High and Low – To and Fro

2014/11/11

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

Filed under: Thoughts&Journeys — tramp11 @ 17:23

1-trans-Siberian ticket stub Oct1979

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 Baykal 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 Oceanicand 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 Baykal steamed at full speed towards Yokohama Bay, which we finally entered around 6 a.m. on the morning of the 20th. The Baykal’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 Baykal 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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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://tramp11.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/under-fire-in-afghanistan/

https://tramp11.wordpress.com/2010/04/27/my-answers-to-questions-about-my-trips-to-afghanistan-saudi-arabia-and-pakistan-in-the-1970s-1980s/

https://tramp11.wordpress.com/2007/06/24/spiritual-journey-backwards-latest-first-mostly/

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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 1999 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). 

2012/06/17

On God … and death …

Filed under: Thoughts&Journeys — tramp11 @ 08:15

I believe God, this one spirit or universal consciousness has basically divided itself into innumerable small parts by bringing about (in whatever way) what we regard as the physical universe with all the individual consciousnesses within it, each tied to a body of some kind or another.

We are really all one ― each one of us living beings and inanimate things is a part of this God ― but through our bodies we have the illusion of being separate from one another. When the bodies of us living beings fall away we return to where we came from and become one again completely with God ― the universal spirit. It is only the short-lived body of ours which makes us feel separate.
I cannot think of another way in which the world could be “just.” No concept of heaven and hell and good and evil that I have known would ever satisfy my sense of justice. For years I thought Sun Myung Moon’s Divine Principle had the answers but I have concluded that it doesn’t. It is no better than some other ideas that do not satisfy me at all.

God is absolutely responsible for everything that happens in the universe — from the greatest, most beautiful thing or event to the most horrible monstrosity or atrocity — but we all share that responsibility because we are all part of God. God as a whole has thrived on the differences and divisions among us that lead to conflict — especially in us humans, the spearheads of the evolution of his consciousness in this world — and on both the good and the evil things we have been doing to each other in our bodies, which make us feel separate. But his/our consciousness is evolving. God is learning with us, through us.

In our primitive days, when we were totally unable to understand the reality of our ultimate oneness, God gave us myths including the Bible and all the scriptures, which were propagated by people inspired by “Him” (or “Her,” “It”) to awe us and make us fear, and to herd us together as groups and make us fight each other for his own pleasure. To explain this: I believe the deepest parts of our nature are the emotions, which we share with God, our source. Yes, I believe God has the same emotions, though from a universal perspective, since his “body” is the entire universe.

Now, I think, the time may be coming when those myths are no longer useful. It is time that we humans outgrow them and look for the truth behind and beyond them. Most of all I hope we can truly become aware of the reality of our original and ultimate oneness.

On Life After Death

I have thought about the concept of a spirit world. Do I believe there is a world of spirit where we/our souls go after we die? Do I believe we have a spiritual body in which our soul/spirit resides for eternity and which resembles our physical body as it is when we are young and healthy? — No, I do not believe this! — This does not mean that I believe it is impossible.
I think that when we die – when our physical body dies and decays – our spirit dissolves in the ocean of universal consciousness, which is what God is to me. However, there remains a residue of a memory within God – a memory of us as we were when we were alive. As I have written before, I believe time – the “flow” of time – is really an accumulation of memory or memories within God. It expands ad infinitum, which is probably also why our universe seems to expand. 

When we die, then, the memory of our life remains as part of this ever-growing universal memory. In this way we will continue to exist – but we cannot create new things or learn or grow because we will no longer be conscious as a separate entity. We will be fully assimilated or merged into the whole whence we came, a grain of salt dissolved in the ocean – still salt and still contributing our specific flavor to the ocean – at least to the tiny part of it that we have been able to influence during our lives – but no longer a separate entity and no longer able to expand our influence.

I may be wrong, of course, but it would be very hard if not impossible for me to return to a belief in a spirit world like that described by Unificationists and others such as Swedenborg.

2010/07/11

The Biggest Lie

Filed under: Thoughts — tramp11 @ 22:09

Illusion and reality - all is one

We have been cheated, in a way. We have been living with a big lie: God [see my post below:   My View of God as it has evolved -including the comments – and others about God further down.] But we have willingly participated. The lie is our lie, too. We have been happy to be deceived by God, because it is comforting to believe in a great supernatural power that is on the “good” side – which is always our side, because no one believes they are bad. Even the worst criminals and mass murderers believe they are “good.”  They may admit mistakes – like most everybody does – but they always believe they are fundamentally “good.” However, the “good” can really exist only if there is also an opposing “evil.” We do believe in an “evil” but it is always someone else – just like God wants us to see “evil” as something entirely separate from him.

Yes, we are all part of this deception or self-deception. We participate willingly, most of the time. – But then we cannot separate from this God and his deception. This God leaves us some breathing space, some room for maneuver, some space for us to think for ourselves, because he wants us to grow, to improve, and he grows with us, improves with us – through us.

We are, all of us humans without exception, part of this God. We are really, ultimately, one. The whole cosmos is one, but we and any other intelligent beings that may exist are the most important elements of this one. The one, as I have said again and again, grows with us and through us.

I think perhaps the Buddhists have the deepest understanding of this oneness, this monism, this interdependence. The accounts of Buddhists I have read – such as those of the French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard – give me the impression that they have a much better and clearer understanding of the importance of oneness and interdependence than any Christians I have met, including the Moonies. Moon’s (Korean Moon Sun Myung of the Unification Movement/Church –see posts on religion below) teaching has many good points, for sure, but I regard it as deficient in the sense of explaining the real God, and misleading. I think Moon himself does not want to acknowledge the fact that God has deceived us by making us believe in an “evil” that is not of him. Moon’s interests are better served if he just ignores this – and I tend to believe he knows that very well. This would be the element of hypocrisy in Moon that I feel has been touched on indirectly by Nansook Hong, the ex-wife of his now-late son Hyo Jin.

Of course, it is clear that – ultimately – we will have to work with God, no matter how much he has deceived us. We are inalienable parts of him and he is totally in each one of us. We are really one. My contention is only that we have to grow up to be aware of the reality of God – not the fantasy we have believed in for so long. – And the reason we have to grow up this way – with this understanding – is that it is the only way God can continue to evolve – and, indeed, grow himself. As I have insisted many times before: God evolves through us (and any other beings at the highest levels of consciousness) – he grows through us…

2010/07/10

A dangerous bus ride on Pakistan’s Karakoram Highway -January 1988

Filed under: Thoughts&Journeys — tramp11 @ 22:59

Karakoram Highway extension to Skardu Baltistan -photo late August 1985

Karakoram Highway January 1988

[from my article in the Middle East Times weekly, based in Cyprus.
・    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 impending 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 [I had already traveled the Karakoram Highway from Skardu to Gilgit and Passu in Hunza, and down to Rawalpindi 2 years earlier in August 1985 — but in summer the Indus is a dirty brownish color; quite different from its look in winter].

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.

My last trip into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in October 1987

Filed under: Thoughts&Journeys — tramp11 @ 22:51

Kunar Shultan Valley mujaheddin 1987 – Pazlimalek is 4th from left.

asadab.DO  [For information: This was originally written on a small NEC PC-8201 laptop with less than 32 kilobytes of usable RAM. This is scanned from a printout of the original, unedited version that I typed up in Peshawar]

ASADABAD — KUNAR PROVINCE (18-22 October 1987 — written on 1 November) [1987 in Peshawar, Pakistan]

[from my article in the Middle East Times weekly, based in Cyprus]

TARI SAR PLATEAU, Afghanistan — Mujaheddin commander Ajab Khan, a  short, wiry man with a vaguely bird-like quality in his movements and speech, is perched precariously on a rocky outcrop. In rapid Pakhtu, he is speaking into the microphone of a red plastic walkie-talkie. Next to him, Pazlimalek, a tall, seasoned fighter at 25 with a thick beard, leans on a flat rock and peers through binoculars into the Kunar Valley far below.

Seconds earlier, the heavy blast of the driving charge of an 82-millimetre mortar reverberated through the rugged mountains and valleys to the east of the fast-flowing, slate-grey Kunar River. Then a small cloud rose from some low hills across the river, just above Shigal Tarna, a garrison of a few hundred government troops.

“Down five millièmes,” suggests Pazlimalek, and the commander repeats the message into his microphone. The next mortar bomb, fired by one of two mujaheddin positions in the mountains near the border with Pakistan, explodes on the road that leads to the base of the Soviet-backed dushman, the enemy. The second mortar also places a bomb close to the road.
“Allahu Akbar — God is great,” shouts the commander. Pazlimalek  suggests a further slight shift in the aim of the mortars. Soon, the cries of “Allahu Akbar” multiply as, one after another, three clouds of smoke from mujaheddin mortar bombs rise in the middle of Shigal Tarna itself.

Later, the mujaheddin fire a few 107-millimetre rockets from a single, man-portable tube — the Bimyak — and, following some adjustments in the aim of the weapon, rejoice when two of the missiles hit a large house in a village by the Shigal River upstream from the army base. People in the village, the families of pro-government militiamen from other regions who were resettled there to occupy houses left behind by refugees, can be seen running for cover.

Throughout the firing by the mujaheddin, the heavy thump of a large-calibre artillery gun can be heard from the government base, followed by the explosions of its shells in the mountains to the east. The gun, well hidden under earthworks in Shigal Tarna, fires roughly one shell a minute.

On a different frequency than that used by the mujaheddin, the radio crackles with the excited voice of the commander of Shigal Tarna base. Later, another voice speaks in rapid Russian.
Suddenly, the air above Tari Sar Plateau is filled with a sort of swishing sound that is followed within seconds by a series of powerful explosions. Flashes can be seen on a mountainside across the lower Shultan Valley, and soon clouds of smoke cast shadows over the pine-covered slopes.

“Asadabad, Bimsiezda,” Pazlimalek tells three foreigners who watch the spectacle from the vantage position on Tari Sar. Bimsiezda is the Afghans’ term for one of several modern versions of the famous Stalin Organ multiple rocket launcher that was dreaded by invading German soldiers on the Soviet front in World War II. Asadabad is the capital of Kunar Province and the site of Chagha Sarai military base, roughly 10 kilometres to the south of Tari Sar Plateau and about twice that distance from the Pakistani border.

[I had brought two other Europeans with me to this place in Afghanistan: Eugenio, a one-eyed Italian adventurer – he had a glass eye that replaced one lost to a stray bullet – and Jacques, a French ex-Foreign Legionnaire. I ran into them separately in Peshawar after each of them had tried in vain for weeks to find a mujaheddin group that would take them across the border. I then took them to my contact Engineer Es Haq in University Town, who arranged the trip for us after they  presented themselves as journalists like me – which they were not.]

High above Asadabad, on two mountain plateaux to the east and one to the west of the Kunar River, Soviet Spetsnaz commandos have established small permanent bases that are regularly supplied from the valley by helicopters, mostly at night. Four helicopters were parked on the tarmac of an airfield at Asadabad when the fighting around Shigal Tarna began, Pazlimalek claimed that each of the three mountain bases, Soder Sar, Mechellay Sar and Shahbazay Sar, housed about 300 Soviet commandos. According to Ajab Khan, the Spetsnaz have a Bimsiezda on Soder Sar, only a few kilometres to the south of Tari Sar mountain and clearly visible from the highest peak above this plateau.

The mujaheddin count 13 rockets in the first salvo. A second salvo blasts the same mountainside across the valley with nine rockets but all fail to hit the mujaheddin mortar and Bimyak positions.
Commander Ajab Khan was well aware that the Soviets, together with the Afghan government forces, could lay a heavy rocket and artillery barrage over the entire area under his men’s control, including Tari Sar mountain. They could also call in Mi-24 helicopter gunships and Sukhoi-25 ground attack jets to blast the mountains and valleys all around, as they did just two months earlier in August. Compared with the firepower at the disposal of the communist enemy, that of the mujaheddin seemed truly pitiful.

Normally, the mujaheddin would continue to fight no matter how much retaliation they had to expect from the Soviets. But this time, the commander felt responsible for the lives of the three foreigners, the first to visit this area since Ajab Khan and his men established their bases on the massive rocky ridges along the upper Shultan Valley about two years ago. He decided to call off the attack on Shigal Tarna at about 1:30 p.m. and save his remaining mortar and rocket ammunition for future operations.

** 

[Actually, in retrospect, I don’t think Ajab Khan broke off the attack because he was concerned about us 3 Europeans. I found out a bigger attack was to take place a few days later with a larger force. A week or two after these events I met the well-known American correspondent Kurt Lohbeck (since deceased) at the American Club in Peshawar, and when he heard I had been north of Asadabad he told me he went there a few days later and filmed a major offensive by the mujaheddin towards the Kunar capital in which they came close to capturing the town. I could not believe it and asked if I could see his film, but he said he had already sent it to New York for editing. It then occurred to me that most likely the mujaheddin had sent me and my companions out of the area because they wanted to give Lohbeck exclusive coverage of whatever operation they planned — Lohbeck himself may have asked for it — because he was a much more important witness than we were. I have never since been able to find any information about the battle for Asadabad that Lohbeck said he filmed, and the town was captured only a year later — months after Soviet forces withdrew from the area. — Also, our mujahed guide Mohammed Kaftan was unhappy when he realized Eugenio and Jacques were not journalists as they had claimed, because they did not have cameras, never took notes and were only interested in getting Kalashnikov assault rifles from the mujaheddin so they could join them in fighting. They did get the Kalashnikovs but were very disappointed they couldn’t use them when we were under artillery bombardment far from any enemy soldier. Kaftan is the one who insisted on sending us back over the mountains to Pakistan].

**

While some mujaheddin based on a mountain to the north fired random shots from a heavy single-barrel 14.5-millimetre anti-aircraft gun as a diversionary tactic, the commander had a few of his men lead the three foreigners down into the Chowgam Valley below Tari Sar Plateau. From there, the party proceeded over several ridges back to the mujaheddin camps in the upper Shultan Valley. But although the mujaheddin stopped firing early in the afternoon, the riposte from the Soviets and the Afghan army continued for several hours until long after sunset. A slow but steady rhythm of heavy mortar, artillery and rocket fire continued to rock the Shultan Valley, coming from the nearest Soviet commando base on Soder Sar Plateau to the south-west, Shigal Tarna to the west and Asmar to the north-west. Two of the Bimsiezda rockets tore holes into the mountainside only about 10 metres above one of the mujaheddin’s Zikuyak 14.5-millimetre machine-gun positions.

The operation cost the life of one mujahed, who stepped on a mine near the east bank of the Kunar River and apparently bled to death after losing both legs. His body was later carried on a mule for burial in the Bajaur tribal area of Pakistan. The number of casualties on the other side of the river was not  known but mujaheddin reported that one helicopter made at least two return trips between Asadabad and Shigal Tarna, presumably carrying wounded people to a hospital in the city.

The mujahed who became shaheed, martyred, had triggered the fighting somewhat earlier than planned when the mine exploded under his feet. Firing had started along the Kunar River before the mujaheddin mortars and the Bimyak, carried by mules on treacherous paths up the mountains, were in position. Soldiers in Shigal Tarna raked the east bank of the Kunar with bursts of heavy machine-gun fire and one tank blasted the lower slopes of Tari Sar, while mujaheddin near the river responded by firing rocket-propelled grenades and rifle bullets.

In the Kunar Valley, there is a striking contrast between the military situation to the north of Asmar and that to the south between Asmar and Asadabad.

In the north [north of Asmar, where I went with another group of Yunus Khalis mujaheddin two years earlier, in August 1985], the mujaheddin control a number of villages along the river itself and have laid siege to the government garrison of Barikot near the border with Pakistan. In a major offensive during the spring of 1985, a division-sized Soviet force [in hindsight I’m sure I was misinformed about this — there is no way the force could have been that large] backed by an estimated 100  warplanes and helicopters fought its way up the narrow dirt road along the Kunar to relieve the besieged garrison at Barikot, using airborne Spetsnaz commandos to destroy as many as nine anti-aircraft    machine-gun posts that the mujaheddin had set up on mountain peaks overlooking the valley. The Soviets managed to bring Afghan army reinforcements to Barikot but as soon as the main Russian force returned to the south the mujaheddin retook control of almost the entire stretch of road between Asmar and Barikot, established fresh machine-gun nests in the mountains and resumed their siege of the border garrison. In May last year, Soviet jets destroyed an important bridge across the Kunar River between the villages of Sao and Neyshagam north of Asmar in an effort to deny the mujaheddin an easy way to cross to the west bank with their mules laden with heavy arms. According to Pazlimalek, the mujaheddin have since stretched at least three cables across the river and use rafts to transport heavy weapons and ammunition, and they are trying to repair the Sao bridge as well as another one at Narei further north.

South of Asmar, however, the Soviets have made a strong commitment to keeping the Kunar Valley under direct control and it is extremely dangerous for the mujaheddin to try to cross the river. The east bank of the river is heavily  mined, and the Soviet commandos in their mountain bases above Asadabad are ready to intervene at any time should the mujaheddin threaten any part of the valley. Due to the possibility of surprise attacks on mujaheddin strongholds by helicopter-borne Spetsnaz forces, the guerrillas keep guard posts with watchdogs   on all the strategic high points above the Shultan Valley as well as in some of the villages in other side valleys of the Kunar.

The majority of the original inhabitants of most farming villages on both sides of the Kunar Valley have fled to Pakistan since Soviet forces pushed into this extremely rugged region more than four years ago, using heavy  bombardment to terrorize the population. Many of the men from those villages are now mujaheddin. After the Soviets asserted control of the valley, tribesmen who were willing to work with the government that was installed during the invasion in December 1979 were resettled in some villages, occupying abandoned houses and farmlands.

Few civilians live in the villages of the lower Shultan and Chowgam valleys just to the east of the Kunar, in the areas under mujaheddin control. Some families whose houses are still intact remain in the area despite frequent fighting nearby, growing maize and wheat, tending orchards and raising cattle, sheep and goats.

Some children were playing in a field at Gaweja village as mortar bombs, rockets and tank shells passed high overhead, exploding in the mountains to the east. The children belonged to the only family that remained behind in the village, and they seemed almost oblivious to the din. All other families had long fled. Just across the valley, the village of Wan was completely abandoned. Scattered bomb craters and gaping holes in most of the houses, which were built of rocks and mud, provided mute testimony to the tragedies that must have forced the people out.

Considering the Soviets’ enormous advantage in firepower and equipment, and the very rough conditions under which the mujaheddin continue to live and fight their jihad (holy war) in this region eight years after their country was invaded, it comes as a surprise to witness the courage and determination of these fighters. The most active group of mujaheddin in the Kunar Valley, both north and south of Asmar, appears to be the Hezb-e Islami (party) of Maulvi Yunus Khalis, an aging but tough leader who was recently named chairman of the seven-party Ittihad-e Islami Mujaheddin Afghanistan (Islamic Alliance of Afghan Mujaheddin) based in Peshawar. Maulvi Khalis is expected to lead a mujaheddin delegation which will attend the debate on Afghanistan in the United Nations General Assembly beginning on 9 November.

