I was interested in science or religion. I said I was interested in both. She gave me a flyer and told me the people lecturing about the Last Days were speaking about a new revelation that could bring science and religion together for the sake of world peace.

The idea sounded good to me, and when she told me a little more about it I realized it must be the same revelation the Guyanese lady Barbara had mentioned a little earlier. I asked where she was from and it turned out she was Japanese, and her name was Noriko. I gave her my name and told her I had just arrived from my country Luxembourg but wanted to take a train to Montreal that evening or early next morning.

She said she hoped I could find the time to listen to a special lecture about the new revelation, which she called the Divine Principle, before I took off for Montreal. The lecture was going to be held in a building across Fifth Avenue from the New York Public Library, exactly the place where I had met Barbara and Tamie earlier.

I said I was interested but I needed to get information about trains to Montreal and to buy a ticket first. Noriko called a tall young man standing nearby and asked him if he could show me where to find what I wanted. The man introduced himself as Bill. He took me down to Penn Station, where I bought a train ticket to Montreal.

A little later Bill disappeared briefly and then returned driving a big Dodge van. Noriko and I got in and we drove to the building near the library on 5th Avenue, picking up a few other people along the way.

I don’t remember any detail but we entered a hall full of people, with a man in front who had just begun to give a lecture. From time to time he drew figures and symbols on a large board facing the crowd.

He explained about how God’s nature is reflected in everything through the dualities of internal character and external form, and positive and negative charges or male and female genders.

He said God was like a parent to us humans, whom He created in order to share his love. But, as told in the Bible, when the first humans fell away from their Parent He had to let them go their own way because He did not want to interfere with their freedom of choice. In order to win them back to His side He guided leaders He chose among them to set conditions that would ultimately prepare the way for a Messiah, a person who perfectly embodied God’s love.

This Messiah would have to find a perfect bride together with whom he would become the “True Parents” in reflection of God’s dual nature and lead humankind back to Him. The Messiah was Jesus Christ, but the people did not follow him, so he could not find a bride and had to sacrifice his life to become a spiritual guide and inspiration to the world.

Jesus’s followers the Christians then became the people through whom God worked to fulfill His providence to bring a Messiah who could become the “True Parents” of humankind. The Last Days prophesied in the Bible was the time when a new Messiah would appear with a new understanding of God’s truth, and this time was upon us. ….. 

I remember seeing many pictures on the walls of the man I later learned was Rev. Sun Myung Moon of Korea, the man who had discovered the Divine Principle, and I couldn’t help feeling even then that perhaps he was the one the people here believed to be the new messiah.

At the end of the lecture the speaker suggested there was much more to the Divine Principle than what he had just explained. He invited anyone interested in learning more about it to attend a weekend workshop in a beautiful place in the countryside on the Hudson River north of New York City.

Over snacks and drinks after the talk Noriko introduced me to a few of her friends who were all members of the Unification Church, the movement founded by Rev. Moon. Some of them asked me how I liked the ideas presented by the speaker, whom they named Mr. Barry. I said I thought they were quite interesting because they seemed to indicate a possibility to reconcile the Bible with modern science. Also, I liked the proposition that Jesus’ death on the cross was not God’s original plan.

When Noriko suggested I attend the workshop Barry had mentioned I told her there was a problem: I was allowed to stay in the United States only until the next day, 7th March. This was because the immigration official at J.F. Kennedy Airport who checked my papers stamped that date on the I-94 card that he stapled into my passport. He had asked me how long I was planning to stay in the US and I said I wanted to take a train to Canada either that evening or the following day.

When I showed her the form in my passport Noriko went to talk to Barry and others about it. Barry later came up to me and said my stay permit could easily be extended. He seemed quite confident about it, so I decided there was no need to worry and I could spend the next weekend in the retreat upstate on the Hudson, which he had called Barrytown.

