And on the day the conference opens, world peace is taking a beating. A Moroccan man has just been found guilty of 3,066 counts of accessory to murder for helping al Qaida attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Two Seventh Day Adventist pastors are convicted of genocide in Rwanda by a United Nations tribunal. Israeli tanks kill 12 Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. Three more men attempt suicide at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, bringing the total to 19.
Meanwhile, the Security Council continues to debate making war on Iraq.
And the first speaker on world peace -- Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies -- tells us that it's all going to get worse before it gets better.
After detailing the spread of nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons, radiation weapons, and new mutant variations throughout the world, he adds that what he is telling us is nothing new, and is, in fact, "the norm of recorded history over the last 2,500 years."
"We have been seeking to stop the advance of new threats and weapons ever since Western civilization tried to ban the crossbow in the Middle Ages," he said, "and we have neither succeeded nor perished."
This was what he called the optimistic part of his speech.
It's a strange time to be talking about world peace. It seems, in fact, an almost quaint idea -- unless you're the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, which operates hundreds of organizations and companies around the world, including UPI, the Washington Times, and the World Media Association, sponsor of this very conference.
The Reverend Moon thinks of world peace as not only obtainable but within reach, and this 20th conference, to which journalists were invited from every continent, is his way of speeding it along.
All of my bosses spoke at the conference -- John O'Sullivan, editor in chief of UPI; Larry Moffitt, UPI vice president of operations; and Dr. Chung Hwan Kwak, president of UPI and chairman of News World Communications, which publishes The Washington Times. O'Sullivan is a Catholic, but both Moffitt and Kwak are members of the Unification Church. Dr. Kwak, in fact, is so close to the Reverend Moon that his marriage 42 years ago was one of the first ever blessed by the reverend -- and of course the reverend is famous at this point for marrying millions.
Despite working at UPI, I had never been entirely clear on exactly what the Unification Church stands for or why it was so intent on acquiring media organizations. But over this three-day period it became fairly apparent that the church and its leaders believe that eventually, by moral persuasion, they'll be able to transform the media in a number of ways that will contribute to some sort of, well, unification of the world.
They're a little hazy on exactly what form the unified earth will take, but they're clear on how they think it will come about. In fact, I got the impression from their remarks that they've decided to become more open about their exact goals and intentions, perhaps in an effort to bring on a new age more quickly.
One way it will happen, they say, is that conservative family values will gain strength -- this in spite of a whole conference session detailing the failure of the family, the rising divorce rate, the declining birth rate, and the negative influences on the family of everything from television to the Internet to pop culture.
Even more important, though, was a strange announcement that came -- according to the church -- from a dead man. OK, bear with me on this.
Dr. Sang Hun Lee, a South Korean critic of Marxism-Leninism during the Cold War era and a member of the Unification Church, died in 1997. But he has recently been speaking to a spiritual medium named Mrs. Young Soon Kim. And Dr. Lee's report through her is this: On December 25, 2001, at high noon, a meeting was held in heaven between Jesus, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammad and Shankara (founder of the Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism). Sitting with them were 600 representatives of the five leading religions -- 120 for each leader. And together they adopted a resolution that says God is the "parent" of all humankind, and the Reverend Moon is the "Savior, Messiah, Second Coming and True Parent of all humanity."
It went on to say that the "Unification Principle" is the truth for the "Completed Testament Age" (not sure what this means, but it presumably rules out the Book of Revelation) and that "we (meaning the five spiritual leaders) will accomplish the peaceful unification of the cosmos through 'living for others' while transcending religion, nationality and race, centering on true love."
There's also a part about moving forward "to bring about the nation of God and world peace, while attending True Parents."
(True Parents being God and the Reverend Moon, who will be attended by Jesus and the four others). So there's your world peace message, tied up with some kind of millennial scenario involving God ruling over the Earth through the agency of Reverend Moon.
OK. As you might imagine, there was a divergence of opinion as to how to receive this information. To those journalists who belong to the church, it was basically "Isn't this amazing stuff?" To those who don't, it was, "Have these people lost their minds?"
So I'm in the middle here. As a journalist, I don't particularly like reporting on something that ultimately can't be verified independently (to say the least). As a UPI reporter, I find myself working at one remove from an organization that says it wants this information not only reported, but disseminated widely. (In fact, the church has already placed ads about the meeting in heaven in newspapers in all 50 states as well as many foreign countries.) As a human being, I'm not quite ready to proclaim Reverend Moon the savior, messiah, or "True Parent of all humanity." So I'll just put it out there and let you order the complete text of the resolution, which is available in a handy bound edition called "Messages of Peace from a Distant Shore." (And by the way, I've only scratched the surface here).