The three foreigners who visited the Shultan Valley for five days to watch  the attack on Shigal Tarna in late October were impressed by the fervour with which the mujaheddin practised their faith. Islam is a very demanding religion. To pray five times a day in the Islamic way is not easy, especially under difficult conditions such as those encountered in the jihad in this rugged land. At one point, on the day before the attack on Shigal Tarna, a small group of mujaheddin raced at breakneck speed over very treacherous terrain for well over an hour just in order to reach a mosque in an abandoned village in time for the maghreb (sunset) prayer.

After eight years of a terrible war against a superpower in Afghanistan, it is perhaps no wonder that only a fervent commitment to their religion, Islam,  can provide the mujaheddin with the courage and determination to carry on their difficult struggle.

END OF ARTICLE

2010/04/27

My answers to questions about my trips to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the 1970s-1980s

Filed under: Thoughts&Journeys — Tags: — tramp11 @ 21:52

Recently I was interviewed about my experiences in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Here are my answers:

About writing an autobiography:

… I do hope to find the time to write a book, primarily because I want to tell the story of the lessons I have learnt in my life to my family and friends. I will need a lot of time because I am a very slow writer. I have put some of my thoughts and brief accounts of my experiences on the Internet just in case it is of interest to others, especially old friends with whom I have long lost contact and who might be looking for me and may be curious about what happened to me without necessarily wanting to get in touch. They might not like how my religious and political views have changed.
About Saudi Arabia 1972-73:
The people with whom I traveled to Mecca were my friend “Ali” – whose real name I won’t reveal, to protect his identity, and whom I met on an earlier trip outside Europe — and Ali’s brother and the brother’s family (Pakistani wife, from Lahore, and three small boys). They lived in England and came to Luxembourg to pick me up in December 1972. They had two cars: a VW van with a mattress and gas cooker in the back and a Ford Capri 3000 GT sports car. They had to get to Jeddah by early January 1973, in time to pick up their old mother, who was coming there by plane from London for her first and probably last Haj. After the pilgrimage and putting their mother on the plane back to London they were going to continue their trip to Lahore in Pakistan to visit their family there. They wanted me as a backup driver, and I was all gung-ho about going to Pakistan. But since I could not accompany them to Mecca we were going to drive to Kuwait, where I was going to stay with their eldest brother (they were a family of 12 kids, and “Ali” was the youngest) and I was to wait for them to return after about a month in Saudi Arabia.
When we got stuck at Abu Kemal on the Syrian-Iraqi border, where the Iraqis refused to let us enter their country, my friends had to change their plan and drive down through Jordan and directly into Saudi Arabia’s Hejaz. When they offered me the choice I decided to officially become a Muslim so that I could accompany them, and they were my witnesses at the Saudi Embassy in Damascus where we all got special “pilgrim entry” visas for the kingdom. We arrived in Saudi Arabia at the end of 1972 and stayed in that country until 1 February 1973.
In Mina, the tent city outside Mecca, where we spent at least 2 weeks, many people were very curious about me and invited me into their tents for a cup of tea and to ask me questions about my background and my thoughts about the world of Islam. Some people refused to believe that I was from western Europe and insisted I must be Turkish. The same happened in Medina, where we rented a small apartment in the old Uhud quarter near the main mosque, where Prophet Mohammed’s tomb is located, during the period of 40 prayers after the Haj. The old quarter where we stayed and which seemed like a town from the Middle Ages, was torn down a few months after we left to make way for a project to expand the great mosque of Medina.
I received a big Quran in Arabic and English from the director of the Islamic University in Medina and read a little bit from time to time, including the lengthy commentaries in footnotes by the translator Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
I remember the big crowds in Mecca and Medina, more people than I had ever seen before. In Mecca we used to wash up in a large underground facility under a square just outside the big mosque before going inside for the Tawaf, the counter-clockwise circumambulation of the Kaaba, and the walks between Safa and Marwa, and so on. “Ummi” (or mother), as I also came to call my friends’ mother, only spoke to me in Punjabi, though she tried Suaheli sometimes when i didn’t understand. I quickly learned the few words I needed to know in order to follow her instructions. Like many old or infirm people she could not do the Tawaf by herself, and we paid a pair of big, strong men to carry her on a stretcher with a sort of basket in the middle.
After we saw “Ummi” off we stayed a few more days in Jeddah. We lived in the house of a family of Pakistani origin, and my friends suggested that I marry the youngest daughter of that family – who was only 16 at the time – and stay in Saudi Arabia. A Filipino friend of Ali’s who acted as our guide on the Haj had received a scholarship some years earlier to study at Medina’s Islamic University (with the support of King Faisal, if I remember correctly), and my friends thought I could try to get one too and stay behind in Saudi Arabia rather than go with them to Lahore.
I was very impressed by the experience of the Haj and meeting so many people who were mostly very nice to me, but I was not ready at all to get married and to stay in Saudi Arabia. Again, to make a long story short, I accompanied my friends to Kuwait, where we spent 9 days in a big villa doing nothing but eating, drinking fruit cocktails and having fun — then later they dropped me off in Abadan, Iran, and I made my way from there back to Europe on my own, with very little money. Nowadays I wonder how much of my experiences I still remember correctly. I learned some Arabic from my friends and others, and still remember the numbers and quite a few words that I had had to learn, such as the Shahada, etc.
About my attachment to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and whether my experiences there were the most special time in my life:
As far as Afghanistan and Pakistan are concerned, my interest in those countries comes from the wonderment I felt in my first experience traveling outside Europe, as well as my fascination and awe of mountains. Luxembourg has only low hills, and the first time I saw real mountains was when I went to Austria with my boy scout troop in 1963. I was so fascinated and awe-struck that I stared for long periods of time at Mt. Grimming near Tauplitz, in Styria, without uttering a word.
My first trip outside Europe took me to Teheran, Iran in March 1972. I met Ali there. As I mentioned, his family was originally from Lahore, in what is now Pakistan. He was born and grew up in Kenya. When I met him he was on his way to Lahore, in a car he had bought while studying in the United States. He wanted to share expenses on the trip so he was looking for people who would travel with him. To make a long story short, we traveled together from Teheran to Kandahar, and I had to return from there on my own because I had to get back to my job in Luxembourg. The experience of that short, two-week trip affected me so much that it was almost impossible for me to re-adjust to my workaday life in Luxembourg. I longed for the mountains and the very different kind of life I thought I had glimpsed especially in Afghanistan.
About the contrast between the Afghanistan I saw in 1972 and that of the 1980s:
I entered Afghanistan from Iran on the day after Nowruz (that is, the New Year, 21 March), which was 2. 1. 1351 in the Hejra solar calendar used there. In Saudi Arabia and most of the Islamic world the Hejra lunar calendar is used, so when I went there 9 months later it was the year 1392, because the lunar year is shorter. In 1972 I traveled only to Herat and Kandahar, and spent just five days in Afghanistan. King Mohammed Zahir was still on the throne and a lot of western hippies passed through the country on their way east to India and Nepal. Young boys followed foreigners almost everywhere in the towns to beg for some spare change. It was clear the country was poor and life was hard for most people — but it was a country at peace. I remember talking to young men in both Herat and Kandahar. You could not talk to young women in those towns; though I am told it was different in Kabul. Some of the young men I met were unhappy because they saw no future for themselves, and they hoped to be able to go to the west, perhaps because they envied the seemingly happy hippies they saw. Generally, though, I did not get the impression in 1972 that the country might be headed for serious political trouble. The atmosphere was peaceful, perhaps because people seemed resigned to their fates — I don’t know. At any rate, I liked the atmosphere of the country very much and wished I could have stayed much longer to explore and get to know it.
In the 1980s I did not visit any of the towns of Afghanistan but passed through several villages, some abandoned, mostly within 20 kilometers of the border with Pakistan. I went to the Jaji area in Paktia Province in 1984 and to different areas north and south of Asmar in Kunar Province in 1985 and 1987. At this time, of course, the country was at war — and it seemed almost as much a civil war as it was a war against foreign invaders. Naturally, the mujahideen emphasized the fact that they were fighting the Soviet infidels and those they regarded as their lackeys. But it seemed to me that there must have been substantial numbers of Afghans who welcomed some of the changes the so-called communists were making with the support of the Soviet Union. The mujahideen I was with were mostly fighting the Afghan Army. Of course, my newspaper being of a rather conservative, anti-communist orientation, I felt it would be unwise to mention this. At the time I also felt a personal solidarity with the mujahideen in their struggle against a superpower that had invaded their country. I must point out here that I had very little training as a journalist, and that in any case I had learned the trade from very conservative Americans who had a strong ideological commitment against anything socialist or communist.
I saw some of the damage done by bombing and shelling in villages, and I also saw children who had lost limbs to mines, and refugees who fled the fighting.
Overall I feel my experience and knowledge of Afghanistan is very limited, and I could by no means be regarded as an “expert,” whatever that really means. Nonetheless, as a result of my experiences there I cannot help feeling deeply concerned about the situation in that country as the state of war has continued for more than 30 years now.
To tell the truth, when I first visited that country in 1972 I knew very, very little about Afghanistan and didn’t bother to read up on it even after I got back to Luxembourg. That time   I just wanted to get out of Luxembourg — badly. And seeing Afghanistan — even for such a short time — had at least taught me that there were places in the world that were really very different from my country, much more like the places I had read about in the many adventure stories that I had read. — I did not get back to Afghanistan until 12 years later — 1984 — and many things had changed in the meantime, both for me and for that country. 1984 was also the first time I visited Pakistan, and I think I sort of fell in love with at least some aspects of that country at first sight. I went to Jaji, Paktia Province, Afghanistan with mujahideen of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf’s Ittihad-e Islami Mujahideen Afghanistan group. In the western media Sayyaf’s group was known by a different name, but they emphasized to me that this was their real name. Together with a Japanese journalist friend who had lived in Pakistan for 9 years I interviewed Sayyaf himself in a tent in Jaji – I still have the transcript of that interview as it appeared in my newspaper, the weekly Middle East Times, which I had helped to found in Cyprus at the beginning of 1983.
I returned to Pakistan and Afghanistan again in 1985, and that time I also traveled to Baltistan and Hunza, as far as Passu. At that time the Karakoram Highway beyond that village was closed to foreigners. Both in 1984 and 1985 I couldn’t spend as much time on my trips as I wanted because I had to get back to my newspaper office in Cyprus, plus I was short of money – as always. I used my own cheap camera and paid most of my expenses from my pocket because the newspaper was just barely surviving financially. In August 1987, after getting married in Japan, I settled down in Islamabad — my wife stayed behind in Tokyo for the time being — in a house rented by my Japanese friend who had taken me with him on the 1984 trip to Jaji. He could not come to Kunar with me in 1985. In October 1987 I went from the Bajaur tribal area to Kunar Province, again without my Japanese friend, intending to travel into Nuristan. But after a brief battle north of Asadabad (a few mortar rounds, answered from the Soviet and Afghan Army side by many hours of bombardment with rockets, field guns and heavy mortars) the mujahideen I was with refused to let me stay in Kunar and took me back across the border.
About an example of how good the mujahideen were as fighters against the Soviets and the Afghan Army:
In the battle I witnessed in 1987 the mujahideen scored a few direct hits on an army base north of Asadabad from positions in the mountains but extensive minefields did not allow them to even get close to the treacherous Kunar River, which they would have had to cross in order to pursue their assault. There were mujahideen from at least four different and supposedly allied parties in the area but cooperation among them was very limited.
The Soviets, who at the time had several hundred well-equipped spetsnaz commandos (according to the mujahideen) stationed in three mountaintop bases above the major air base of Chagha Sarai, and their Afghan allies retaliated by firing multiple rocket launchers, «Bimsiezda», and heavy field guns and big mortars at mujahideen positions for several hours until long after the rebels stopped shooting.
It was clear that those troops in Kunar had a good idea of the exact location of the rebels’ mortar positions, their „zikuyak” – the 14.5-mm anti-aircraft machine gun nests –, their hidden shelters and even the paths they used because a number of shells missed by less than 30 meters over distances ranging between five and 15 kilometers without the aid of spotter planes, at least none observed by me or the mujahideen I was with.
About how I met Abdul Rasul Sayyaf in 1984, the man who introduced Osama Bin Laden to Afghanistan and helped him to set up his first base there (I met Sayyaf two months after Bin Laden was with him):
My Japanese journalist friend, who had lived in Pakistan since 1975 and who had been to Jaji in 1983, found out in Peshawar that Abdul Rasul Sayyaf’s men had taken over that area and had driven the Afghan Army out of one base there, which the mujahideen called Sarai. He is the one who organized the trip to Jaji for the two of us that time, through a man named Abdul Hannan, who had connections with different mujahideen groups. Soviet and Afghan Air Force planes had repeatedly bombed the positions of Sayyaf’s men for more than two months before we went there in late August 1984. We did not expect to meet Sayyaf himself there, but a few days after we arrived we were told that he had come and was willing to meet us in one of the tents, supplied by a Saudi relief agency, that the mujahideen had pitched in a pine forest on the slope of a hill just 2 kilometers behind the Durand Line – the border. He met us there with some of his lieutenants, and we interviewed him at considerable length. His English was very good. He spoke with confidence of overcoming the Soviets “because God is helping the mujahideen,” and of having detailed plans to establish a “pure Islamic system” of government. He also predicted that “someday you will see the power of the Soviets vanquished, and all of those poor countries now under their domination will be free — they will get their freedom as a result of the freedom of Afghanistan.”
About the importance of Jaji, Paktia Province, where Osama Bin Laden set up his first base in 1984:
Jaji is strategically important because it is located just inside Afghanistan near the point where the Pakistani border comes closest to Kabul. I described Jaji this way in my first report from there in 1984 — I shall quote this: It is a beautiful area, with many springs and brooks of sparkling and delicious water from the mountains. But many people had to leave their villages here for a dreary existence as refugees in the steaming hot lowlands of Pakistan, where there is no clean, fresh water. Hardly one of the more than a dozen villages I passed through on a 60-kilometre trek from a resistance camp just inside Afghanistan, on the way to the frontline, seemed to have escaped the bombing, rocketing, shelling and strafing by Soviet and Afghan forces – Babrak Karmal’s forces. Many houses sustained heavy damage, leaving their inhabitants without shelter for the harsh winter in these highlands.
Strategically, the Jaji area, less than 80 kilometres by air southeast of Kabul, was vital for both mujahedeen and the refugees because it is one of the main avenues for traffic between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The struggle for control of this area, therefore, was constantly intense, as the Soviets and the Babrak Karmal regime tried to prevent the Muslim fighters from bringing food, ammunition and supplies into the country.
They were facing an uphill struggle in this terrain. After September 1983, when the resistance forces overran the government base of Sarai after three months of heavy fighting, they have pushed their powerful enemy out of all of Jaji except for one base of two square kilometres in an area called Chownee. Morale at that base was by all accounts very low. Some deserters died on the way trying to flee from that base, on the minefields in the surrounding area.
About a photo I took where a guerrilla aims a rocket-propelled grenade launcher at my head:
That picture shows 6 mujahideen in a tent in Jaji in 1984. They were preparing to go on a long trek from there to Mazar-i-Sharif in the north. One man in the front of the picture on the right was actually a defector from the Afghan Army, who had escaped from the Sarai base before it was captured and joined the mujahideen. The guy in the background pointing his RPG launcher at me was, of course, just trying to look funny for the photo.
About the religious conviction of the mujahideen and what role it played in their struggle:
I must say I was impressed, sometimes, by the religious fervor of some of the mujahideen – though they were by no means all like that. In 1985, some of Yunus Khalis’s men I was with in Kunar Province tried very hard to teach me some Pakhto (with „kh” as in the northern dialect) and some basics of Islam, even though they could not speak English. In 1987, also in Kunar but further south, the Yunus Khalis men there once ran for close to an hour over treacherous terrain just to get to a small mosque in time for the evening prayer. Even though I wasn’t carrying any weapons like they did I was barely able to follow them and totally exhausted when we arrived.
I felt that their religious convictions may very well have helped those men to be strong enough to face an enemy with greatly superior firepower, equipment and training. If a mujahed was seriously wounded, in most cases he was doomed, because the others could not provide medical aid. One mujahed in Kunar in 1987 stepped on a mine and bled to death because the others could not help him. I saw him only after his body was already wrapped up in a blanket. But I am sure very many mujahideen died like that after being wounded, because no one could help them. I am also sure that this is still happening today in Afghanistan to the Taliban and other insurgent forces, probably a lot more than in the 1980s because the  Americans today are a much more powerful and dangerous enemy than the Soviets ever were. What is interesting in this is that the Americans themselves also generally hold quite strong religious or quasi-religious convictions, and they are clearly well aware of how important those are in keeping up the morale of their troops in the field. I have met American Army chaplains (not in Afghanistan, of course) who seemed to play a role similar to that of communist political commissars, but probably much more effectively because of the enormous potential power of religious belief. Few things can help people overcome the fear of death as much as religious belief. But at the same time few things can drive people to commit atrocities without remorse on the scale that religious conviction has done. Probably the only thing that comes close in this sense is a conviction of racial superiority like that of the Nazis.
About what I think of Sayyaf’s activities today, as a member of the Afghan parliament, etc.:
I know very little about what Sayyaf has done since I met him in 1984. I have read the Wikipedia article on him, and some other accounts that accuse him of having ordered massacres and of having helped the fake journalists who murdered Ahmadshah Massoud in 2001. But I have not heard from him or anyone connected with him, and don’t know his side of the story at all. I know that he always had good connections with the Saudis. I have grave doubts about the role that the Saudi government has played and is playing in the world, and in Pakistan and Afghanistan in particular. It seems like they are playing both ends, supporting the propagation of radical Islam on one hand while keeping strong military and economic relations with the US on the other. I can only guess that this is because they feel they need both in order to preserve the House of Saud. About whether the West should cooperate with people like Sayyaf, I don’t know. I believe the US-dominated foreign military intervention as it is now must end as soon as possible. Perhaps a peacekeeping force could be put together with the help of neighboring Islamic countries, and then a wholly new political process should take place that would include the Afghan insurgents. These are just my feelings but I don’t know anywhere near enough about the situation to be able to give any kind of advice on what can be done to bring peace and good fortune to Afghanistan.
About my memories of Pakistan:
In December of 1987 I spent two weeks in Baltistan observing the work of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, and for a number of years after that I felt that I had to return to that area to help with development programs and get a chance to hike a bit in those awesome mountains. I have since read the book Three Cups of Tea, about an American by the name of Greg Mortenson, who was in Baltistan a few years after I left and who has built many schools for both boys and girls not only in that area but also in Hunza, Afghanistan and the Pamirs – much more than I could have hoped to accomplish. That book is now my favorite.
Getting back to your initial question, yes, I do have a special attachment to Pakistan and Afghanistan. But whether it was the most special time of my life: I would have to say no. It was special and a unique set of experiences for me in some ways but it was not the most special time. I feel there were many very special experiences, mostly very different from each other and unique in some ways — but none stands out as the most special of all.
About my stays in Pakistan, in 1984, 1985 and 1987-88, I have to point out that they amounted to a combined total of barely six months, and I spent most of that time in Islamabad and Peshawar — so that was not so long. I found most people I met there quite friendly and hospitable, and I liked the atmosphere in the towns very much. I found most places I saw very beautiful because there was a lot of green all around, especially in Islamabad. I very much enjoyed walking in the Margalla hills, for example, and along Rawal Lake.
Another thing I enjoyed very much was the food. I often ate food I bought from people in the street or in cheap eateries, and almost always liked everything. The only time I ever felt sick from food was when some British people I met in Skardu, in Baltistan, gave me some British shepherd’s pie — I ate it out of politeness but hated it from the start and vomited afterwards…
Also, during my third stay of exactly five months in 1987-88 I started drinking the water in Islamabad and Peshawar straight from the tap and never had any problem. And, of course I loved seeing the big mountains in northern Pakistan, even though I didn’t get a chance to do any real hiking in them as I was always short of time and money, and not adequately equipped for that type of thing. On the negative side, apart from seeing the juxtaposition of opulence and miserable poverty and disease, which is sadly, of course, not at all unique or unusual, one of the most difficult aspects of life in Pakistan for me was what I would call the “absence” of women from street life in the countryside, and that was the same in Afghanistan. I find the presence of women extremely important and comforting. In the cities you can see women in the streets but in the countryside it seems almost like they don’t really exist or at least they are always hidden because you cannot see their faces. I don’t know of anything more beautiful than the face of a beautiful woman — though I am not and have never been a womanizer at all; it is just one of the greatest pleasures to see them. Pakistan has many really beautiful women, but you don’t see them in the countryside.
It is very hard for me to pick out one particular point that I liked most about Pakistan; I think every country has a certain “feel” to it, and I just liked the “feel” of Pakistan very much, even though I am also aware of its dark side, which I could not ignore. I have hope that the country’s problems can be overcome someday.
About what I think the most tragic outcome of 9/11 was, and whether I see a glimmer of hope for the world:
I think that the reaction of the United States to 9/11 was much worse for the world than 9/11 itself. The so-called war on terror, to me, is a war of terror. Humankind’s addiction to violence and war has worsened very much because the USA tries hard to make them look clean and neat even while inflicting great suffering and damage on other countries and wasting enormous resources that could be used instead to help resolve the problems that generate terrorism in the first place. – I do see glimmers of hope as more and more people in the United States and elsewhere are slowly coming to realize that military means cannot resolve the world’s problems. I was inspired when I saw how people around the world expressed solidarity with the American people after 9/11, but then, tragically, the feeling of empathy was lost as the US embarked on what was really a campaign of revenge. Recently,   after a series of natural disasters struck various places around the world, it seemed that a new spirit of empathy and solidarity started to emerge. I only hope I am not just dreaming…