I was told a bus would take people to Barrytown the next evening, so I thought I might have to spend that night in a hotel. Barry suggested I could stay in a house owned by the church in Manhattan, on 71st Street.

Late that evening Bill, driving his Dodge van, took Noriko, me and several other people I had met after the lecture to the house Barry had mentioned. The church members called it a “center,” and it seemed packed with mostly young people. The men and women were strictly segregated and lived on separate floors. I was taken to a large room where many men lay close to each other in sleeping bags on the floor. The ceiling lights had already been turned off, so it was fairly dark inside. I found a place in a corner with just enough space for my backpack and sleeping bag.

Early next morning we were all woken up when the lights were turned on, and we had to take turns using the bathroom and the few sinks where we could wash our faces. I talked to some of the men there, and when they found out I was not a member of the church they were surprised I had been allowed to spend the night there with them.

Noriko came to our men’s floor a little later to pick me up for a sightseeing tour of Manhattan. We had lunch in a Japanese restaurant that day and visited Central Park, the Empire State Building and a few other places around town. …. 

Categories: Thoughts, Travel | 2 Comments

Fighting the Good Fight – or not …

 

The News World New York City April 29, 1977 edition

Our New York newspaper in April 1977

The following is excerpted and adapted from an entry in my diary for 4 July 2010:

… I have connected with many mostly American church members [= the Unification Church / Movement founded by the late Korean Rev. Sun Myung Moon] on Facebook. Some are old colleagues from my time in the USA (1975-1982).

It is almost frightening to see how fanatic and narrow-minded most of them are [in a political sense only; I know the vast majority are really good people in other ways] — from my point of view. When I was in the US, especially during the time (end-1976-1982) I was with the News World (New York daily newspaper launched by members of that church/movement — a forerunner of the Washington Times) and Free Press International, we had the feeling that we were in a war against communism. It was an intense ideological conflict from our point of view, whose seriousness and dangers most people outside our political community within the church failed to understand/appreciate.

 

We needed allies, like-minded people who were also movers and shakers in the political world of the USA, and in other countries, too. The USA was — to us — by far the most important country in the world, and we had to save her from the decadence and depravity that the leftists and communists propagated and encouraged in order to weaken and finally conquer her. America had to become the world’s greatest power by being both morally superior and much better armed and motivated — politically and militarily — than any potential foe or group of foes.

 

And there were always foes: evil empires (Reagan was our hero as president — even though Moon was jailed for a year and a half on his watch, for tax evasion), terrorists, etc. There was a sense of moral superiority, but our morality did not extend to the point where we would have disapproved of mass murder as long as those murdered were — or could be labeled as —  communists or leftists. It was thus quite alright for the US to have bombed Vietnam with napalm and Agent Orange or for Argentine, Chilean and Colombian generals to massacre thousands of suspected leftists and sympathizers. It was fine for death squads to torture and murder thousands in places like Colombia, Brazil or El Salvador — and many others — as long as the death squads could be somehow labeled pro-USA (mostly meaning fascist/oligarchist) and their victims leftist.

 

I was never enthusiastic about this but mostly played along, because, after all, I believed in Moon, his church, his mission and the importance of the USA in fulfilling this mission.

 

Today, of course, I stand more or less at 180 degrees to all that.

 

I feel the church has played a very nefarious political role in the USA by going to bed with narrow-minded, fanatic nationalist, elitist/oligarchic and militaristic politicians, and doing its utmost to promote causes such as those of the worst fascists. The idea from the church’s and also Moon’s point of view — of course — was always that those were people who were on God’s side in the larger scheme of things. They were people who had power, who could perhaps be won over to completely support the work of Moon — the Messiah — and ultimately turn the whole country around so that Moon would be recognized for who he really was. The USA would become — so the American members (we) hoped — the first country to officially recognize and follow the “king of kings.”