The complete document also includes a letter from God himself, proclaiming the Reverend Moon to be his "beloved Son," and the report of a second meeting, on May 9, 2002, at which 120 communist leaders signed a similar proclamation. Presumably the communists had to meet later to avoid the thorny issue of how they could have shown up in heaven in the first place.
My first observation about all this is that it's not very mystical. When they met in heaven, the five leaders held seminars and then convened a sort of spiritual legislature that produced actual written documents. Somehow you would expect such a gathering to be full of either fire, wind and fury on the one hand, or some kind of monkish wordless revelation on the other. (Buddha, especially, seems out of place at a conference table).
My second observation is that, far from changing the practical nature of the conference, all of these spiritual revelations had the opposite effect. People simply listened, took notes, and then moved on to the more mundane affairs of the sinful world: weapons of mass destruction, areas of national conflict, the coverage of religion by the media, and an especially refreshing closing address by Sam Donaldson, the popular ABC News correspondent, who summed up his news philosophy when he said, "I'm a real toughie when it comes to telling it all."
This was after an entertaining exchange with Laura Byrd of the Copley News Service, who challenged Donaldson to come up with a formula for the "self-government" of the media, implying that there are some things that should not be reported. Donaldson even went so far as to defend the broadcast in 1993 of the bodies of American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. "This was the real world of policy," he said.
The most intriguing session of the whole conference --well, aside from the meeting in heaven -- was the one about weapons of mass destruction, especially the speech by a former Marine officer named Paul Crespo, who now runs a Washington policy company. He said we should stop using the term "weapons of mass destruction" entirely, because it leads to "simplistic and fatalistic" ideas about the various types of weapons that are out there. It places many lethal weapons in the same category with thermonuclear bombs, which he says terrorists don't have.
He then listed the weapons they either do have or could have in the future -- everything from suitcase bombs to radiological "dirty bombs" to cyber terrorism -- and made a couple of interesting observations. Biological weapons, for example, are not that interesting to some terrorists, he said, because the effect can be delayed for years -- not exactly effective if you have a short - term political agenda. Chemical weapons are so ineffective, and so subject to weather and terrain, that they should more properly be called "weapons of mass panic and chaos." And the most likely weapon to paralyze America in the most dramatic way -- computers!
"Thirty hackers," he said, "with a budget of $10 million, could bring America to its knees."
This was exactly the kind of clear-headed hard-facts analysis that thrills the hearts of most media scribes. But to give you some idea of the ongoing yo-yo effect, it was immediately followed by a two-hour presentation by Dr. Kwak on "the nature of true love," in which he explained that Reverend Moon's plan for world peace is based on building happy families (he outlined four steps by which the family "develops the character of love"), and culminating in the "cosmic law" of "substantial pure love."
At this point he displayed a diagram of the human body with a slide projector and posed a question that perked everyone up: "What is the most important part of our physical body?"
Of course we all searched the body, and I think most of us probably thought, "Uh, heart? Brain?"
No, said Dr. Kwak: "It is the sexual part."
Oddly enough, there was no sexual organ on the diagram. I wondered whether this was intentional irony, or simple prudery, then decided that it was unisex political correctness.
"Without the sexual organ," he continued, "where would true love blossom and be perfected?"
He then said that the family should openly discuss the sexual organ, both its use and misuse, and make sure that in marriage we present ownership of the sexual organ to our spouses. "Because our spouse has the key to our love organ," he said, "we can have great joy in marriage. This is a cosmic law." He followed that up with a number of theological observations, called on everyone to bless their unions by dedicating their sexual organs to their spouses, ran through some of the perversions that have resulted from not understanding this -- he was especially agitated by the distribution of condoms in order to stop the spread of AIDS -- and eventually concluded with, "This is the corner store of world peace." (He meant "true love" among families, not the sexual organ.)
"I ask humbly," he said, "that you, as world media leaders, educate the public in this cosmic world law of the true love relationship."
I'm trying, Dr. Kwak, but it's mixed up with all these other parts of the conference. I'm gazing over at the Pentagon, clearly visible during the "true love" presentation, and starting to think that people might just be too benighted right now to start loving one another in any kind of universal way.
But it was that kind of conference -- the yin and then the yang. True love and thermonuclear war. Meetings in heaven and the imminent destruction of the nation of Iraq. The problem with world peace is that heaven may really be the only place it's understood.
(John Bloom writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at email@example.com or through his Web site at joebobbriggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)