2009/08/26

Under Fire… in Afghanistan

Filed under: Thoughts&Journeys — Tags: — tramp11 @ 21:35

Reading about the terrible battle in Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley in Hal Moore’s book “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young” reminds me of my own comparatively puny experiences of coming under fire in Afghanistan 20-odd years ago. It also reminds me of the horribly realistic first half hour in the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” I wonder if having bullets whizzing around your ears is more scary than artillery shells exploding nearby – which is what I experienced. I never faced small arms fire, although a volley of machine gun bullets dug up the ground in front of my feet during the civil war in Lebanon once in June 1985 — a warning from the Lebanese Forces against my taking pictures.
In Afghanistan, on my first trip after the Soviets invaded, I was with Abdul Rasul Sayyaf in Jaji, Paktia Province in late August 1984, two months after the same Sayyaf welcomed Osama Bin Laden in the same area on his first visit to that country. Bin Laden and his men had their baptism of fire under Soviet aerial bombardment in Jaji that time (according to the excellent book “The Looming Tower” by Lawrence Wright) — they were scared shitless, and Sayyaf and his seasoned Afghan fighters thought those guys were useless. Three years later Bin Laden would become the big Muslim war hero after a battle with Soviet commando forces in the same area.

I had my own baptism of fire – so to speak – also together with Sayyaf’s men, in a forward base they called Badullah, in a small tent pitched behind a rock at the foot of a range of hills overlooking the high plain near the army garrison Sayyaf’s men just named “Chownee,” which apparently just means cantonment (perhaps Ali Khel, I don’t know for sure – a larger army base a little further out was called Narai). Mujahideen were firing 82-mm mortars from positions just above us into Chownee, and an artillery gun, mortar crews and at least one tank fired back towards us from the garrison. Mortar bombs and artillery shells were exploding close by as I was talking — actually shouting — to Commander Mohammed Naim in that little tent. The mujahideen seemed unperturbed by the din and the shaking of the ground under us. They knew we were safe. I was a bit queasy but their confidence made me feel better. At one point a mujahed stepped out of the tent for a second after a mortar bomb explosion very close by and came right back, dropping a very hot piece of shrapnel in front of me. I picked it up later and kept it as a souvenir.

Another time, in a camouflaged Dashaka .50 caliber (12.7-mm) heavy machine-gun position a bit closer to Chownee I was with mujahideen who were firing into the army base, trying to hit a building where 7 Soviet advisers were staying, according to Commander Naim (based on info from defectors). I was supposed to fire that gun myself at one point but it jammed. A tank from the base fired a few rounds back at us. The first two fell short but the third one passed just above our heads – so close you could “feel” it – and blew up a tree some 50 meters to the rear. Again another time a few of us crossed a steep hillside completely exposed to fire from Chownee while mujahideen mortar crews behind a ridge just above us shelled the base. Artillery from the base fired back and blasted the rocks above us.

A year later in August 1985 I climbed over high mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border with a different group of mujahideen (Yunus Khalis) who were planning to attack the exposed Afghan army garrison of Barikot in the Kunar Valley. They fired a total of 17 rockets from a place on the river the fighters called Narei. The response took longer than I expected, indicating to me that the rockets had probably missed their target. The first mortar round from Barikot exploded in the exact location from where the rockets had been fired. You can hear them whistling if they are going to hit some distance away — not if they come too close. Of course, there was no one left in that place. The next round came quite a bit closer to where I was — still whistling. They were taking potshots, but they might get lucky and hit us. Another round changed direction a little bit, again, and I thought my cover behind a mud wall might not be good enough. The fourth and last round took out a chunk of the corner of a mud house about 50-60 meters from me.

In October 1987 I was in the Kunar Valley again, much further south and perhaps about 8 km or so north of the capital Asadabad and the nearby Soviet air base of Chagha Sarai. I was with Commander Ajab Khan on top of Tari Sar hill, watching as mortar bombs fired by mujahideen in the mountains to the east exploded closer and closer to a small army base called Shigal Tarna just across the fast-flowing river below. The commander used a walkie talkie to direct the crews. Finally one, two, three bombs exploded right in the middle of the base. “Allahu Akbar,” resounded the cry of the mujahideen. During the whole time a heavy artillery gun inside the base had kept up a slow but steady fire into the mountains and its boom reverberated through the valleys. But now, suddenly, we “felt” something like a swishing sound in the air above us, and seconds later a hillside to the northeast was covered by plumes of smoke. “Bimsiezda,” commented one mujahed. It was a Soviet multiple rocket launcher, firing from the Asadabad area. Shortly after the second rocket salvo whizzed by we were on our way down the hill to get back to the Mujahideen caves and dugouts in the Shultan Valley closer to the Pakistani border. Just before we left the position we saw a helicopter landing in Shigal Tarna, possibly coming to pick up wounded soldiers there.

There was no more fire from the mujahideen mortar crews after this but soon the “dooshman” or “shuravi” (enemy) were firing into “our” Shultan Valley from three sides with rocket launchers, field guns and heavy mortars: Asadabad to the south, Shigal Tarna to the west and the Asmar garrison upstream to the north. I don’t know if this can be called a barrage but the shelling continued for a long time until late into the night. The ground shook many times under our feet and the sound was frightening once or twice when several very heavy shells exploded close to each other not much more than 100 meters away and lit up the valley. But it seems they did not use airburst munitions because I think some of us would have been blown away. Also surprisingly, there was no air activity, and in fact I never once experienced being under aerial bombardment.

The big difference between my experiences and those of most soldiers/fighters in combat or civilians under bombardment is that neither I nor any of the mujahideen close to me was ever wounded or killed. I saw one wounded mujahed being carried by others in the mountains once, and another who had bled to death after triggering a land mine that blew off his legs — but his body had already been wrapped up in blankets. I didn’t see anyone getting hurt in battle. I think if I had I might have been just as scared as Bin Laden’s men in their first experience in Jaji. So, yes, I have been under fire — but it was nothing at all compared to what unfortunately too many other people have experienced. And it continues…

Like most if not all of those people I wish for peace.

Tramp11 with mujahideen at bombed-out Sao village -Kunar Valley Afghanistan August 1985

Tramp11 with mujahideen at bombed-out Sao village -Kunar Valley Afghanistan August 1985

2008/07/28

Time – an accumulation of memory in universal consciousness, not entropy -updated

Filed under: Thoughts, Thoughts&Journeys — Tags: — tramp11 @ 20:27

Recently I read an article by a scientist who proposed that the “flow” or “arrow” of time is basically the growth of entropy, including decay. When you pour milk into a cup of coffee, for example, it would be extremely difficult to go back and separate the milk from the coffee. The same applies if you try to rebuild an organism that has completely decayed.

I propose a different explanation, though I don’t have the scientific knowledge to back it up: the direction of the “flow” of time is determined by the accumulation of memory in universal consciousness. Everything is memory / universally stored  information, which keeps increasing with the passage of time and can never decrease (otherwise time would “flow” backwards). Even the mysterious dark energy and dark matter that seem to fill our universe may be a store of memory. We carry the memory of our ancestors within us – even though we are mostly not aware of it. Memory is the imprint that everything leaves on universal consciousness or god (see my posts about god/universal consciousness below). – Unlike the scientist who believes the flow of time is the growth of entropy, I believe that entropy is only something like a side effect – it is inevitable and it always distorts or degrades memory to some extent, but it is not a dominant aspect of reality.

2008/04/29

My view of “God” as it has evolved

Filed under: Thoughts&Journeys — tramp11 @ 22:49

Peaks overlooking upper Kachura Valley Baltistan December 1987

Diary entry 26 April 2008:

Recapitulation of my ideas about god:  What monotheists refer to as “God” is — to me — universal consciousness, the cosmos as a whole, the “sum” of all consciousness. God is in everything and everything is god. We humans are the highest level of consciousness on this planet earth — as far as we know — and we represent the highest level of the evolution of god here. On our small “island” in the cosmos god evolves through us, changes through us. If our “island” the earth is unique in this sense, then we humans are the spearhead of the evolution of god itself. God is not in any way greater than the cosmos and did not “create” it, and cannot exist separately from this cosmos. In fact, if we are unique — which seems unlikely if the cosmos is as we perceive it (see my posts below: “The End of Religion…” and “The Universe And Us”), though certainly not impossible — then god is dependent on us to a great extent.

God has a “personality” of its own, and each one of us humans — and every other intelligent being that may exist elsewhere — represents an aspect of the “personality” of god. Each one of us reflects a facet of god’s nature.

If the cosmos itself “emerged” in some way through a Big Bang or something like it, then god was the internal essence that “emerged” with it, as did what we know as the laws of nature. The cosmos was not “created” based on any design but emerged and evolved through a process of trial and error, “guided” by god’s evolving intelligence based on the organization of memory. The emergence of life on earth and its evolution was also “guided” in this way by god. Humankind is a product of this evolution, taking consciousness to the highest level known so far on earth.

I believe god inspired man to create religions, spiritual teachings, etc., because it wanted to find a way to guide or even control humankind.

(More on 29 April 2008):  This is also the reason why humans and just about everything else tends toward forming hierarchies and pecking orders. God needs hierarchical organization in order to be able to exploit and control “created” beings. And what we have come to regard as “good” and “evil” are just different ways of looking at things from the larger perspective of god. God has traditionally favored the strong, the top of any pecking order hierarchy, because he draws the greatest pleasure from that type of organization of both living beings and inanimate reflections of his consciousness. Is god, then, like a human in his feelings and behavior? I say, absolutely, yes: at least on this earth, our tiny part of the cosmos (=>”the universe and us” below), god cannot be otherwise, because we are this way — we reflect god’s nature and god is no greater than us as a collective, and no better.

(For a chronological account of my changing view of God, see: “My View of God…”)

More to come …

2008/03/10

There is no “absolute,” no “perfection”

Filed under: Thoughts&Journeys — tramp11 @ 21:16

My daughter in front of the Eiger North Face Switzerland Sep2005

November 2007 diary entry:  I continue to believe that we — humankind — must outgrow religion and all of the things that have divided us in such a way as to lead to war. All of our religions, which have been the foundations of civilizations, have tended to divide us because they have led us to use force against each other in the name of a god or gods. There are always “chosen” ones, favorites, or the “good” in religion as opposed to the others, the “bad” or “evil.” I do believe in an ideal of “goodness,” which we have been developing. There is no absolute “good.” There is no absolute anything at all. We are striving towards a goal that can never be reached — but which is nonetheless a worthy goal. Our understanding of this goal, this imaginary and forever unreachable “absolute” goodness, is evolving, and so is our ability to put this understanding into practice. But we must come to realize that the universal consciousness, the fundamental essence of the cosmos that we like to call “God,” is in itself neither good nor evil, and cannot move our world towards goodness without our help. — We have to begin by thinking and feeling as “we,” “us,” including all humankind; and beyond that all living beings, to a lesser extent.

2007/12/15

Winter View of Khaplu, Baltistan, Dec. 1987

Filed under: Thoughts&Journeys — tramp11 @ 08:31

Winter View of Khaplu, Baltistan, Dec. 1987

Afghanistan and Thoughts About War & Peace – updated

Filed under: Thoughts, Thoughts&Journeys — tramp11 @ 08:13

About my trips to Afghanistan

About Afghanistan, I have visited that country 4 times – once from Iran in 1972 when the king was still there (he reigned 40 years – 1933-1973), and 3 times from Pakistan with mujahideen fighting the Soviets, in 1984, 1985 and 1987. Each time I stayed only between 4 and 6 days — because I didn’t have more time, unfortunately — so I have never even seen the capital, Kabul. The first time in March 1972 I went to Herat and Kandahar, and in 1984 I spent 6 days with A.R. Sayyaf – the man who had just introduced Osama Bin Laden to Afghanistan 2 months before I met him in Jaji, Paktia Province (and he had helped Bin Laden to set up shop there — I didn’t know Bin Laden then, of course, although I did have a connection to his country Saudi Arabia as I had made the Haj pilgrimage in 1972-73 and almost got married in Jeddah that time — long story… see “My first Journeys” below”). Then in 1985 and again in 1987 I spent a few days with other groups of mujahideen who launched rocket and mortar attacks in Kunar Province. Each time I went barely more than 10 miles into Afghanistan (on foot), but I also came under artillery fire each of the 3 times with the mujahideen (close enough to have shrapnel hit the ground a few feet from me). I wrote for the Middle East Times weekly at the time, which I had helped to found in early 1983 in Cyprus.

I think we have to stop regarding and treating groups of people different from our own as non-humans, regardless of what some of their members may have done. I was in Afghanistan a few times during the Soviet occupation, but I had also seen Afghanistan the way it was when the king was still there — a country in relative peace for over 40 years. The radicalization caused to a large extent — if not exclusively — by foreign intervention is very obvious and terrible. The Afghans opposed to this foreign intervention (be it Soviet or US/NATO or whatever) face an enemy with overwhelming firepower and resources. Their situation is almost hopeless. There is enormous disruption and suffering. The result is that these fighters eagerly listen to the most radical, fanatic leaders and become virtually brainwashed, and some of them end up committing unspeakable atrocities. Foreign military intervention can only breed more of this radicalization and hatred — and especially suffering & disaster.
Erwin Franzen, for the Facebook group “Troops out of Afghanistan,” 25 January 2009.

Foreign Troops Out of Afghanistan

I think we have to stop regarding and treating groups of people different from our own as non-humans, regardless of what some of their members may have done. I was in Afghanistan a few times during the Soviet occupation, but I had also seen Afghanistan the way it was when the king was still there — a country in relative peace for over 40 years. The radicalization caused to a large extent — if not exclusively — by foreign intervention is very obvious and terrible. The Afghans opposed to this foreign intervention (be it Soviet or US/NATO or whatever) face an enemy with overwhelming firepower and resources. Their situation is almost hopeless. There is enormous disruption and suffering. The result is that these fighters eagerly listen to the most radical, fanatic leaders and become virtually brainwashed, and some of them end up committing unspeakable atrocities. Foreign military intervention can only breed more of this radicalization and hatred — and especially suffering & disaster.

tramp11, for the Facebook group “Troops out of Afghanistan,” 25 January 2009.
Can We Believe in World Peace?

From a message I wrote in December 2007 to a grandchild of the famous WWII General George S. Patton, Jr. (who is interred in the US military cemetery where I work and which also holds the graves of some 5,000 of his soldiers):

… I think the most worthy goal is to work for peace, which means first of all to help people to believe in peace — world peace, that is. Humankind has lived with war throughout the history we know, and because of that most people nowadays don’t seem to believe world peace is possible — unless a heavenly Savior comes down to earth and uses supernatural powers to establish it (by force?). Too many people think it’s naive to believe that humankind can build a peaceful world, and any effort in this direction is doomed. Your grandfather fought in the two world wars and he could surely see how the outcome of the first one led almost directly to the second one, and he also foresaw that the second one could lead to a third one. He needed war in a way – to prove himself as a soldier – but he also needed peace for his family. He did not get a chance to see the peace that has now lasted 60 years over all his battlefields in western Europe. His son, your father, followed in his footsteps in war but he also saw the peace, and he consolidated the gains made by your grandfather in southern Germany after the war by building a friendship with former enemies. Your generation of the Pattons has really grasped the value and meaning of peace, and I think there is something big there on which you can build real faith in peace — and inspire others to believe.