 

Today, I see on Facebook and elsewhere that American members seem not to have changed at all — not to have learned anything new at all. They are still fighting an intense ideological fight against the political “left” [and socialism  / communism] and the Islamic (primarily) “terrorists” [real and imagined] — and they still believe the USA is not armed well enough — both ideologically/morally and militarily — to fight its enemies.

 

What I don’t understand is how powerful this — to me, mythical, but to them very real — Satan and his legions still are. I thought Moon had conquered and subdued him [according to his own words], and Moon’s sons in spirit world were completely turning that realm upside down. How come, then, that this so-called Satan and his minions still have so much power that the world continues to be the mess it is — and spirit world seems in no better shape?

 

I have my own answer, of course, and I don’t believe in a spirit world as the Moonies describe it at all. To me, God has created and always played both sides, and we humans are very much part of both sides — “good” and “evil,” just as we are part of God [in essence I believe we humans, collectively, are a spearhead of God’s own evolving consciousness, which grows through us — although as individuals we are just temporary existences and will dissolve back into the whole when our bodies die].

 

The so-called “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” in the Bible — that very name says it all: to God, originally, there was no good or evil, there was no moral sense. God himself or rather itself (to take away the gender) only “discovered” a sense of “good” and “evil” through us humans. He/she/it “discovered” how useful (from its own larger perspective) and — yes — exciting it could be to divide us between “good” and “evil.” 

1-The News World 19771218

The News World in December 1977

1-Noticias Del Mundo 19820611

Our Spanish sister newspaper launched in 1980 – Noticias Del Mundo

Categories: News and politics, Thoughts, Travel | 2 Comments

A collection of postcards I sent to family from abroad and other souvenirs

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My Facebook album “Souvenirs

1973-01-04 Mecca and the nearby tent city of Mina (stayed there 2 weeks +)

1973-01-04 Mecca and the nearby tent city of Mina (stayed there 2 weeks +). The bottom right photo actually shows Jebel Arafat, a few kilometers past Mina, the site of a high point during the pilgrimage.

 

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About my first journey to Japan, across Siberia, in 1979

1-trans-siberian-rail-ticket-stub-october-1979-c

(Stub of main portion of my Oct. 1979 trans-Siberian ticket – Moscow to Khabarovsk; 8,531 kilometers.)

I traveled across the southern part of Siberia on the trans-Siberian train in October 1979 during Soviet times — from Yaroslavski station in Moscow to Khabarovsk, where all foreigners had to get off to spend a night, and then from Khabarovsk to Nakhodka east of Vladivostok. I loved the Lake Baykal area most, where the train passes a stone’s throw from the lake shore near Slyudyanka, with the snow-capped Sayan Mountains on the Mongolian border to the south. Beautiful. (Scroll down to the bottom of this post under the links to “Photos:” for more on my impression of Soviet Russia during that 9-day journey across the vast land).

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The trans-Siberian was part of my first trip to Japan. It took me exactly two weeks to get from Luxembourg to Yokohama, from 6 to 20 October 1979 — 11 days on trains. I was ushered to Japan on the Soviet Morflot passenger ship Baikal by the remnant of Supertyphoon Tip, which a few days earlier had been the largest and most intense tropical cyclone ever measured (it’s described in Wikipedia and in a 1998 report I have from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

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We left Nakhodka about midday on 17 October 1979, crossed the Sea of Japan (or Eastern Sea), then passed through Tsugaru Strait between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido before turning south off the Pacific side of Honshu, headed for Yokohama. The weather was really beautiful and the sea was calm until some time after we passed Hakodate on Hokkaido Island in the afternoon of 18 October, entering the Pacific Ocean. The sky darkened, the sea got rough — I got seasick fairly quickly — and soon all passengers were asked to go below deck because the ship’s crew was going to lock all hatches. No passenger was allowed on deck any more. The captain’s announcement did not say anything about us heading into a big storm but it was obvious from the rocking and creaking of the boat that something like that was afoot.