We cherish freedom, and the saying goes that it is not free. But does war give us freedom? Does war make us secure — even if it is a war our soldiers fight in distant places? Are those places really so distant anymore in this day and age? Can we always rely on the west’s overwhelming military superiority to ensure our freedom and safety and prosperity by taking war to other lands and keeping it away from our shores? Is that good, right, just? Can we label other people as “evil” or as “barbarians” or “rats” and then utterly destroy them, and go on to live in peace with ourselves? Hitler and his gang tried that with the Jews, for example… Luckily they were stopped and defeated before it was too late. However, ideas similar to theirs continue to proliferate in different guises and in insidious ways. We have to guard against that by promoting peace.¨

Not long ago our agency (which maintains American military cemeteries) adopted a “new” motto: Time Will Not Dim the Glory of Their Deeds — which is something Gen. Pershing said after WWI. I think WWII came to dim somewhat the “glory” of those deeds — because it showed that regardless of their own value the larger cause for which they were done (the war to end all wars) was lost. And other wars since then have dimmed the “glory” of the deeds done in WWII. But is “glory” the true message of our cemetery? Does glorification help to promote peace, freedom – all the things we cherish most?

Many American visitors to our cemetery also like to visit the (nearby) German (military) cemetery, and some of them find it drab and uninspiring compared to the beauty of ours. It is the final resting place of those who fought on the side that lost the war. But the idea behind the German cemetery is to promote peace. In all the literature of the German war graves commission (Kriegsgräberfürsorge) I find one theme that is emphasized: peace.

I wish our cemetery could also help to inspire people to believe in peace.

About War

From a message to a friend on 15 February 2007: … I am not an absolute pacifist but I do believe wars are very, very serious business and cause so much unpredictable upheaval and so much suffering that every effort should be made to avoid them. Virtually every war sows the seeds for another because there are always loose ends and problems inevitably created by the way the war is fought that ultimately lead to other wars. The unresolved problems of World War I led to World War II, and unresolved problems created or exacerbated by WWII have led to many smaller conflicts around the world that are even now still playing themselves out — and sowing seeds for further conflicts. It is too easy for people to talk about war and even to send others to fight wars when they themselves and their families face no or little danger of becoming victims of those wars. I have very little experience of war myself but I have been close enough to wars, both directly and through meeting survivors, to at least take them very seriously. I feel that far too many people in the west don’t take war seriously enough. …  [this is mainly because the west, especially the United States, possesses military power that is so vastly superior to anything almost any potential foe can muster that it has no need to fear serious retaliation for any attack it decides to launch].  As far as America having been isolationist — I don’t think that is really even true; America has always intervened politically and militarily in other countries, probably more than any other nation since the decline of the European colonial empires. Yes,  it has learned from the mistakes made by the European colonialists and has not behaved as badly as they did in occupying others, but it has nonetheless caused a lot of misery — and indeed killed tens or hundreds of others for every American killed in its wars. And it is far from over…

The US attack on Iraq

Adapted from an email to a friend in April 2003 – a month after the USA attacked Iraq: … I have several major problems with what I see in the beliefs and attitudes of many conservative and neoconservative Americans today. For one thing: they seem to value the lives of “Americans” (actually, most especially Americans of European or primarily European ancestry, meaning “whites”) so highly that the taking of one of them can only be avenged by the deaths of tens or even hundreds of “others.” I have met Americans and read opinions of others who seem to feel, for example, that even the firebombing of Tokyo and the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not sufficient revenge for the attack on Pearl Harbor (that and the Bataan Death March [here the few hundred American dead counted far more than the many thousands of Filipinos who died at the same time] seem to figure much more prominently in Americans’ minds than the Rape of Nanking and other Japanese atrocities in China and Korea, and elsewhere).

To many Americans, it seems, the deaths of over 55 million “others” in World War II don’t really compare in significance to those of the 400,000-odd American servicemen/women who also died at that time. Perhaps, if they could be brought to seriously think about it, their feelings would be different. I don’t know.
I am also worried that the Christian conservatives seem to be turning their America into something akin to a religion. I feel that there are grave dangers in exaggerated nationalism, especially when it is combined with a certain callous and arrogant attitude towards other nations and the will to use an awesome military machine that can kill thousands of people (even if they are labeled “terrorists” or simply called “ragheads”) in the blink of an eye without risking any serious retaliation.
You know, there have always been “really evil” people. Can you say that the thousands of Taliban or even Al Qaeda members and camp followers who were wiped out in Afghanistan or the thousands of Iraqi soldiers blown up in the latest conflict — quite apart from the civilian lives lost or destroyed — were all really evil? Of course not. So how are they to be accounted for — as expendable for the sake of the greater good? What greater good…? Who decides and based on what? This is might, not right!

Saddam Hussein and his gang can surely be called evil — but he didn’t just suddenly come to power in Iraq — nor is he the only evil one around. But one thing is for sure: whatever military capabilities he ever possessed, they were absolutely nothing compared to the power that just swept him away. The United States has by far the most potent nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities in the world. Luckily for us (so far), it has a fairly good system of checks and balances that normally restrains it from any misuse of those capabilities on a massive scale. I believe everyone needs to do their best to help that system of checks and balances work as it should — and that may sometimes mean opposing the government in power or warning of the dangers one sees in certain courses of action.

*** Today, 4 years later, I have the impression that the system of checks and balances has broken down. This is much more dangerous than any threat from “terrorism.”

2007/07/01

The Indus east of Skardu -Baltistan Dec. 1987 -EF

Filed under: Thoughts&Journeys — tramp11 @ 11:26

The Indus east of Skardu -Baltistan Dec. 1987 -EF

2007/06/24

SPIRITUAL JOURNEY (backwards – latest first, mostly)

Filed under: Thoughts&Journeys — tramp11 @ 14:19

Two very brief recent diary entries:

18 March 2007: To me, the Cosmos is the result of some billions of years of trial and error by its universal consciousness [more on that in earlier posts below about religion]. Everything came about by trial and error.

11 May 2007: Intelligent design or Evolution? Intelligent => Yes. Design => No! Evolution => absolutely, Yes. Trial and error over billions of years, and intelligence = memory, primarily memory.

The End of Religion -updated

Diary entry Sunday 7 May 2006: It’s been over a year since I wrote in this diary . Nothing dramatic has happened. My thinking has continued to evolve, because I keep learning. The more I learn the more I see that there is so much more to learn in the subjects that I find most interesting: philosophy, human history, cosmology and geography.
Since the tragedy of 9/11 – 11 September 2001 and the American reaction to it I have found it hard to concentrate on subjects other than the current political, economic and military situation in the world. But I have read some books and many commentaries that have given me new insights on how the world – and the USA in particular came to that point. I have also read a few interesting texts on philosophy and religion/atheism that have given me food for thought. I don’t know anybody who would be open to discuss with me my ideas about religion – or even interested in the thoughts I have expressed in my Internet “blogs” (taken mostly from my diaries).
As my thinking has evolved I have come to feel that I have simply gone way beyond anything that could be called religion, and I am no longer challenged by religion at all. Religion – even in its broadest sense – is no longer of any interest to me because I now believe it is primarily a device that has been used to control people through fear and to impede the evolution of our minds. It is true that religious people have helped greatly at times to advance human morality – but even though it was undoubtedly important to put forward those ideals, most efforts to put them into practice led to the worst disasters and human atrocities that the world has known. The ideals were always turned into ideologies based on disastrously false premises. Why did this happen? But also, why can the vast majority of humankind apparently not live without some kind of religion?
I continue to be challenged by atheism. I do believe there is something we can call god – though a very strange one – but other than as an answer to the above questions I have almost no arguments to support the notion that a god exists. I simply don’t feel comfortable with the positions of the different forms of atheism. But I have no answers for atheists and no “defense” against their arguments.
Continued on Wednesday 10 May 2006 at 03:00 a.m.: Somehow I still do believe in the existence of a “god” even though I have no strong argument – much less proof – for this. As my earlier diary entries indicate (see my posts about god and the universe below), my idea of “god” has evolved very much over the past 10-12 years as I have gradually weaned myself away from the ideology of (the Korean “Rev.”) Moon Sun Myung’s Unification Church – the Divine Principle – and beyond that the whole idea of religion itself. I still think that there is something like universal consciousness and that that is “god.” But I believe, as I have explained in my diary entry of 6 April 2004 – which is my post “Thoughts About God” below – that this god has a personality of his/its own, like a human being. And to me the most important idea about this god is that he/it evolves. He/it evolves and changes together with us – and whatever other “intelligent” beings may exist in other worlds – and in fact through us. Universal consciousness to me means that everything – including inanimate objects – is conscious on some level, and of course human and other “intelligent” beings are conscious at the highest levels. The sum of all consciousness is god, but he/it is more than the sum of the parts and therefore he/it (I don’t want to imply -with “he” -that god is male) has a personality of his/its own. We have another name for god that I think is quite appropriate: “Mother Nature.” — Whimsical Mother Nature – that is god. But we cannot separate from this god – unlike what the common idea of Mother Nature implies – because we are a vital part of him/it. But the idea that this god is to be worshiped is a holdover from the days when humankind was even more primitive than it still is today. Religion – and especially the idea of worshiping anything – really should belong to earlier ages and should be banished from our evolving society. As long as we continue to be bound to such ideas we remain extremely primitive. It is utterly idiotic to worship god, or anything else, though I think god – just like our kings and queens of the past – enjoys being worshiped.
Yet these are the things and ideas that have held up the evolution of our society towards the higher planes where we will become so sensitive and attuned to each other and the spirit of the whole – including god – that the very idea of hurting another being or of fighting or war will seem completely outlandish and impossible. We will no longer need to kill or destroy living beings in order to feed our bodies because we will be able to get our nourishment from inanimate matter. A stone is conscious because of the reality of universal consciousness, but a stone is not a living being that feels pain when its shape is changed. We will be able to “eat” stones – to derive our nourishment from stones or create it from hydrogen, etc. In today’s reality all this seems crazy – but I think this is where we are going. — I have too little time to analyze and correct my thoughts before committing them to paper – so they are not always logically consistent…
More about god from an email I sent to a friend on 16 May 2006:
… I think I never went as far as you did in having deep spiritual experiences, though at times I certainly felt something like what Einstein called the “cosmic religious feeling.” I know other people who have gone much further.
In my view now – as it has evolved over the years – the evil we perceive is as deep within ourselves as is the good. Both come from a god who should not be regarded the way we have learned to regard him (it). This god itself has only gradually – and together with our forebears and us – developed an understanding of certain things as good and others as evil – a process that will likely continue for eons to come. This is why I deliberately put the very word god in small characters (though not consistently so). I don’t want to capitalize that word so as to avoid giving the impression that it is something to be worshiped – because all of us who have grown up with religion have a one-sided, false view of god as an all-good father (and mother) of the world but what I consider the real god is also the same as “satan.” The most important point about this god is that it evolves through us – it can only change towards good through us and together with us (and all other intelligent beings in the cosmos – if any). We and this universe are like the body of this god and it cannot have a separate existence without this body, yet neither can we and the universe exist without the mind of god, whose consciousness makes all of this possible. Consciousness=existence and v.v. When I use the word “creation” (a word I really don’t like because it implies something impossible such as making something concrete out of nothing) I mean a process of changing elements of the body of god, bundling parts of its energy into different forms of matter and making new things out of existing material. If we worship this god we behave like stupid children. It is high time we started growing up in that sense.
Of course, just like you I don’t believe in “evangelizing,” proselytizing. I don’t believe in religion at all anymore – any kind of religion, other than Einstein’s “cosmic religious feeling,” which is within ourselves because we are god and god is us. God is no better and no greater than us, because he (it) exists through us as we exist through our bodies. I am telling you these things simply because in telling them I have to formulate and clarify them in my own mind and thus I can come to understand them better myself.
Anyway – I feel we have to grow up and to grow out of religion…
—–
Correction/Clarification added on 2 December 2006: After reading more from others on the subject of the above text and thinking about it I now feel that I used some inappropriate and misleading terms. In talking about “religion” above, what I really mean is a dominant religious or pseudo-religious ideology (e.g. including communism), not what is commonly described as faith. I am not against religious faith of any kind that inspires a culture, only against ideologies of any kind that come to dominate cultures. To the extent that organized religions have indeed dominated cultures or civilizations I would want to see an end to those religions. I now feel, however, that my use of the term “banish” in the diary entry in saying religion “should be banished from our evolving society” was inappropriate because it implies, wrongly, that I would advocate some kind of forceful action to rid society of religion as such. I believe in Einstein’s “cosmic religious feeling,” together with Bertrand Russell’s vision on his 80th birthday: to “care for what is noble,” beautiful, gentle, and “to allow moments of insight to give wisdom at more mundane times,” and to work towards creating a society “where individuals grow freely, and where hate and greed and envy die because there is nothing to nourish them.” To those things that have to “die” I would also add arrogance — the feeling of superiority over others as individuals or groups of any kind that appears to give one or one’s group the right to dominate them. This probably comes from one of the base aspects of god that I described in my 2004 entry “Thoughts about god,” and that we will have to change as we evolve with god to higher levels.
—-
More, adapted from a message to a friend on 27 December 2006:
… Even though I do respect the position of atheism because it is most logical I continue to feel that there is something else. But this something else is INSIDE, NOT BEYOND this world. This god, in my view, is inside us and inside everything – and it is not outside or beyond our world and our universe. If our cosmos could be said to have had any beginning at all, then this god began with it and could not have existed “before” the cosmos. And it grew and changed and evolved with the cosmos, because it IS the cosmos.
—-
More, from a message to another friend on 3 January 2007:
I tend to think that people who have died continue to exist in some way, but not in a heaven or a hell. I feel everything and everybody that ever existed did not just come and then disappear completely — they are like imprints on this universal consciousness or god or whatever you want to call it, and as such they are eternal. And I don’t believe time is really as it seems to be, leaving everything behind at some point. Nothing is really completely left behind. We and the cosmos carry everything and everybody with us into the future forever. So nothing and nobody is “just gone.”
***