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Not long after that I spent about 24 hours passing back and forth between the bed in my cabin and the toilet across the corridor, my body seemingly turning inside out from extreme seasickness. Around midnight of the 19th the storm eased up, and the Baikal steamed at full speed towards Yokohama Bay, which we finally entered around 6 a.m. on the morning of the 20th. The Baikal’s nice sunroof aft on deck was almost completely chewed up, as if a giant had bitten off pieces of it.

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A Japanese coastguard or customs boat pulled up alongside and officers came on board the Baikal to check our passports.

When I first got down to the pier at Yokohama I suddenly felt very dizzy and for a moment, inadvertantly, I rocked back and forth to keep my balance as if the ground under my feet was like the boat in the typhoon…

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(This is how I remember the trip, 35 years later — it’s a little blurry now)

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About photographs, or lack thereof ….

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Nowadays I regret very much that it took me very long to realize it would be a good idea to buy a camera and take pictures during my travels. My father always had a camera and took a lot of photos, and he also shot quite a bit of film of our family with a small wind-up 8-mm Yashica camera that he bought at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958. Despite this it didn’t occur to me that I should get a camera of my own to take along on my travels.

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I did buy a cheap Polaroid camera shortly after I arrived in New York City in March 1975 and took a few pictures in Central Park that I still have — nothing very interesting. In 1982, again in New York, I took a few more pictures in the Chinatown area with another Polaroid. 

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I finally bought my first 35-mm camera in 1984 during a short trip to Luxembourg to renew my passport while I was living in Cyprus. It was a Yashica, fixed-focus — very simple and cheap. But I took a lot of good pictures with it in Cyprus, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Japan — where I bought an Olympus OM-10 with a 35-70 lens at Camera-No-Doi in Tokyo in 1987. This Olympus served me well in Japan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and Luxembourg, though I never learned how to use all its features. Since 2003 I have been using digital cameras, including a Fujifilm Finepix S2950 that I got for my 60th birthday in early 2011 — nothing fancy but I’m quite happy with it, though still shooting mostly on automatic…..

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Here are links to my posts on my travels, and to some of my photo albums:

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https://erwinlux.com/2009/08/30/under-fire-in-afghanistan-some-time-ago/

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https://erwinlux.com/2005/07/11/my-first-journeys/

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Here is a bit more on my pilgrimage to Mecca in 1972-1973, etc.: 

https://erwinlux.com/2010/04/30/afghanistan-saudi-arabia-pakistan-my-story-1970s-80s/ 

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https://erwinlux.com/2005/10/20/journeys-spiritual-and-physical-since-1975/

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https://erwinlux.com/2006/12/09/memory-of-california-thanksgiving-1975/

 

My last trip into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, in 1987

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Photos: 

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/erwinlux

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miscellaneous albums

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On my 9 days in Soviet Russia (8-17 October 1979)

From an email to a friend:

About my first trip to Japan, I was not pressed for time and thought it would be more interesting to go by train and boat (rather than flying). Also, I wanted to see with my own eyes what the Soviet Union looked like. At the time, in New York, I worked for a Moonie (=followers of the late Korean Christian sect leader Sun Myung Moon) anti-communist newspaper where all of us regarded the USSR as the big enemy, the ‘evil empire.’ I was on my way via Japan to Bangkok/Thailand, where I wanted to work as correspondent for that newspaper.
At the time also, the leader of our religious movement Sun Myung Moon himself kept saying he wanted to go to Moscow to hold a ‘freedom rally’ in Red Square, and all of us Moonies were supposed to prepare for that (it meant the liberation of the USSR). I was quite skeptical of his chances of doing that but I wanted to get my own impression of the country first.
Well, on the train in West Germany headed for Moscow I met a man who was a Communist Party official from Tselinograd, Khazakh SSR. He spoke German and we talked quite a bit all the way to Moscow, which took 2 days. Later, I corresponded with him for a number of years until his wife wrote back to me one day in 1990 that he had died.
I was surprised to find that the undercarriage of the whole train had to be changed at Brest on the Polish-Soviet border, a process that took a couple of hours. It was, of course, because the rail gauge is different – wider – on the Soviet side.
I thought, well, if the Soviets launched a major offensive against western Europe, as us anti-communists feared, they would face a problem bringing enough supplies from the hinterland to their troops on the front line if every train from their country was held up at Brest and other places like that. They would represent bottlenecks. Road and air transport wouldn’t be enough for the logistical job required. Also, those places would make valuable targets for air strikes from the west.
I didn’t see how the wheels were changed because a Soviet border guard took me off the train when he found a book (supposedly) of Khrushchev’s memoirs in English in my luggage. I was kept waiting for awhile in an office at the border and was asked to sign a paper agreeing that I could not take that book into the USSR and in effect allowing them to confiscate it. They asked a few questions but were generally polite. I actually had a lot of other stuff in my luggage that I had reason to be more worried about than that book, but they didn’t check very thoroughly at all.
In Moscow I once walked into a sort of cafeteria for local workers, listened closely to how the other customers ordered bread, sausage and beer in Russian, and ordered the same in Russian (at the time I still ate meat). I didn’t feel that anybody noticed I was a foreigner.
The country looked poor and generally quite shabby to me, not at all like a great superpower. There were other incidents during the trip and especially in Khabarovsk where I did things normally forbidden but nothing happened and I didn’t have the impression that I was being watched very closely. Near Novosibirsk I saw roughly 3 dozen armored personnel carriers on a train in a shunting yard, and when I heard a few months later in Bangkok that the Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan I thought those vehicles I had seen in Siberia might have belonged to a contingent getting ready to move down to Uzbekistan in preparation for the invasion.
A few years later, of course, I would come under artillery, mortar, tank and rocket fire from some of those Soviet forces and their Afghan allies in Afghanistan myself – and see a lot of destroyed Soviet APCs, tanks, field guns, etc. – and also many dud bombs lying around (yes, many failed to explode, probably because of the negligence [or even deliberate sabotage] of disgruntled workers in Soviet munitions and other factories, producing mostly shoddy goods).
Really, no, to me the Soviet Union didn’t look like a big military power threatening the west, though it took some time for that realization to sink in.
Already at the end of 1976 in New York I had read the book La Chute Finale by the French demographer Emmanuel Todd, predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union as a result of worsening economic problems, discrepancies between
the Russian heartland and the vassal states, etc. – and I had written a commentary about it (under a pseudonym) that appeared in our paper The News World in early 1977. (I still have a clipping of that commentary, one of the first pieces I wrote that appeared in print). 

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Dangerous bus ride on Pakistan’s Karakoram Highway in winter -January 1988

 

Men in Khaplu village end Dec. 1987

By Erwin Franzen
correspondent
(for the Middle East Times weekly, based in Cyprus in the 1980s.)

( My editor insisted that I use a somewhat impersonal style in this article and did not allow me to write it up as a personal experience, which, of course, it was. I wrote this after returning to Islamabad from a two-week trip to Baltistan in January 1988. This is the unedited version)

ISLAMABAD — In the winter, when the weather is bad in the mountains, taking a bus on Pakistan’s perilous Karakoram Highway (KKH) can be every bit as exciting as a game of Russian Roulette.

There is nothing like a rough ride of four and a half hours on the back of a four—wheel-drive pickup truck on a bitterly cold winter morning for the traveller to appreciate the awe-inspiring grandeur and desolation of the Karakoram mountain range, which contains the greatest concentration of high peaks anywhere and is regarded by geologists as one of the most unstable but also most fascinating features on the earth’s surface.