Memory of California Thanksgiving 1975

Excerpt from my diary entry for Thanksgiving Day 28 November 1996: … Today being Thanksgiving reminds me of my most memorable Thanksgiving Day in America 21 years ago (it was also my first Thanksgiving there since I arrived in the States on 6 March 1975). That year, 1975, Thanksgiving Day fell on 27 November, a day earlier than this year. The day began, for me, in a boxcar of a freight train about 10 kilometers or so east of a town called Tracy, which is somewhere to the southwest of Stockton, California. It had been my third and last ride on a freight train in California (the first ride had taken me from Roseville outside Sacramento, where I had spent 3 days without a roof over my head, to a railroad yard only a couple of miles away, and the second ride was from that yard to Stockton at night).
With me in the boxcar outside Tracy was a man whom I had met in Sacramento (at the Salvation Army soup kitchen) a few days earlier and who had given his name as “Bob Robinson,” from West Virginia (if I remember correctly). We had tramped together. He had been on many freight trains and could tell many horror stories about life as a hobo. He said he also once spent 8 years in jail in Louisiana on charges of armed robbery. And he said he had fought in Korea. I estimated his age at 40-45. And he also said he’d been a boxer.
We had gone from Stockton to a place called French Camp, hitch-hiking and walking, planted onions in a field together with some Mexican workers for a few bucks. Then we went on to the small town of Lathrop and spent the next two cold nights out under the stars on a nearby swath of tumbleweed-strewn wasteland. I bought bottles of cheap red wine here and there along the way, and he drank most of it (he wanted the stuff but said he had no money, so since we were traveling together I bought it for him). We hoped to be able to catch a freight train going south through Lathrop, but the ones that passed were all going too fast. No way to catch them. “Bob” (he also called me Bob because he could not memorize my first name) had persuaded me to come with him to Indio, southeast of Los Angeles, for the winter, where he had previously worked in lumbering and where he thought we might both find temporary work.
The third night at Lathrop, on the eve of Thanksgiving, we saw some workers preparing a freight train for a trip. There were two nice boxcars, one with both doors wide open — just right. Bob got in while I went to get my backpack and his bedroll. When I came back there was no sign of Bob. It was pitchdark inside that boxcar. When I called him there was a muffled sound as if someone moaned in pain. I got in and the moaning intensified. There was something big on the floor under my feet and when I touched it I realized that there were several big and heavy wooden boards lying there. It turned out that they had been standing upright when Bob arrived, leaning against the wall of the boxcar and fastened there. Bob had apparently loosened them and they fell right on top of him. I pulled them off to the side one after another. They were so heavy that I could only lift one side of one of them at a time. I couldn’t see Bob’s face but he must have been miserable. He complained of excruciating pain in one leg and one side of his pelvis/hip. And he stank of excrement. His pants were full of shit. I assumed that the heavy load must have pressed on his abdomen, forcing his feces out. Luckily I had a spare pair of pants in my backpack. So I used handkerchiefs and paper tissue and a small towel to clean up his legs and buttocks in the dark after carefully pulling off his soiled trousers (he couldn’t move one of his legs at all and couldn’t even turn on his hips).
He cried in pain. Very slowly I inserted his legs into my spare pants and then covered him with his blankets. He asked me to take him to a doctor. I would have had to carry him, of course. The workers outside were long gone (we had waited till they left before approaching the train). There was an engine at the far end of the train but I didn’t know whether it was manned at this point. I was a bit hesitant to take him to the town because I was an illegal alien in America, liable to face a brief jail sentence and deportation if caught, and we had already committed an offense by just getting on the freight train in the first place. Moreover, I was upset with Bob at the time because he had broken into a trailer home that day trying to steal something. That trailer belonged to a nice middle-aged couple from Missouri (which they pronounced something like “Mazarra”) who had invited us in that morning for a cup of coffee when they found us creeping out of our hoarfrost-covered beddings amid the tumbleweeds. They had told us they planned to drive to Stockton that day, and they left the trailer sitting there. It was not very big but it contained, among other things, several bird cages with various small birds in them, and 2 or 3 dogs.
I gave Bob his wine that evening. He usually took only a few gulps but I later found out he had emptied the bottle this time while I had gone for a walk. I returned to our camp when I heard the Missourians’ dogs barking. Bob came back from the trailer. He was drunk. He confessed that he’d smashed a window with his fist, trying to break in, but gave up when the dogs went crazy. I told him we couldn’t stay together after this. I would not go with him to Indio — and anyway, we had to get out of this area fast because the Missourians would call the police when they returned. Not long after that … [continued on 30 November 1996, Saturday:] … we saw the fateful train with the open boxcar and decided to take one last ride together.
The train started moving before I could make up my mind to take Bob to a doctor. We didn’t go very far, though. Probably less than half an hour. The train stopped in what appeared to be an uninhabited area, because there were no lights except a small one outside a low building nearby that seemed to be empty. At the far end of the train I could see the engine leaving. We were alone in the dark.
In the morning I saw that we were on one of several railroad tracks, and that a road ran beside them — although there was a low fence in between. Bob was still in bad shape. I picked him up carefully and carried him to the fence by the road. Somehow I managed to get him over the fence. He moaned a lot and appeared on the verge of passing out at one point. He clearly was in great pain when I moved him. I brought our luggage. We found out that Bob was able to stand on one leg, and so we stood there, Bob leaning against me, waving wildly at the first car that came up on the road. It sped off. After a while a second car came, and its driver was less afraid than the first one. He rolled down his window and I told him we needed an ambulance as my companion had broken his leg in a bad fall. The man drove off, and sure enough, not much later he came back with an ambulance. Bob was put on a stretcher and I rode in the front of the ambulance with the driver. He told me that they came from a clinic in Tracy.
At the clinic Bob was immediately cleaned and x-rayed. The doctor told me he had suffered a complex fracture of the hipbone and had to be transferred to a bigger hospital in Stockton. I told Bob that our ways had to part because I couldn’t accompany him to Stockton, then wished him good luck. At this point I had only 9 (nine) dollars to my name, and there was nothing more I could do for him …
[continued 1 December 1996:] … I decided that it was time to fulfill a promise I had made to my friends at the Going-Up Press printshop (I’m not sure I remember that name correctly) in Washington D.C., fellow members of the Unification Church, when I left them 16 days earlier on 11 November 1975: to visit a Unification Church center in the San Francisco area on my intended trip around the world. My central figure (boss) at the printshop, Mr. George Edwards, and my friends at “Upshur House,” a former Libyan Embassy building on Upshur Street in D.C., had asked me to do that. One of them had hidden 10 dollars in a small plastic bottle of “holy salt” that I had in my luggage (to supplement my meager fortune of 30 dollars), and another had given me a space blanket for cold nights out under the stars plus the good advice to take (hitch-hike) Interstate Highway 40 instead of I-80 as I had planned. I-80 passes through mountainous Colorado, which is why I favored it (I always loved mountains), but he (he was a giant of a man named Dennis Taylor — a very good brother) looked at my sleeping bag and said I would freeze to death if I slept outside along I-80. He suggested that I take I-40 instead, which runs through North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. I’d followed his advice and made it from D.C. to the Los Angeles area in 5 days (San Fernando Valley, Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, Santa Barbara and finally as far as Arroyo Grande on Route 101 [south of San Luis Obispo] where I spent my first night in California 15-16 November 1975 — I ended up staying in California until 31 January 1976 — exactly 2½ months or 77 days — my favorite state).
I hitch-hiked from Tracy in the general direction of the San Francisco Bay area, hoping to visit the Unification Church center in Oakland and then try to head north again towards Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada — my original destination when I came across the Atlantic on 6 March 1975. After one very brief ride with a young hippie-type couple I was picked up by a man in his mid- thirties (my guess) who drove a big pickup truck. His name was Tom …. — I think — and he said he was from Ohio. He told me he was planning to buy a horse, or horses (don’t remember which) in this area, and then he asked me if I knew Jesus. I told him that I had joined a Christian movement on the East Coast and that I was planning to visit a church of that movement in the Bay Area. In the course of the conversation I admitted to him that I had sort of lost my way in the search for God and wasn’t praying anymore. I might have mentioned to him that the movement I had joined was the Unification Church, which did not ring a bell in his mind, but I certainly did not say anything about Reverend [Sun Myung] Moon, whose name would almost certainly have rung a bell for him. He asked how much money I had on me, and when I said 9 dollars he took a 20-dollar bill from the top of the sunshade above the windshield and handed it to me. He dropped me off on a bridge that crossed the freeway leading north to Concord, saying he had to look at some horses in nearby Livermore and would be back in about an hour. He said he would take me to Concord if I didn’t get a ride until he came back.
Some time after he was gone a car passed me and went down the ramp but stopped just short of the junction with the freeway. A young guy got out, waved to me and shouted, “Do you want a ride?” I picked up my pack and ran down towards him, but on the way I suddenly had a funny feeling that something was wrong with this guy and the way the car stopped where it did. The guy was on the passenger side, and another young man was in the driver’s seat. The car had no rear doors, so the first guy had had to get out to let me in. I dismissed my ill feeling and handed him my backpack when he reached for it. That was my mistake.
Instead of letting me into the car he simply threw my pack into the back and got right back in himself. Almost immediately the driver stepped on the gas and put the engine in gear. I jumped, trying to get on top of the guy who had taken my backpack, but found myself actually hanging between the car and its open door, with one hand on the roof and one on the door (when I told this story to others later they said I had made that up based on Hollywood movies). But as the car began to pick up speed I quickly realized that I was risking my life. Luckily I let go before it was too late. I fell flat on my belly on the freeway, and my glasses fell off my nose. By the time I had put them back in place the car was gone too far for me to be able to read the license plate.
I was unhurt, except for a couple of scratches, so I walked back up to the top of the bridge. The backpack contained nothing valuable to anyone but myself. It was almost all I possessed at that point. It was also a symbol of my past. There was a notebook in which I had written down my ideas and feelings, my philosophy, letters, and my first Divine Principle book, given to me by my spiritual mother, Noriko S. (of Japan).
I still carried a few things in my pockets: my passport, some Polaroid photos I’d taken in New York and my wallet with 29 dollars. That was all. I had symbolically lost my past. And I should have begun a new life at this point. But this type of situation had occurred before and would recur many more times without me ever really succeeding in making a new start — changing my life. I was never able to really cut off from my past, though I tried many times.
Anyway, Tom … came back in his pickup truck, and I told him the story. He said perhaps that was a sign from God that I should go back to the Christian movement I had left and stay with them. Just before he dropped me off in Concord he took two 20-dollar bills from his sunshade, handed them to me, and then took my hand and said a short prayer to Jesus, asking that the Lord guide me.
From Concord I took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train to Berkeley, went to a telephone booth and looked up the Unification Church in the directory. It was listed. The address was on a street or avenue (Euclid Avenue, I think) just off Hearst Street, which lines the nice University of California campus. When I went to the house I was told it was a day-care center or some such thing and the Unification Church had moved out some time (6 months?) ago: new address unknown.
I walked around the campus for awhile, checking out the trees and shrubs to see if there was a good place to sleep without being seen. Then I bought a 20-dollar sleeping bag in a shop downtown and returned to the street where the Unification Church had once been located. I thought I would now try to realize my original plan to go back to Stone Age in the woods of British Columbia. But one of the things I had lost when my backpack was stolen was a book I absolutely needed for that purpose: a wilderness survival guide. So I went to a bookstore near the campus and looked at the books there. They had several interesting ones.
As I was looking through one of those books two well-dressed young men walked up to me and greeted me. I was a bit suspicious because I thought they might be from the Immigration department (INS) looking for illegal aliens like me, or perhaps from the FBI or the CIA or who knows what. They said they were students and told me about an outfit called the Creative Community Project that brought young people from all kinds of backgrounds together to share ideas and experiences with the aim of promoting inter-cultural communication and understanding, and working together to build a better future for all. They mentioned that there was a beautiful farm where young people could study and work together. The idea of such a farm did not alarm me because I had worked on a sort of farm at Barrytown, on the Hudson River near Kingston and the Catskills in New York State, where the Unification Church held its workshops in a building that later became (as of September 1975) the Unification Theological Seminary. We had gardens on that 250-acre property and I had helped to grow corn there, etc.
The two in the bookstore invited me to a free Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and cake at their community place on Hearst Street, and I happily accepted. Being a bit short of money as I was, a free dinner was certainly welcome. After they left it occurred to me that they seemed vaguely familiar. Not because I had seen them before, but there was something in their faces and in the way they talked that was familiar: they seemed like members of the church that I had known back on the East Coast. One of the two, whose name was Trimble, from Minnesota (he was later kidnapped and reportedly became an enemy of our church — deprogramming other members), was just like some other brothers from the Midwest that I had known in New York. Another thing that was funny was my own feeling and attitude. I am by nature a rather pessimistic, melancholy person. And I had just been robbed of my most precious possessions. And I had nowhere near enough money to buy the necessary equipment to survive in the wild in British Columbia or even to make it up there — except if I was very lucky hitch-hiking (in Sacramento I had been stuck for 3 days without getting a ride). And yet I felt happy. I didn’t worry too much about where I would sleep that night or the next.
I went to an ice cream parlor and enjoyed a nice hot fudge sundae (I think — at least that’s what I used to like in New York). Trimble, the “student” (I think his first name was Jeff, but I’m not sure), came in and reminded me of his earlier invitation to the Thanksgiving dinner — at Hearst Street, number such and such, at 18:00 hours. Well, come 18:00 I went to the place. From the beginning I felt something as if I was not going to a strange house but actually coming home. Coming home, indeed. I had never seen the place before but the people’s faces were familiar — somehow. There were many young people. We gathered in a circle in a big room and began to sing songs. I knew the songs. I had sung them all in Barrytown, New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., etc.
I turned to a sister next to me and asked: “Is this the Unification Church? — I’m a member.” She put a finger across her lips and indicated that we should talk after the singing and prayer. We had a great dinner, during which I learned, from the same sister and out of earshot of the others, that this was indeed the Unification Church.She asked me not to use that name, however, because there was too much bad publicity about it. She told me that Rev. Moon had approved the use of the name Creative Community Project.
We were all invited to spend a weekend at the farm at Boonville, 120 miles (200 km) north of San Francisco in the coastal hills — a 750-acre property. Of course I would be happy to go, I said, and signed up. We were to be taken there by bus the following evening — Friday, 28 November 1975. After it was all over I went out to try to find a place to sleep. Though I had been a member on the East Coast for some 8 months, nobody here knew me and they couldn’t let me stay at the center.
That night I walked up a road lining the upper side of Berkeley campus, looking for a place to crash and at the same time enjoying the view across the Bay to the lights of San Francisco … (continued 2 December 1996) … Suddenly I was illuminated by a car’s high beam. It was a patrol car. A police officer came up to me and asked to see some ID. His partner stayed in the car. On the spur of the moment I decided to show him my Luxembourg passport. He leafed through it, looked at the American visa and handed it back to me. Apparently he didn’t know that I was supposed to have an I-94 immigration dept. form attached to a page in the passport, which gave my date of entry into the United States and specified how long I was allowed to stay. I had thrown that form away months ago when it expired with no possibility of renewal. He then told me that I was not allowed to sleep outside near the campus, and he and his buddy left in their patrol car.
People at the church center had given me directions to the local YMCA, where they said I could spend the night for little money. I went there and got a cheap bed for the night. The next day I went up to Boonville, the 750-acre farm, which was called Ideal City Ranch. It’s a beautiful place. I went on to spend about 5 weeks there, attending workshops and helping with the farm work. Then I spent another month or so in San Francisco, mostly witnessing to people in the Fisherman’s Wharf/Ghirardelli Square area (met many New Yorkers there) and once selling roses on the street. I lived in the church center on Washington Street near a small park (Lafayette Park?) in Pacific Heights (?). Only once did I manage to bring a guest to a workshop in Boonville: a German girl by the name of Elisabeth H., who studied in Massachusetts and whom I met at the Wharf. She hailed from Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, I think, and was a practicing Catholic. She joined the (Unification) Church in Oakland later. I met her very briefly 7-8 months later in Washington, D.C., in a McDonald’s, I think. She was on her way to visit her folks in Germany. She said the Oakland Church leaders, Mose and Onni Durst, had given her permission to do that. This surprised me, as we were in the midst of Rev. Moon’s most important campaign in the States: we were preparing for the big Washington Monument rally on 18 September of this Bicentennial Year 1976.
Anyway, so much for the story of Thanksgiving Day, 27 November 1975, when I returned to the church after a 16-day absence. I never saw or heard from Elisabeth again.
END
***
 

The Universe and Us

February 10, 2005 diary entry:
– When I think about what we call the universe I wonder whether such a thing really exists or is perhaps no more than an illusion. Yes, we have cosmology and we imagine that we know something about how this so-called universe was formed and what it is like at this time — and we even have ideas about its future. We believe we can see and measure distant galaxies and we also believe we have found other planets — thinking there must be some out there that are not so different from our little “island,” the earth.
But how far have we gone until now? How much of this “universe” have we been able to actually explore rather than just look at from a very great distance with our telescopes and other devices we use to capture electromagnetic waves/emissions? We have actually traveled as far as the earth’s little moon and sent small remotely-guided spacecraft to explore some other planets and their moons within our solar system. Compared to the size of the universe that we believe we are seeing all around us, the tracks we have made so far are infinitesimal. For all we know from actual exploration, the entire universe might as well be just some kind of illusion projected onto a canvas that surrounds our solar system. We have really explored nothing at all. In that sense, we are really extremely primitive. In many other ways too, of course.
Our own imagination has raced very, very far ahead of us in the sense that we can envision spiritual and material things far beyond our present practical ability — but it is still grounded in and to some degree bounded/limited by our miserable, primitive reality. We can dream of a world where war is a distant memory but we are very far from being able to fashion one.
As I have explained elsewhere (in earlier diary entries), I believe there is a “god,” a single being that encompasses the world we know. Actually, my idea is pantheistic. I believe that that being I call god is the world we know. The world is a living being. Of course, as I have just mentioned in talking about the world “we know,” there is likely to be very much more to this world that we don’t know, since we have explored so little and are still so extremely primitive.
And, as I have noted before, what we like to call “good” and “evil” are simply aspects of this god, who I believe is evolving with us and through us.
For most of my life now — since March 1975 — I have been associated with a religious/political movement founded and led by the Korean Moon Sun Myung, also known as Rev. Moon. In recent years I have mentally separated from this man and his movement but have kept some ties to it because my wife remains a loyal follower and I do not want to break up our family (with 3 children). Moon is certainly a powerful and controversial figure, and in order to separate mentally from his movement and his world view I sometimes had to emphasize the negative aspects of what he is and does. I had to portray him in a bad light — to myself mostly. I think I have now reached a point where I can be more objective. At the same time I am aware that it is only natural for me to resist the notion that I have basically wasted my life by following a false belief and ideology for such a long time. However, I do see a lot of good in the teachings of Moon, even if I believe — as I most certainly do now — that his basic premise is false. He portrays god as absolute “good” and man as “fallen children” of this perfect god, who need to “restore” themselves to their originally-intended position with the help of a “messiah,” who will establish the “kingdom of heaven” on earth and in the spiritual world. I, on the other hand, believe that both “good” and “evil” are part and parcel of this god himself (or itself), and that he needs man to evolve in what I can only hope is his favored direction of “goodness.”
[For my view of god see: “Thoughts about God” and “Blasphemous Ideas… Y2K” below, also “Harmony and Chaos… 1996” and “First Serious Doubts… 1994” further down]
Moon teaches goodness, and he has some interesting, even valuable, things to say. But he also strives to dominate the world. There is perhaps potential good in this but I also see much potential evil. We cannot allow anyone to become king of the world. There is no way any single human being or human family or nation or race could ever be trusted to such an extent. I certainly believe that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely…. (could not continue as I was interrupted at this moment).
— Addendum November 2005: So who or what is Rev. Moon? Five years ago I suggested in a message to a friend that he was “god’s favorite toy of the moment.” It remains to be seen whether he is indeed the top favorite toy of the moment – but he is certainly no more than that – a toy. I do believe Moon is absolutely serious about what he does, so I don’t agree with those who describe him as a simple fraud. He truly believes that he is the messiah – there is no doubt in my mind about that – and that is why he is so good at making others believe… You may understand what I mean when you read more about my view of god in the posts below, especially “Thoughts about god.”
***

Journeys Spriritual and Physical Since 1975

Adapted from a 1999 e-mail exchange with an ex-moonie in British Columbia/Canada whom I knew in San Francisco 24 years earlier:
… You know, when I came to America in March 1975, the place I wanted to go was actually British Columbia? I never made it to BC because I met the (Korean Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s) Unification Church in the States. I never even crossed the border into Canada. I have some distant relatives in Vancouver, who have lived there since the mid-50s. In 1974-75 I believed that modern civilization would be wiped out by a nuclear war in 1979 and that the only land areas of the world that would be more or less spared from the dangerous fallout would be in the southern hemisphere, because it contained few worth-while targets for nuclear strikes. But only very tough people used to surviving in a rough and wild environment could make it. So my plan was to put myself through a test: try to survive for at least one year alone in a wilderness area. The place I wanted to do that was an area somewhere to the north of Hazelton or New Hazelton in central British Columbia. Why that place? I don’t know — I just selected that spot when I looked over a detailed map of BC. If I survived, then I wanted to go south to Patagonia (Argentina-Chile) and basically wait there for the end of the world as we know it. – [[Thinking back to March 6, 1975, the day I arrived in New York on my first trip to North America — I wrote the following lines in April 1994: … 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 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 alone. I told people, including my parents, about my idea, and of course everyone thought I was crazy. In early March 1975 I said goodbye (forever, I was sure) and flew to New York (cheapest flight across). I planned to take a train to Montreal the next day and hitch-hike west from there, looking up my relatives in Vancouver for a brief visit and then heading up to the woods north of Hazelton. But in New York City I ran into lots of moonie street preachers, and even though they seemed really crazy I accepted an invitation from one of them, a Japanese lady 10 years older than I, to listen to a lecture. I thought their idea of uniting religion and science sounded kind of interesting and, since I had time (and I knew it would be getting warmer in Canada), I agreed to go to a 3-day workshop at a farm/training center (now seminary) in Barrytown on the Hudson River northeast of Kingston/NY. Well, after 3 days came the 7-day, then the 21-day workshop, and I was hooked, more or less. I completed a 40-day workshop as well, then worked with the movement in Boston and New York City, went down to Atlanta a couple of times in a big truck to pick up fundraising product (peanut brittle, mostly), which we dropped off for mobile fundraising teams in the Carolinas, the Virginias, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Then I worked in a church-owned printshop in Washington, D.C. After 3 weeks there, in the first half of November 1975, I felt I needed a break. I wanted to travel to the west coast and around the world, and rejoin the church somewhere else. I told my friends I would rejoin within 2 years, and I promised to visit a church center on my way in California. So I left, with about $ 40 in my pocket and no plane ticket home or anything like that. All I had was the address of a friend in San Rafael, Marin County/California, who had left the church and whom I wanted to visit. I hitch-hiked down to North Carolina and across to the Los Angeles area on Interstate 40, then north on Highway 101, always sleeping outside. In San Rafael, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, I spent a few days with this ex-moonie friend, and he later dropped me off in Sacramento, from where I wanted to travel north to BC, going back to my original plan. I tried to hitch-hike north for 3 days — no success. Then I met some hobo at the local soup kitchen and he talked me into going south with him to Indio, near Los Angeles, where he was sure we could get jobs during the winter (I could always go to BC later on). Anyway, we wound up riding freight trains but got only as far as Stockton. Later, not far from there, he got badly hurt on one train, breaking his hip bone, and I had to take him to a hospital in Tracy. I couldn’t stay with him: I was an illegal alien (that’s another part of the story). Later the same day, Thanksgiving Day, I was robbed of all my possessions except my passport and a few dollars near Livermore, then a fundamentalist Christian guy gave me $ 60, and I was about ready to look up the church again. I couldn’t find the church center in Berkeley, but in the evening I ran into two young guys who invited me to a free Thanksgiving Dinner at a place on Hearst Street near Berkeley campus. That turned out to be the Unification Church, under a different name (Creative Community Project)….
After spending more than a month at the church’s farm in Boonville/Mendocino County and another month “recruiting” and selling roses in San Francisco I was sent with a group of over 30 other members on a bus (the “Dumbo” the elephant bus, which we had used as a mobile coffee shop at Fisherman’s Wharf to invite potential recruits) to New York. We drove south and then east along Interstate Highway 10. From El Paso we went northeast to Dallas via Abilene. In Dallas we started the Bicentennial God Bless America cleanup campaign by picking up garbage in one or two streets and doing our best to get some television coverage of our efforts (we had done the same earlier in San Francisco). We did the same in Birmingham/AL, Raleigh/NC, Richmond/VA, Washington DC and New York City, then headed to Barrytown for a 21-day workshop.
[Here comes a very long sentence:] … I stayed in the movement through Moon’s big Yankee Stadium (June 1976) and Washington Monument (September 1976) rallies, joined The News World (a new daily newspaper founded by church members) in New York City in late 1976, came back to my country Luxembourg for 3 months in 1979, traveled some 8,000 miles by train from here to Nakhodka in eastern Siberia and then by boat to Japan in October 1979 [through Supertyphoon Tip for 24 hours off the Pacific coast of Honshu Island] to visit my spiritual mother (the Japanese lady I had met in March 1975) there, went down to Bangkok to try working as a correspondent, was called back to New York a few months later, spent half of 1980 and all of 1981 in New York working for The News World and Free Press International, then in 1982 traveled around Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Czechoslovakia (just 3 days – in prison in Ceske Budejovice (Budweis)!), did research in New York City for an emigré Russian writer for 3 months, was arm-twisted by church member friends in the US and Luxembourg to go to Korea in October 1982, where I was matched and blessed to a Japanese sister, then went to Cyprus at the beginning of 1983 to help start The Middle East Times weekly English-language newspaper, went to Pakistan in 1984 and over the hills into Afghanistan (I had first visited that country from Iran in March 1972, when it was at peace) with a bunch of mujahideen warriors fighting the Soviets there, did the same again in 1985, also went alone up the highest mountain (10,000+ feet) in then very much war-torn Lebanon that year, and to Israel, then moved to Athens, Greece with Middle East Times in 1987, then spent a month with my wife in Japan, where we got married both legally and in a Shinto ceremony at a temple near her tiny hometown in Miyazaki Prefecture of Kyushu Island, then I went off to Pakistan and she back to her work in Tokyo, worked as correspondent for both Middle East Times and Sekai Nippo in Islamabad and Peshawar, went again into Afghanistan with mujahideen (came under artillery fire every time I went), then spent some time in the winter in wild and dirt-poor Baltistan (home of 28,000-foot K2 mountain), went back to Japan in late January 1988, started my family there, took my wife back to Greece in late May, worked for Middle East Times in Cairo, Egypt, in early 1989, then our first child, a son, was born outside Athens, and we went off to Cairo again, where I worked as managing editor of the local edition during most of 1990, then we spent 10 months in Larnaca, Cyprus, and finally, at my wife’s insistence (upon Rev. Moon’s instruction to all “blessed” families), we came here to my country in October 1991. A second son was born to us here in 1994 and a daughter in 1996.
… I have stopped thinking of myself as a moonie. I don’t know how I could describe my state of being at this point. In some ways I’m still a full member — though a very passive one — and in other ways I am probably as skeptical as you can get about not only this organization but all religion. My wife remains a loyal member, and I support her and cooperate with the movement to a limited extent. Our two boys have what is called fragile X-chromosome syndrome and are seriously mentally retarded. The girl is perfectly normal. We didn’t find out about the origin of the boys’ problem until late 1997.
***