Along the 100-kilometre dirt road through the wild gorges of the Shyok  and Indus rivers from Khaplu to Skardu in Baltistan one cannot help feeling that the enormous bleak rock faces, the jagged, snow-covered peaks poking into the clouds, the eerily frozen waterfalls,
the huge boulders strewn all around and the vast scree slopes must belong to some distant uninhabitable planet but not to this earth. All of this spells danger. Under a gloomy, leaden sky, with the sun’s rays unable to break through thick clouds that hide the high mountain tops, there appears to be a veiled threat of i mpending disaster.

From Skardu, a small town in a wide, sand-covered valley at 2,300 metres, the road continues along the Indus River through dangerous gorges for about 500 kilometres before turning east away from the river on its way to  Rawalpindi. If one travels on a public bus, this trip on the KKH has to be made in two stages. It involves a seven-hour journey from Skardu to Gilgit followed by a gruelling sixteen-hour trip to Rawalpindi on a different bus.

For four days from the end of 1987 until the first day of 1988 heavy clouds hung above Skardu Valley and hid the many 5,000-metre mountain peaks  surrounding it on all sides. As the small airport in the valley had no radar, all flights were cancelled. The sky looked as though there was worse weather to come, so it seemed that there was no choice but to
court disaster and take the bus.

Everyone in the packed, gaily-painted bus appeared to be in good mood  when the journey began on the first day of the new year. The gloomy  atmosphere  outside did not affect the passengers for a long time as the bus sped on the asphalt road to the western end of the valley, then moved slowly over a narrow suspension bridge across the
Indus and entered the gorge.

Compared with the  bleakness of the grey, brown and black tones of the massive rock formations on its sides, the river was a pleasant sparkling green colour — almost inviting save for the fact that it was at times separated from the road by several hundred metres of sheer cliffs.

For most of the way the road appeared in good condition except for only  one or two spots where part of its foundation had collapsed and plunged down the precipice into the Indus far below, leaving a gaping hole. The driver was quite agile and avoided such death traps easily. At least two small bridges spanning gaping chasms above raging tributaries of the Indus appeared rather dilapidated. The driver accelerated, apparently anxious to cross the bridges before they collapsed.

Some eighty kilometres before Gilgit a number of boulders the size of large  cars had broken off from a gigantic rock formation that hung threateningly above the road. The road was hopelessly blocked. A maintenance crew was already at work preparing the area for blasting.

A little farther west, high above the road on a steep scree slope that  seemed to stretch endlessly into the sky, two local shepherds herded their sheep and goats down as quickly as they could. The workers had signalled to them to come down because the blasting might make the scree come alive and cause a huge landslide. The shepherds wore roughly cut pieces of goatskin wrapped around their feet and ankles in lieu of shoes. They could perfectly well have fit into a Stone Age setting, with nothing on their bodies to show that they lived in the 20th century.

Luckily for the travellers, the three heavy blasts that were required to break up the boulders did not bring down any more rocks although cracks  appeared  in some huge slabs that hung precariously above the road. A lone bulldozer took  more than two hours to push the debris over the edge into the Indus. Darkness fell soon after the road was cleared.

The bulldozer then headed west on the narrow road at a snail’s pace, and  the bus driver had no choice but to follow at the same speed for some time. The driver quickly became irritated. He tried to pass the bulldozer several times but there was not enough space.

A military officer ran up on the road from behind the bus and knocked on the driver’s side window. The two exchanged some angry words. The driver had been ordered to pull the bus up to the edge of the precipice to allow a military truck to pass. He did so but complained bitterly.
Then the officer also ordered the bulldozer to get out of the way at the next spot where this was possible.

The military truck sped on ahead, followed quickly by the bus, whose driver appeared very angry and nervous all of a sudden. He was determined to pass the military truck, which was already moving quite fast on this perilous road with rock walls or scree slopes to the right and a gaping black chasm to the left where in many places parts of the
asphalt had broken off and plunged down into the gorge. The bus driver used his ear-shattering horn and flashed his lights wildly to drive his message home to the soldiers.