Thoughts about God

Written down on April 6, 2004:
……
My view of god? … if he (it) is indeed a single being — which is quite likely — then he probably created this world for his own fun and enjoyment. I believe we do reflect his nature and therefore we can conclude that he must be similar to us. He has had so much fun in sharing our joys and pains, and in torturing us (and all plants and animals, etc.) — or having his temporary favorites among us torture others — that he is, perhaps, beginning to become bored a little (or at least I hope this is the case) and may be ready for some change a few hundreds or thousands of years down the road. I believe there was an inevitable element of uncertainty*, of unpredictability, when he created us or rather had us evolve from nature — which is directly subservient to him. [*I believe there was and is no way for god to avoid this uncertainty; it is fundamental]. Possibly he brought about (I don’t like to use the word “create”) other beings in other worlds (planets) who are similarly endowed with an element of uncertainty. This uncertainty will hopefully allow us, someday, to make god happy by changing the world/worlds he – um – created (that word again — it’s hard to avoid) in such a way that there needs to be no more suffering at all (including by animals, plants, etc.). I tend to think that there is an inclination in this direction, which exists in us humans and may ultimately come from god (although we could easily be deceived by him in this sense). At any rate, my idea is that we would ultimately change god himself and that that is what he wants, because he evolves through us. He made us in order to evolve with us and through us. Originally he had fun with a world that reflected his base aspects and required a kind of roller coaster ride for god to enjoy both the greatest pleasure and the deepest pain of the living things he had made. The world was made in such a way that one being obtained great pleasure by inflicting excruciating pain on another — tearing it to pieces and devouring it. This reflects the “dark” aspect of god’s nature. The “light” aspect of his nature is found in the beauty and the joy and love that all beings can also experience. But the two go closely together. Underneath the greatest beauty, inside the greatest joy and deep within the greatest love there is always an element or a latent potential of darkness and pain, torture and suffering. There is never anything that is just totally beautiful, joyful and loving. The very joy we feel and the beauty we see can only grow in a soil of darkness and suffering. This is the nature of the world and a reflection of the nature of god. We can understand beauty and joy only because we also know ugliness and suffering. Love and sex in many ways are close to hatred and torture. That is god’s true nature. But — and this is a big “but” — there is this element of uncertainty, this element of chaos, of entropy, this clear evidence that god left — or had to leave — a loophole, a part of the universe that is not organized. This, also, must reflect his nature. And there is indeed, in human beings at least, a clear inclination towards beauty without ugliness, joy without or beyond suffering, and love beyond hatred. Again, god’s nature must be at the origin of this, too [or maybe this is just my hope]. Yes, god is “good” and “bad” at the same time, but there is just a tiny little extra grain on his scale on the side of “good.” This is my idea of god. This extra grain is at the heart of the evolution of man and the development of his — and (hopefully) god’s — sensitivities towards his fellow beings — human and other — that allow us to envisage a (probably distant yet attainable) future when there will be only beauty, joy and love all around, no more grounded in their current counterparts. Don’t we all really strive for this? But we are having so much trouble because our feet are still stuck in the mud of ugly pain, the soil in which we have grown…
***

Blasphemous ideas -2000

What follows are two separate notes I scribbled in a hurry (in the summer of 2000) to explain my current view of god. I’m pretty sure most people would consider what I have to say extremely blasphemous, but the idea has sort of imposed itself. I don’t try to impose it on anybody …
If I’m wrong then I will probably burn in hell forever and if I’m right then my fate might not be very different either. Yet I don’t lose a moment of sleep over it. I’ve had no reason to become paranoid so far. …….
…. As I said, this view of god has imposed itself, but I know that my presentation is neither original nor particularly insightful. To me it’s all just plain obvious, but I’m happy to listen to any arguments that might refute it and present a better idea. ….
Here goes:
First note: “What if god thrives on both the pain/suffering and the joy experienced by all creatures? ….
Do I believe in satan? No — I never really believed in the existence of such a thing …. To me, satan is simply one aspect of god. It’s not a creation of god in the same way we are, though perhaps it can take possession of the mind of a created being. The aspect of satan can be a useful tool as god uses it in different ways to inflict the pain on man and beast that is his ecstasy or to draw maximum pleasure from the joys also experienced by man and beast. God can also use the concept of satan to make us fear because that fear is also one of his great sources of pleasure. If we could completely stop all pain and suffering and fear we would undermine god’s very existence — but of course there is no way we could do that. Yet if god were really a good, loving god as we were led to believe, that is exactly what he would want to do — relieve all beings (including animals, plants and whatever else is conscious on some level) of suffering, fear and pain. But look at how the world we know is designed: the fear and the pain are built in — violence, death, destruction and chaos, conflict — it’s all totally ingrained from the start. One being has to kill, destroy another in order to be able to survive. And isn’t there both fear and pain involved? Doesn’t the antelope fear and suffer when the lion pounces on it and tears at its throat? It’s designed that way. That is god’s nature. But if he had natural life evolve to the point where it produced us, maybe he wanted to — no, had to — bring in elements of uncertainty. I believe there is unpredictability — even for god, and he needs it. Or maybe there are many gods and the uncertainty/unpredictability arises from that. I find it hard, though, to think of god as not one but many — because I grew up believing in a single god. So I think, anyway, that there might be a chance for us to change god and {for him to be} happy with that because he needs the excitement of not knowing what comes next. I’m making god seem very human but this is because I can only describe him in human terms — no human being can really do it otherwise anyway. My conclusion is that god is most certainly unworthy of worship — though I’m sure he likes people to worship him just like Hitler and Stalin … (etc.) liked to be worshipped.”
———–
Second note (from a message to a friend): “….
….. My doubts about god come from the way I see nature, and that cannot be explained by the idea of a “fall of man”: I cannot believe that a truly good, loving god as I understand it designed a world where animals and even (some) plants have to tear others to shreds in order to live, where thousands of different species of parasites can only exist by sucking another being’s blood or harming it in other ways, where there are always fights to determine who is to dominate whom, where some are always expelled from a group and often hunted down and killed, where a male lion, for example, always kills the offspring of a new mate who lost her previous mate, the father of those cubs, where…. I could go on and on almost endlessly, just giving examples of totally unnecessary cruelty and violence in nature because it was designed that way — without ever getting to the cruelty of man, which, of course, is all the worse because he understands it. But could primitive man, for example, really help being cruel? Now we can, to some extent, and hopefully more and more so. Many people seem to believe god created the world but cannot be held responsible for the way it turned out. Not me. Did he really have to design it that way? So why didn’t he design us in such a way that we wouldn’t even be able to perceive this as cruel? Maybe he mainly designed us in such a way that we could develop our minds and hearts ad infinitum, so that he himself could evolve through us. I think he is indeed evolving through us, and I hope we can someday go so far as to completely change his original design of this world to accommodate the sensitivities that, with god, we are developing over time (too slowly, unfortunately). And we might be just one of many intelligent races in the universe — who knows — all going in that direction, more or less. Perhaps I choose to believe this simply because I need to find hope whereas the belief that god is really good and evil all rolled into one forever offers no hope at all. Of course, the god who created this world could easily fool us forever without us being able to find out for sure. No one can tell me god couldn’t pull this off, to make people believe he was all good and the bad was all their fault and that of some fictitious satan, so that they would worship him faithfully, which of course would tickle him pink. We should remember Gödel’s theorem showing that all finite systems are incomplete and their full truth is unknowable from within them.”
***

My final break with the God of the monotheistic religions – 1999

Diary entry: Woke up Saturday 20 June 1998 from a dream in which I met True Father/Abogee/Rev. Moon (Sun Myung) ….

Diary entry: Monday 13 September 1999: Apart from the incomplete sentence above, there is a 2-year gap in this diary between the last time I wrote and now. I can’t seem to find the time to write anymore.
In the dream mentioned above I sat by a table with “Abogee” and others, and realized that I was naked below the waist. “Abogee” gave me a hostile look and made some remark filled with contempt — I don’t remember what he said — and I don’t give a damn anyway.

30 October 1999 Saturday: Again I didn’t get a chance to write for some time. — I wonder if anybody will ever read my diaries. Would they be of any interest whatsoever to another person?
I’m writing these lines hoping that someday someone will read this and all of the diaries I wrote before, and find something of interest in them. My oldest diary goes back to 1976 — at least that is the oldest one that I still have. Almost everything I wrote before that year (I was 25 years old in 1976 and spent that entire year plus almost all of the previous year 1975, and all of 1977, 1978 and half of 1979 in the United States — 1976 was the American Bicentennial) was either destroyed, mostly by myself, or was lost when I was robbed near Livermore, California on Thanksgiving Day 27 November 1975. I only have a cassette tape on which I recorded some of my ideas in English in late 1974 and which I left with my parents when I went to America on 6 March 1975.

Over the last few years I have become more cynical about God and I have completely lost every bit of faith that I ever had. I still believe that there is a God. But while I believe that I must do my best to be good, and to be humble and honest and unselfish — I no longer believe that those qualities form the essence of God’s character. I am cynical about God because I believe God is the most cynical being. I believe God combines, and thrives on, both good and evil. God needs both and God needs to experience, constantly, the discrepancy between what we generally view as good and evil. “Satan” is God’s invention. If such a being exists, then he is entirely God’s creation, just like everything else.

God, my creator, is thus basically an anathema to me. The entity that humans call God, or whatever, is my enemy — although, of course, it’s ridiculous to describe it in this way — I’m saying that only to dramatize the idea (or emphasize it). I believe God created the World the way it is because God gets a kick out of it. God needs to experience all the joy and all the suffering that we humans and animals and plants, and whatever other beings there are, experience. God thrives on that, feeds on that. All those feelings are God’s feelings, but at the same time God is above them, and he must therefore derive great pleasure from them. It may sound strange to ascribe such “human” emotions to God but it really isn’t. How else could God have created us, or, rather, caused us to come into existence through guided evolution?

I submit that God created everything for one purpose: to serve God; to give God pleasure or to fulfill a need. We, and everything that exists, are meant to fulfill that purpose. But clearly there is evolution, development and change, because God pushes us forward so as to better fulfill that purpose and to increase his pleasure. And both our joy as well as our suffering give God pleasure. God is therefore just as cruel as God is magnificent and good, from our point of view. To me it is crazy for us to want to love God or even to be grateful to God. That is the point I have reached. Of course, I cannot really oppose God, since God is responsible for my being here and God makes all the rules and laws.

I have no choice but to accept God’s laws, however grudgingly. But since I see that God’s creation seems to be unfinished, and to be developing and changing, I can do my best to try to counteract or to fight against anything that I regard as evil, which is cruelty, selfishness, exploitation of others (that is what God does all the time, 100%) for one’s own good. I don’t believe that God sees love the way St. Paul describes it in the New Testament. To God, whatever gives God pleasure — and all too often that means for one chosen person or group to inflict great suffering on others — is good, I guess; but to me, ultimately, all suffering is the result of evil action — often induced or enouraged by that same self-glorifying, cruel God. God’s love is often evil.

The tiny spark of hope I still have lies in the fact that this World can change and does develop, as if God was still experimenting with the practice of love and good and evil. I’m probably totally crazy but I think it may be possible to change God — because God may have created us to do even that. And God would even get a greater kick out of that.
All of this is, of course, totally out of synch with Moon’s teachings. But Moon is just God’s favorite toy at this time. He is a fad, nothing else.

That’s all as far as my 1999 diary goes.
***

The Decline of the West and the Rise of the East

Excerpt from a letter I wrote to Mahmood Nawaz, a Pakistani student in Cyprus, on November 19, 1992 (words in square brackets were inserted later for clarification):
… I grew up in Europe and have spent all of my life, except for about two and a half years, in a western/Christian cultural environment (including 6 years in the United States, 5 years in Cyprus and close to 2 years in Greece). I think I have enough of an understanding of western/Christian culture [read: civilization] to be in a position to tell you that it is in decline. Western culture [civilization], which has dominated the world for centuries, is running out of steam, and Europe, the cradle of that culture, is in danger of becoming a cultural backwater and a spiritual desert. Europe has a huge moral debt to pay to the rest of the world because the European peoples caused death and destruction everywhere and ruthlessly exploited the peoples of Africa, Asia and the original inhabitants of the Americas and the Australia-Pacific region. Europe, however, does not recognize this and wants to continue exploiting others. And white America, which was created by the Europeans, is going the same way. But in Europe and America there are signs that their system is crumbling. Society is falling apart, riven by decadent immorality, crime, drugs and so on. I believe it is Karma. The west as a whole has to suffer because it refuses to pay its debt to the rest of the world. And I am sure there is more to come.
Mind you, I don’t think we will see a total breakdown of the western system in the next 20 or even 50 years, unless there is a major economic, natural or military catastrophe. But the western system is definitely crumbling, and changing. The west, which has long imposed change on other societies throughout the world, is now being changed by a kind of reverse osmosis as it absorbs other cultures. I don’t think we would recognize it if we could come back to the world even 100 years from now. There is great potential for an Asian culture [civilization] to rise to become the guiding light of coming centuries. It is not yet so. It has not happened yet, and, in fact, that Asian culture I am thinking of is still in a process of fermentation, so to speak, and it is not yet clear what eventual form it will take (I think it will arise primarily from 3 countries: China, Japan and Korea). I hope, of course, that the dark side of the rise of one culture as a guide to others can be avoided this time, or at least that it will be far less dramatic than the terrible destruction caused by the Christian west.
I am basically bored with Europe, and I cannot relate to the people who continue to firmly believe that the western system is the hub of the world’s cultures. To me it is already a thing of the past. The motor of history for the next century and beyond will be Asia. But this does not mean that Europe has nothing left to do in the world. Apart from the dark side of Europe’s progress through history, which I mentioned above, there are also positive achievements, and there are aspects of its culture and its science that others are well advised to learn. Europeans, and Americans, for that matter, have much to give and to teach. I believe that Europe and America should welcome millions of people like you from Asia, Africa and elsewhere, and allow them to study and work in the west. And millions of Europeans and Americans should go to the developing countries to help and to teach. All doors should be opened wide, because I firmly believe that the more communication and exchange we have with other cultures, the better it is for the world because the more likely we can resolve misunderstandings and disputes, and create conditions for real peace.
… The western world is in decline precisely because it has forsaken the moral and spiritual ideals that originally inspired and guided its progress. Those ideals were always challenged by the temptation of materialism. Today, more than ever before, moral and spiritual ideals have lost out and western culture [civilization] is ruled by the gods of materialism and individualism, or its extension: ethnocentrism (nationalism, etc. …).
***

Harmony and Chaos

Thoughts recorded on September 7, 1996:

It is quite obvious, I think, that God’s Creation is not a completed work but rather a process that will never end. It is indeed a sort of evolution, but not one destined to reach an end result, a specific goal. If I accept Sun Myung Moon’s Divine, or Unification, Principle, then God created mankind as His children, who are meant to continue the act or process of creation that He began. He meant for us to be co-creators. We were meant, first of all, to continue the creation and development of ourselves. Then we were — and are — to extend the greater order we have built within ourselves to the natural environment in which we live.
In the world of God’s Creation there is both order/harmony and disorder/chaos. If God had completed a Creation of total order/harmony, then this Creation would have/could have had no separate consciousness. It would have been a programmed robot world. — Beyond that, even God Himself must be incomplete. He is supposed to be love. Love is, in part, a desire or will to build an orderly relationship with another being. God completes Himself through His Creation in an everlasting process, yet there is no completeness in the strict, simple sense because this goal of completion is — and must be — forever unreachable. Full completion implies stagnation. So there will always be order and chaos side by side; there will always be entropy. But God’s love is also a will to order, meaning an actual effort to expand the order and harmony in Creation. — The creation or guided evolution of man/woman seems to be the achievement of the highest degree of order in the world — as far as we know. Yet it was achieved only at the expense of a substantial degree of dominion over the Creation. Making man as a separate, individual consciousness meant that a very high level of order was achieved locally, so to speak, at the expense of global or universal order. At the same time, the separation from God’s will to order meant that man contained the element of entropy and of chaos within himself to a higher degree than anything else created by God. —
I accept the idea that mankind is also responsible for the separation from God and we have to re-establish a link with God. God bears the primary responsibility, not simply because He created man, as the Principle says, but because He created all the conditions that made the full extent of that separation not only possible but very likely if not inevitable. Yet man has to struggle to build order within himself and outside in order to be able to relate to God. In love itself, there is both order and chaos, known and unknown, and love would really be meaningless if not impossible without either one of them. So, in a sense, it can be said that God Himself is still being created. God is an orderly consciousness which can maintain absolute order only as long as it is insubstantial. As soon as God’s consciousness/mind manifests itself or projects itself into anything substantial, such as the world of His Creation that we know, there is entropy and “randomness” alongside order. The order is fundamental, essential and primary, and the chaos is an epiphenomenon. But neither can eliminate the other. One can compare the human brain to a computer. The brain is vastly superior to a computer in part because it combines a very complex order with an element of randomness or chaos that would be unthinkable in the highly structured system of a computer. The computer is limited by its inability to incorporate an element of chaos within or around its order. Any element of randomness would totally disrupt the system. “Fuzzy logic” is still a long way from being able to cope with an element of randomness within the system itself.
***

My first journeys

As a youth in the 1960s in my hometown, Esch-sur-Alzette, I was always very insecure and confused about what I wanted to do with my life. As the eldest of six children, I was so confused that I could never be an example to my younger brothers and sisters.

My father, who was born in 1911 and who worked as a welder and mechanic in the iron mines and steel mills on both sides of the French-Luxembourg border, was very authoritarian in his younger years but mellowed very much with age. He had been hardened by experiences during and after the last war, when he had joined the German air force as an enthusiastic volunteer (he was crazy about airplanes and flying) after the Nazis invaded and occupied Luxembourg in 1940.

He worked for the Luftwaffe as a mechanic (he was past the age limit of 28 for fighter pilot training in the Luftwaffe, so his dream of flying Messerschmitt 109s and Focke-Wulf 190s could not be fulfilled) in occupied France and Germany, was captured by the Americans in Bavaria at the end of the war, and escaped from a POW camp. On his return to Luxembourg he was promptly thrown in jail and sentenced to eighteen years at hard labor for collaborating with the enemy — but he volunteered to join a prisoner bomb and mine disposal squad, survived four years of doing that dangerous work, and was freed. He never regained full civil and political rights in Luxembourg.

Well, I guess, hearing my father talk about his experiences I realized that I was a real wimp. I read adventure books about faraway places and felt the urge to travel. In 1972, at the age of 21, for the first time, I was allowed to make major decisions about my life and to manage my own money.

Up to that time I had always given everything I earned to my parents, and I got pocket money (I earned my first small salary as an apprentice at my hometown’s Arbed Belval ironworks in 1966-67, then switched to the “lycée” [junior high school] but left after passing a mid-level examination [“examen de passage”] a little over 2 years later and went to work in a bank from October 1969). All of my brothers and sisters, incidentally, became independent at a younger age.

From the beginning of 1970 I worked for Luxair airlines as a reservations clerk and had limited free travel. With my parents’ permission I flew to Vienna and Paris in 1970 and to London and Ivalo, Finland in 1971. On that last trip I hitch-hiked for a few days in September around the northern tip of Finland and Norway, covering about 670 kilometers and sleeping outside in a cheap sleeping bag, with a large sheet of plastic as my only protection against rain. One sleepless night out in the middle of nowhere near the northern end of Norway (at Ifjord near the Laksefjord, and east of the Prosangerfjord in the Finnmark) I was totally soaked and frozen in driving rain and strong wind — it was to be the first of many similar experiences.

So, in 1972 my real traveling began. In March of that year I flew to Tehran, Iran, which was the maximum distance I could fly for free based on the length of time I had worked for the airline. I knew practically nothing about Iran.

At the Asia Hotel downtown I met a young man from Kenya, of Indian Muslim ancestry, who invited me to go with him to Lahore, Pakistan, in his car, a huge Ford Galaxie 500 that he had bought in Missouri and shipped across the Atlantic to England, where his family lived, and then driven to Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage to Mecca before coming to Iran. Taffy, as he was called, wanted to split expenses on the trip. I accepted, though I didn’t think I could make it all the way to Lahore because I had only two weeks’ leave from work. The two of us ran into an American ex-soldier, a giant of a guy named Bob Barrett, who was on his way overland to Australia, and he agreed to join us for the trip to Lahore. We drove north across the Alburz Mountains to the Caspian Sea and then east.

In the mountains west of the town of Bojnurd we got stuck in a heavy blizzard that raged for some 18 hours. We were almost out of gasoline and ill-equipped for the cold, so we huddled together and shivered through the night in the car. Late the next morning Iranian soldiers came on skis and brought bread, dates and cheese to us and the many other travelers who were stuck in the snow, which was at least a meter (3 feet) deep in most places.

An avalanche had blocked the road ahead for several hundred meters, but the soldiers managed to clear a path that people could walk to get to the other side of the blocked area. Some 30 hours after we got stuck in this place, with the road likely to be blocked for another day or two, we decided to try driving down that dangerous path — and by sheer miracle we made it to Bojnurd in one piece, though the Galaxie’s steering gear was damaged and had to be welded back together. This was to be only the first though perhaps the most dramatic of a series of adventures on this trip. We lost Bob in Herat, Afghanistan, and continued to Kandahar in the south without him. Taffy and I stayed 2 days in Kandahar, then he drove on towards Kabul and I had to take a bus back to Iran.

At Tayebad on the Iranian side of the border I was quarantined for 24 hours because I didn’t have cholera vaccination. In Mashad I slept with several other men on the floor of a small room in a poor area of town. I’d met one of the men in the street late at night when I arrived and he had invited me because there were no hotels around.

I had just barely enough money left to fly Iran Air back to Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport, where I could catch the once-weekly Lufthansa flight back to Germany the next day, and since I was worried that I might miss the flight if I went the long way back by road or rail, I decided to take the plane. I wound up spending a full day and night at Mehrabad, shaken by severe diarrhea and stomach cramps, and unable to sleep, with no money left to go anywhere else or buy food or medicine. I was still lucky to get a seat on the plane out the next day (with a free ticket you cannot reserve seats and depend on there being some left vacant).

When I got back to Europe I felt that the little adventure had somehow changed me in a fundamental way. I found it extremely hard to re-adjust to the workaday routines in Luxembourg, even though I had been away only 2 weeks.

In September 1972, a month after smashing my first car in an accident on the French side of the border, I left my job at Luxair and flew to Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, with my last free ticket from the company. I thought I might stay in Cayenne but found on my arrival that it would be very hard to get a job or a place to stay other than in one of the rather expensive hotels in town.

In my pocket I had a letter from Taffy inviting me to Munich, where he thought the two of us could do some business together and make a lot of money in the wake of the Olympic Games. I felt I needed more money anyway in order to get started in South America, so, after only three days in Cayenne I flew back to Paris and hitch-hiked to Munich.

I did work in Munich but also spent a lot of money at the Oktoberfest while I was waiting for Taffy to show up, and less than 2 months later I was broke. I hitch-hiked back to Luxembourg in November, spending at least one night out in the cold next to a German Autobahn highway where nobody was willing to give me a ride until the following day.

Within a week or two after I got back to Luxembourg I got a letter from Taffy inviting me on a trip by car to Lahore, Pakistan (again), to visit some of his sisters and other relatives there. He wrote that he and his brother Fakhar and Fakhar’s wife and their three small boys were coming from England in two cars, and they needed me as a backup driver because they were pressed for time and would have to drive through the nights.

It turned out that they had to pick up their old and arthritis-plagued mother at the airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on a certain day in early January 1973 and to take her to Mecca and Medina for her first, and probably last, Haj — the full Islamic pilgrimage.

According to their tentative plan, we would drive as quickly as we could to Kuwait, where I would stay with their eldest brother Hamid, then they would race across Saudi Arabia, pick up their mother and perform the Haj with her, see her off at Jeddah on the flight back to London about a month later and come back to pick me up in Kuwait for the final leg of the trip to Lahore. I was gung-ho, of course.

The two cars were a Volkswagen van with a big mattress and a gas cooker in the back, and a powerful Ford Capri 3000 GT sports car. We left Luxembourg on 19 December 1972. Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey. We stopped at the famous “hippie trail” Pudding Shop ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pudding_Shop ) near Sultan Ahmed mosque in Istanbul and crossed the Bosporus by ferryboat (there was no bridge as yet).

Somewhere in the mountains south of Ankara, at night, with Fakhar and his family sleeping in the back of the VW and Taffy far ahead downhill in the Capri, I lost control of the van in a nasty curve and skidded off the road to the edge of a deep, black precipice. I managed to stop at the very last moment, and I think one of the front wheels no longer touched firm ground. It was really a close call. I found Taffy waiting just around the bend. He must have realized how dangerous the curve was, but he hadn’t seen the near-miss. Fakhar and his family didn’t wake up, and I didn’t tell them about it.

After that we kept going through the night, to Aleppo in Syria, where we arrived in the wee hours of 24 December 1972, and then east towards the Iraqi border. It was a harrowing drive in the night to Raqqa, some 200 kilometers east on the Euphrates River, with dozens of trucks coming towards me on the narrow road, one after another, blinding me with their high-beam headlights that they apparently could not dim. At dawn just past Raqqa the sun came up right in front and blinded me completely. I had to give up and let Fakhar take over.

When I woke up a few hours later, the windshield was gone: a stone that fell from a truck had smashed it. We had to improvise, making a new windshield with sheets of plastic that quickly became covered with scratches. At Abu Kamal (or Al-Bukamal) on the border with Iraq our journey ended for the time being. The Iraqis refused to let us enter their country, insisting we had to get visas (this was apparently because of a diplomatic dispute with Britain at the time — my friends were British subjects).

Fakhar and his family stayed behind with the VW while Taffy and I raced the nearly 500 kilometers of mostly miserable road back to Aleppo in the Capri. At Aleppo we found out that we had to go to the Iraqi Embassy in Damascus, another 400-odd kilometers away to the south. In Damascus we learned that it would take about 2 weeks to get the visas. Impossible. No way we could get to Kuwait and then Jeddah in time.

There was only one way to go: directly south through Jordan to Medina and then Mecca and Jeddah. But that meant I could not go with them, since I was not a Muslim and would not get permission to travel with them to the holy places in Saudi Arabia. Taffy said I could go back to Europe on my own, or, if I agreed, I could officially become a Muslim and go with them. I chose to become a Muslim.

We raced back to Aleppo and from there all the way back to Abu Kamal, because we couldn’t reach Fakhar by telephone and the Capri with its low ground clearance would never have made the shortcut across the desert via Palmyra. And again we drove the two cars to Aleppo and then to Damascus (the Capri had thus covered close to 3,000 km in Syria alone). Taffy and Fakhar became my witnesses at the Saudi Embassy, and I was given an official pilgrim’s visa for Saudi Arabia under the name Omar Hussein. This is how I became a Muslim.

We drove to Jordan. At the border, before leaving Syria, we had to pay a special tax that we were told was levied on all pilgrims who had received their Haj visas in Damascus. In Amman, the Jordanian capital, we met a friend of Taffy’s whose name I don’t remember.

We drove on to Ma’an and then Aqaba but found out that we wouldn’t be able (or allowed) to cross into Saudi Arabia from that Red Sea port. We had to backtrack the 100-odd kilometers to Ma’an and then head for the border at Al Mudawara.

My personal impression was that the people I met in Jordan were more suspicious of me than the Syrians had been, sometimes hinting that I might be an Israeli spy. This is exactly what Saudi officials opposite Al Mudawara did, too. We spent the night of 29-30 December 1972 at the Saudi border post.

The officials found a radio-electronics kit that I had bought in Luxembourg for a friend of Taffy’s in Kuwait. When they realized that it was possible to build a tiny radio transmitter with it they refused to let me take it into Saudi Arabia, saying I might use it to transmit information to the Israelis. They didn’t even let me send it by mail, so we had to leave it at the post, where Taffy’s friend in Amman could later pick it up.

(….. to be continued …..)

A little more about my trip to Mecca … -Excerpt from a message to a friend Jan. 2004 [there is more information about my pilgrimage in the interview below about my journeys to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan]: …
Talking about the Middle East, I wonder if I ever sent you my little story of how I went on the Haj. I haven’t written the whole experience down yet but I have the beginning of the tale in some autobio notes I wrote a few years ago and may continue someday.

I got only as far as late December 1972, on the border between Jordan and Saudi Arabia. You can read it in the attached text file. I spent over a month in Saudi Arabia after that. My friends wanted me to marry a 16-year-old Pakistani girl by the name of Razia in Jeddah and then try to get a scholarship to study at the Islamic University in Medina, etc… But I was not ready for that and wanted to continue traveling with them.

We then spent 9 days with their eldest brother Hamid and his friends in Kuwait (in the villa of the Al Balool family – former postmaster general of Kuwait), then Taffy dropped me off in Abadan, Iran, to fend for myself, saying I could not come with them to Lahore because I was not serious enough about being a Muslim and their family there would not like that.

So I “celebrated” my 22nd birthday alone (and nearly broke) in Abadan, then tried unsuccessfully to get a job working on a ship in nearby Khorramshahr, and finally somehow made my way back to Europe by train and hitch-hiking via Tehran and Istanbul, etc. at the end of February 1973. This was a little over 2 years before I met the UC in New York.

In the summer of 1973 I went to England and worked at Heathrow Airport, then later as a bus conductor in Rochdale, Lancashire, where I rented a room in a house that belonged to Taffy and his family — and spent a lot of time with them. They were not mad at me for not being a good Muslim — they actually didn’t take it all that seriously themselves. I still keep in touch with them, and Taffy still lives in Rochdale but travels a lot on business. He has visited me in Luxembourg twice in recent years. +++
***

In the Moon church -diary entries -Cyprus 1983-4, New York-1981

A dissident member of the Unification Church – 1983

Excerpt from my diary (unedited, uncorrected) – Nicosia, Cyprus, August 23, 1983:
… I joined the movement in New York in March 1975 – more than 8 years ago. My commitment has been somewhat off and on — never very strong. I believe mostly this has to do with my own personality, the relative weakness of my character, rather than with the church. Right now I would say that maybe about 80 percent of my problems as a rather rebellious, dissident member of the Unification Church are due to my own shortcomings in one way or another, while the remaining 20 percent of the problems are due to aspects of the church, its leaders (including Reverend Moon himself) and its way of doing things that I honestly disagree with, or, in some cases, cannot understand. Some of these latter problems, especially those having to do with Rev. Moon himself, might easily be resolved, I think, if I had a chance of gaining a better understanding of Rev. Moon and his thinking. Just listening to what he says or reading his speeches and hearing anecdotes from admirers about his life won’t do. In fact it tends to do just the opposite. I find him extremely arrogant, self-centered and callous. I believe, however, it is certainly possible that I would feel reassured about him if I could just meet him personally and talk to him about things of concern to me — just to see how he reacts and really to get a feeling for what kind of person he is in private. I know him only through the accounts of his life given by all too obvious, starry-eyed admirers whom I cannot trust, and through his public speeches, quite a few of which I attended. In these public speeches to crowds of church members who obviously admire and glorify him, he often appears to me to be gloating over his success and basking in the admiration and veneration by members, not at all humble or giving, loving, kind, or anything like that. Yet I grant that both through my own distorted perspective (due to my shortcomings, my jealousy or things like that) and through the need for him to address the needs of a great many people of different character simultaneously in a speech like that, he appears different from the man he really is. How different? How can I see him in a way that he can really serve as an example, a guide, a leader, yes, a messiah to me? This I don’t know. I did get what seems to have been a glimpse of a different Rev. Moon when he briefly asked me a few questions in English in front of a thousand other members during the matching in Seoul on 10 October 1982 before taking me to Tomoko and indicating that he suggested her as a mate and wife for me. It was a very brief, uncertain glimpse — but I will remember it. And I am sure that getting to know Tomoko will give me some clues as to whether this match — made by Rev. Moon — was really inspired by God. Of course I have to be objective to be able to judge that. I do have a very good feeling about it all, and about Tomoko, which is why I do feel grateful towards Rev. Moon. But I still can’t grasp the whole thing. Many other feelings are in the way. For some reason, which I never expected, I feel that Tomoko is the best person to be my wife — and I felt this way right from the beginning. Tomoko is certainly not the most beautiful girl I have seen or known. She is pretty in a simple, unsophisticated and natural way — not what I would call beautiful. Beauty is something I like very much to see, and I have, in the past, fallen madly in love with quite a few girls that I considered truly beautiful and that I felt very strongly attracted to in a sexual way. It still happens — although I could not fall in love the same way anymore — because part of the emptiness which I felt at that time (having no mate at all) is now filled (now I do have a mate, although she is thousands of kilometers away in Japan). My love was, needless to say, never answered, unrequited, because I was simply too awkward about the whole thing every time. ….