Finally, they let him pass. But they stayed close behind and flashed their lights as well, irritating the bus driver even more. His antics behind the steering wheel became increasingly wild and on several occasions the bus very nearly went over the edge of the cliff. Two passengers sitting in the front abreast of the driver angrily warned him to slow down. Others anxiously mumbled prayers. The angry warnings seemed to madden the driver even more, and some  other passengers urged everyone to calm down. The atmosphere in the bus became increasingly tense, laden with a strange mixture of anger and naked fear.

Suddenly, there was another bus in front and the angry driver of the first bus flashed his lights to signal that he wanted to pass. The bus in front slowed down but stayed in the middle of the road for some time.
When it finally allowed the first bus to pass its driver was fuming. To make matters still worse, the other bus also stayed close behind and flashed its lights. Many passengers on the first bus were terrified but no one dared to approach the driver for fear of  distracting him in this extremely dangerous situation.

After what appeared to be an eternity, the valley widened and the bus stopped at a petrol station. When the bus left the station after refuelling, a  teenage boy sat down on an improvised seat next to the driver and this seemed to calm the man down. Later, he let the boy drive the rest of the way to Gilgit. Although the boy’s driving was somewhat
unsteady from lack of experience, the passengers were relieved that the bus was now moving more slowly and carefully.

Next morning, another bus with a few foreigners among the many passengers left Gilgit on the long journey to Rawalpindi. The driver was a man of about 50, clearly very experienced and skilful. But on this trip the road was in very bad condition — and the weather turned worse.

There were scores of spots on the way where rocks of all sizes had fallen from above and very nearly blocked the road. Often the space left between the bigger boulders and the edge of the precipice was just barely wide enough to allow the bus to pass.

Again and again, the bus lurched sideways as it moved slowly over very uneven terrain past big boulders. Some terrified passengers, who saw the gaping  abyss come up from below their windows as the heavy vehicle seemed close to the point of rolling over, leaned into the aisle and looked the other way.

At one point, some rocks rolled away from under the wheels of the bus at  the edge of the broken road and the driver had to quickly steer the vehicle towards a big pile of  boulders away from the precipice. The boulders tore into the side of the bus, causing minor damage, but passengers later congratulated the driver on his presence of mind.

After a seemingly endless series of similar incidents, the passengers felt relieved when the bus crossed a bridge on the Indus, hoping that the worst was over. But then, shortly before dark, it began to rain.

Water is both a boon and a bane in the mountains. Local villagers need it for drinking, cooking, washing and irrigation but it also inevitably brings down boulders and mud, and it causes the landslides that so often obstruct the KKH.

The bus drove on into the night on the wet road, dodging many more fresh rockfalls. In one area, the going was slow over a stretch of at least 20 kilometres where many landslides had completely blocked the KKH for over two weeks in October. The road was still badly scarred and the piles of debris on one side did not allow two vehicles to pass each other along most of this stretch.

After the bus finally crossed the last bridge over the Indus and headed out of the gorge, the driver stepped on the accelerator. As the road was still dangerous, some passengers became concerned that the bus was moving too fast. An Australian woman expressed her worries to a Pakistani passenger who translated for the driver.

After more than 12 hours on the KKH the driver was clearly becoming tired and it seemed that he was accelerating because he was afraid to fall asleep. There were a few more hair-raising moments when the driver nearly seemed to lose control of the bus in dangerous curves. But he finally stopped and allowed a younger colleague to drive the rest of the way to Rawalpindi.

It is by braving such a danger-filled winter journey on the KKH that one can learn to appreciate the remarkable feat that the building of this road represented. One can also easily understand how the KKH claimed at least 500 lives during the 20-odd years of its construction and many hundreds more in the last eight years since it was opened.

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KKH Gilgit-Skardu road, August 1985 – taken on my first trip on this highway. 

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