Reflection on why I joined the Unification Church – 1983

Excerpt from my diary – Nicosia, Cyprus, August 27, 1983:
… When I think about how I decided to join the Unification Church — which I did around 24 March 1975, after having heard about the movement for the first time only 18 days earlier, on 6 March 1975 in New York City — I realize that to a large extent the decision was not really my own. – I was interested in the teaching – the Divine Principle – and in fact I found it to be the most satisfying theory explaining God, man’s relationship to God and why God needed man (Divine Principle is – to my knowledge up to this day – the best and by far the most plausible answer to this particular question, possibly the single most important question to me, personally), as well as the occurrence of spiritual phenomena and their connection with the physical world and the mystery of Jesus Christ (I was raised as a Christian, Catholic in fact). It also provided at least some sketchy elements of a plausible vision for the future of this world — which hardly any other religion or philosophy that I am aware of does. At the same time, Divine Principle — which Rev. Moon says he “discovered” — also provides a concept of eternal justice (a subject which is extremely important to me — in fact, the question about eternal justice is the second most important question about everything in my mind, after the question about why God needs man) and discards the insane Christian and Islamic notion about an eternal hell. This notion of an eternal hell is the one thing in Christianity which I rejected most. An eternal hell — eternal punishment of any kind — makes no sense at all. Eternal hell for anybody, even the worst of criminals, and Satan (as the originator and master of evil in the spiritual plane is called in the Divine Principle — which draws heavily on the Bible as well as on some Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist concepts), would mean a major failure – and an eternal failure – on the part of God. I cannot accept this or else I could not accept the traditional monotheistic concept of God. I prefer to think that the concept of a loving, compassionate and merciful (Islam) and somehow indirectly almighty God as the creator of our world is indeed my own concept and understanding of God — so there simply is no room for such a thing as eternal punishment. Also, God cannot be truly almighty in the strictest and immediate sense of the word — because otherwise the world would not be in the state it is in right now. But I believe God is ultimately almighty, meaning God will and must at some point in the future be able to straighten out the world, which logically – to me – depends on the good parts of most humans gaining the upper hand in the struggle against their (own) bad parts. …
…I joined the church to some extent because there were people in it who seemed to have more faith in me and my capabilities that I myself did – something which intrigued me. they kind of coaxed me into joining….
Diary, Friday 7 October 1983 (still Nicosia): …To explain the factors which I dislike and disagree with in the Unification Church: First of all, I disagree with the authoritarian style which Rev. Moon has imposed and which causes many church members to behave in an intolerant manner (in other words, it encourages intolerance – although it does not directly cause it, since those members may have such an inclination by themselves) and promotes a kind of elitism. Maybe this is because Rev. Moon is misunderstood by the members – I don’t know. Too many times, though, I notice that some members become like “Big Brother,” invade other people’s privacy (they do not respect privacy at all – which is very bad – and they do not even respect another person’s basic human dignity – which is unfortunately quite common and often worse in the church than it tends to be outside of it – because church fanatics have no inhibitions whatsoever in these things – they believe God is on their side) and criticize others in a condescending, contemptuous way. This authoritarianism also leads church members and top church leaders (like Col. Bo Hi Pak) to support political causes which I totally disagree with – such as support for fascist-type dictators in Latin America and elsewhere, only because they are considered “anticommunist.” Politically, I find myself disagreeing with the church on many important points now – even though for some time I had accepted their arguments. But my political views changed gradually over a period of several years, until today, when my views are much closer to what they were before I joined the church – except that I am now much better informed and no more as naive about the Soviet Union as I was then.

Cultural communities to replace nation states – diary 1984

Short excerpt from a very long entry in my diary on 17 November 1984, Nicosia, Cyprus: ….On a different subject: I feel I must record something to explain my feelings about politics and our church’s involvement with it, because much of what I have written in these pages could give a false impression that I advocate more political involvement by our church. As a matter of fact, I really believe politics as a whole should be abolished as soon as possible. I have long been radically opposed to the present world system of sovereign nation states. I think they should be gradually abolished in favor of cultural communities. I believe there should be a kind of world federation of communities based not on the idea of sovereign territory under their control (because that is what the present nation states are all about – they are simply concepts of territorial sovereignty, the people coming second to the land as the determining factor of a community; the only permanent aspect of a nation state is its control of a certain piece of land, which, more than anything else – more than the people and their culture, because they are never truly homogeneous or even fixed – actually identifies that nation state) but on communities with internal ties of a cultural or some other kind of social nature. The whole idea of “territorial integrity,” even the whole idea of an international system, international law, based on “sovereign states,” is, in my view, medieval and does not belong in the 21st century, even though that century may be over before they are abolished. At the very least, I hope we can move decisively in that direction long before that century is over, even though it will likely take several centuries to complete the process. I am actually, and have always been, an anarchist at heart. I simply realize, however, that the world is not ready (yet) for the kind of peaceful anarchy which I have in mind, a world without politics, without bureaucracy, without governments, without nations, only cultural communities which cooperate and learn from each other. Today, when we say “anarchy,” we immediately think “law of the jungle.” But this is not necessarily the only meaning of that concept – that meaning is merely a consequence of the present state of the human soul or heart. I believe that, ultimately, no worldly leader will be needed – that a worldly hierarchy is really not necessary for a truly mature humankind. – I don’t know if our church agrees with this idea. In general, the church actually emphasizes hierarchy very much, as an extension of the hierarchy in a family between parents and children. – But this idea of anarchy, of abolishing governments and nation states, is very much my own. I believe that a relationship to God is really first and foremost an individual affair, and only in the second instance a family affair, and beyond that as well. Maybe, in a spiritual sense, there will always be different levels which people are at – and there will be in some ways a kind of hierarchy implicit or inherent in this. But this does not need to have any kind of worldly trappings – and it should not. Any kind of respect – beyond the general respect for universal human dignity in all people – shown another person should be voluntary, and not enforced by some form of worldly authority and instruments thereof. +++

From my diary in the Moon church – New York 1981

The following text was copied directly (without any corrections) from a handwritten diary entry in my Thai school notebook. The entries in that notebook cover the period between my stay in Bangkok from 4 November 1979 until the first of February 1980 and my second (½-year) and third (1-year) stays in New York, ending at the beginning of the year 1982:

Monday, November 2, 1981 — New York.

My attitude towards the Unification Church at this time: My feelings about this movement, of which I am still a member (have been since March 1975; I first met a member of the church in New York on March 6, 1975; I had never heard of the church before) although I have many disagreements with it, are mixed and constantly in a state of flux. I still agree with most of the basic philosophical/ideological views of the church as they are expressed in the Divine Principle teaching. I do not know a more satisfactory philosophy or religion from my own point of view as far as both morality and logic are concerned. I consider the Principle as no more than a hypothesis, however. It is not proven. It presents morally and logically satisfactory answers to some fundamental philosophical questions. I have tried to put it into practice. But I got mixed results, at best. Then I told myself, well, maybe I did not try hard enough, and maybe my own problems are worse than I thought. I tried harder, but I just got frustrated, because I could not become completely motivated. Instead, I became somewhat resentful. I prayed to God, but I could never really communicate with him. My prayers were not answered. And later, I began to wonder what it was all worth. As far as the other members are concerned, my brothers and sisters, the record is mixed, too. I never had any truly good friends among them; but then I am not the kind of person who can have a deep friendship. I am not really stable in that sense. In fact, I am too changeable (the Rev. Moon says, I was told, that the devil is just like that — like a chameleon — always changing — like me). I can attribute most of this — having no friends — to my own problems, my somewhat erratic nature, my insecurity, my weakness of character, etc. But I have also seen that members of this church who were supposed to be my leaders, or my brothers or sisters, have used my weaknesses consciously in order to exploit me — not for their own benefit, I must rush to admit, but for what they believed was the benefit of the whole. At times, of course, they also personally benefited from this — and then their motive was murkier. Now, I happen to believe that each person should be responsible for their own life, and that this means each person must have the freedom to make basic decisions concerning his or her life and that it is wrong and counterproductive to pressure someone into doing something. I believe it is very bad when people try to goad others by making them feel guilty about something, or by telling them, “You will go to hell if you don’t …,” or anything like that. This kind of stuff, in different form but still basically the same, (pressure, threats, etc.) is happening very much in the church. I resent it extremely. I totally reject a God who is like that. If God is anything like that, then I will defect to his enemy’s camp.
Many of the activities that the church engages in, such as the most basic fundraising and witnessing, are very difficult for me to do, because I have no desire and no incentive to do them. — I am not doing either of those things now. I have too many doubts about God, about the church and about myself to go out and witness to others. Witnessing, in a sense, means guiding others, showing others the way. It would be totally ridiculous for me to do that now, because I don’t know the way — I cannot pretend to know the right way. I don’t even really know what I want — at least not out of the things that are available in this world for me. — I always vacillate between wanting to do God’s will and satisfying my immediate desires. But the problem is really that “God’s will” always seems really murky, unclear to me. I ask God again and again what his will is for me now, but I don’t know what kind of an answer to expect. There is never any answer at all — a fact that has really frustrated me and made me very doubtful. I also want to know what his long-range plan is, because I can’t quite figure out my own feelings about what I want to do ultimately. But, as usual, there is not the slightest hint of a response — as if God did not exist, or did not hear me. Now, maybe I do not hear him. This is possible, too. So all I can do is continue hoping. But that is when my own immediate desires win out. This is why I vacillate. I cannot completely swing one way or the other until I either do get a clear answer from God, or I have an experience that completely shatters my belief in him. I know very well that such an experience is very possible, as long as my faith is as weak as it is now. Right now I cannot turn against God because my conscience is too strong and I am too easily plagued with all kinds of guilt feelings. — But if I had a really bad experience, then I could not trust him at all anymore and I would turn away from him completely because I would have to conclude that he is an evil God and I was all the time just running after a dream.
I believe the Unification Church will have to change substantially if it wants to truly guide the world. It must be broadened very much, including the teachings themselves. One single narrowly-defined culture can never dominate this world. If there is to be one world civilization, one world culture, one world ideology, it has to be very much broader, more truly encompassing and embracing — without causing serious friction or clashes — than what this tiny little church has now. Maybe Rev. Moon’s responsibility is just to spearhead a movement in that direction based on a certain central element of that future world civilization. But when he is gone, it will probably broaden out, with the central element still kept intact by his direct successors — but no longer so restrictive and limited as it is now. Otherwise it just cannot work — not in this reality. The whole thing must be based on love, not dogma. — I so often have been angered by those Moonie zealots among us, who judge me because I don’t follow the dogma. It makes me want to follow even less. They criticize me — and others like me — because I don’t do the things I am supposed to do according to dogma. They only criticize, not out of love, no way — but out of sheer self-glorification. They want to say, hey you, see, I am an exemplary follower of God and Rev. Moon, I am right, I am good, I am great, I am a saint — but you, look, you are not even doing this and that — you need to take a lesson from me. — This kind of thing stinks. — But there are many people of that ilk in this church. — I know if I were full of love and faith and close to God, this kind of thing would not bother me. The fact that it does just shows that I am very distant from God. But that is just it. Such a thing reminds me of that and it is frustrating. I feel weak then, helpless. I don’t have a high opinion of myself. I have no self-confidence. I cannot say anything then. I feel paralyzed. And it only creates resentment — resentment even against God. — So, why do those people do it?
There are many other things that I do not like about this church. — But I must concede that the world all around is much worse, in general. If the world as a whole were more like this church, it would still be far from good, but it would be much better and more acceptable than it is now. At least there would be no murders, no tortures, no rapes, no muggings, etc. This is why I consider the church a movement for constructive, positive change. It is certainly not the only movement like that — and not even necessarily the best. — A number of questions are still in my mind as to the integrity of this church and its leader, Rev. Moon. I don’t exclude the possibility that I might have been fooled — although a lot of things would be hard to explain if you thought that the church is some kind of Mafia or something. But I tend to see the church more as a boon to society here than as a threat. Any threat to society posed by this church is clearly minor compared to the real evils in the world. I think overall, the positive aspects far outweigh the negative ones — speaking from my experience of about six years of more or less continuous activity in the church and with its newspaper, The News World. This is the reason I have remained a member, despite my quarrels with some aspects of the operation. I also hope that this culture can be broadened. I will work for that.
***

My first serious doubts about God -May 1994

[This was written on 6 May 1994, when I still believed in (G)od.]

At the very bottom of my heart — as deep down as I can fathom it — there is confusion, mixed emotions and fear. That is where my doubts come from, my self-doubt foremost, and all the other doubts and fears that result from it. My fundamental doubts about God also come from an inability on my part to understand and accept certain realities in the world around me that appear to be permanent — thus indicating that they originated from God, the Creator Himself. — According to the Divine Principle, and the Bible, for that matter, God’s nature and character are reflected in Creation. — But, as I wondered even when I was something like 12 or 13 years old, why is it that there is so much wanton violence and cruelty in Nature? Why is there so much destruction? Why do the strong eat the weak, and why do they so often inflict unnecessary suffering — killing slowly, etc.?? When the mouse is tortured by the cat or the antelope torn apart by the cheetah — its bowels sometimes torn out while it is still alive — the hunted undoubtedly suffer excruciating pain, and they fear. Suffering is a major part of the experience of life in Nature. There are innumerable other examples of this sort in Nature that indicate that fear and/or at least violence and what we — in human terms, of course — can only describe as cruelty, are built in. We cannot even imagine how the world could exist without it. The ecological balance would be thrown out of kilter if the hunters and killers in Nature no longer hunted and killed the way they do. Now this, however, indicates that God must have designed it this way. Well, I really cannot accept the idea that this violence and cruelty come from a God who is supposed to be totally good. I cannot accept it; period. — Perhaps I am the only person in the world who thinks this way — at least, I have never known anyone who had the same feelings on this. I have never seen or heard any indication that (Rev.) Moon thinks this cruelty in Nature is not from God. — If you say that this is not cruelty because it is natural, then I must be an alien because I feel the way I do. In my mind, the cruelty and “inhumantiy” in human society could theoretically be explained as simply an extension of the inherent cruelty of Nature to the only known intelligent being that it has produced. Of course, we say God created man. But He also created Nature. Or was the original man meant to change the whole character of Nature, or to co-create a different kind of Nature from the one in which we live now — which is perhaps cruel as a result of the Fall? — This does not make sense. The violence and cruelty are too pervasive in Nature to allow for this explanation. What I — even if I am alone — perceive as cruelty (and thus evil) in Nature really seems to be inherent. Now, someone might question my (implied) description of violence and cruelty in Nature as evil. Why does it cause revulsion — at least in me if not in others? Human acts of cruelty certainly cause revulsion in most people, and most people also have this feeling when confronted with animal cruelty to man — which is, of course, much less common than the obverse. Thus, man’s cruelty is generally considered evil. But then why would animal cruelty not be considered evil as well? Because it is natural and all-pervasive? As I suggested before, man’s cruelty to man and animal or plant could simply be considered an extension of the cruelty in Nature — built-in cruelty, which can only come from the Creator.
There I have a dilemma that I cannot resolve. It bothers me. I don’t want to believe that God created a world that is both good and cruel. The Divine Principle does not explain this — in fact it does not address this question at all, as far as I know. This is one of the big holes in the theory that I have come to accept — and still accept — as the most plausible and satisfying explanation of God that I know. I want to believe that God is all-good. And, based on my personal experience in life I have no reason to doubt that. But I see far too many other signs and indications, too many other people who have very different experiences from my own — too much suffering and pain that is not explained by the theory of indemnity outlined in the Divine Principle as I know it. — I am still looking for answers to these questions, and I have so far not found any in (Rev.) Moon’s speeches or anywhere else. The fundamental question is: Will that cruelty which I have mentioned continue to haunt the world even after it is supposedly restored, and will fear, and cruelty of animal to animal continue even after man’s cruelty to man and Nature has ended? Or will even man continue to be cruel to man? It all depends on the true nature of God. I would very much like to believe He is all-good. But then all around me I see good mixed with bad — within myself as well, of course — and both good and bad seem to be inherent in the entire natural world in which we live. Why do we differentiate between good and bad the way we do? Or why do I do so? There is a dichotomy, a dilemma, and if I cannot resolve it I cannot follow God. — I have thought about why suffering and pain are so much part of the experience of life in Nature alongside joy, and I have wondered whether perhaps joy is deepened through suffering. Perhaps God needs both. Maybe He needs to experience excruciating pain one moment in order to feel all the more joy the next. Does God thrive on this roller coaster ride of extreme feelings? Cruelty is, in my understanding, when one person, animal or being makes another suffer — especially when it is not necessary. Instead of killing the mouse quickly, for example, the cat enjoys playing with it, making it suffer and fear, then allowing it to escape for a moment only to pounce on it the next and to kill it in the end, often without even eating all of it. The cat is, of course, a domesticated animal influenced by man. But there are plenty of similar examples of cruelty in “unspoilt” Nature as well. Is God a sort of Sado-Masochist? Or am I a pervert or an alien for being disturbed by these things? We all have a dose of something akin to sado-masochism within us. But is this exclusively the result of the Fall and thus totally outside God’s domain? If it is true that suffering would have been part of life experience in the original, ideal world, and that there will thus be suffering alongside joy forever, then I think God and “goodness” are quite different from what I, and perhaps most people, imagine them to be like. Perhaps, in God’s heart, there can be no real deep joy without a recurring (complementary?) experience of deep suffering. — But how do the two go together? And how can the evident, frequent occurrence of cruelty in Nature be explained? And, will we all have to suffer again and again forever, to be able to experience deeper and deeper joy?
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End of original reflection.
These thoughts were added later when I copied the above in a letter to a friend: (Rev.) Moon has said in the past that animals and plants are eaten by higher animals or by man, and thus they become part of something higher than themselves. But if this is part of the design of Nature, why then do they run away from that rosy fate, evidently in fear? — Is that fear unnatural? Also, many times the exact opposite happens in Nature — perhaps even more often: animals and plants at an evidently lower level often eat or destroy those at what we would consider a higher level. Viruses and bacteria kill very many animals and plants, as well as human beings. Crocodiles, snakes, etc. kill mammals and human beings, and so do sharks and poisonous jelly-fish like the Portuguese man-of-war. There are innumerable other examples, of course. Certainly, that statement by (Rev.) Moon doesn’t explain anything. The real question is, again: what does all that violence say about the heart of God??
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The following is excerpted from a reflection I wrote in the Notes section at the back of my Divine Principle book a year later, in May or June 1995:
…… What kind of a heart designed such a thing? Obviously there is much evidence of joy in nature — but the joy always has something like a shadow of suffering. Perhaps God needed the experience of suffering, for himself and all that he made, in order to grow his capacity to experience joy. Somehow this is a harrowing thought, something I find almost impossible to accept. But it is nonetheless a possibility that cannot be easily dismissed. If good and bad, as we see them, are thus (it doesn’t follow automatically, of course) complementary after all in a larger scheme of things, then God’s heart is very different from what I imagined it to be like, and all of history has to be understood in a different way; and this DP (Divine Principle) is all but meaningless. I have to continue looking for another explanation — and probably most religious people cling to such other explanations as they have found [or illusions] — because the thought of a duality or “complementarity” of joy and suffering, and/or of good and evil, is too depressing. I cannot accept it, and I could never love such a God. Thus, anytime I see indications that God might be like that after all, as in the Bible or in True Father’s {Rev. Moon’s} statements, I shudder and reject them. But the questions remain!!! For example, it is suggested that whatever goes along with God’s will is good — even if it means that thousands of basically innocent people have to be massacred, etc. [see p. 479 {also p. 125, in the old DP book}] (This is in DP, where it says: “… when seen from the standpoint of not knowing God’s providence, we must also regard as evil the Israelites’ invasion of the land of Canaan, during which they destroyed {slaughtered} all the gentiles without reason. However, this was also good when seen from the standpoint of the providence of restoration. Although there may have been among the Canaanites those who were more conscientious than the Israelites, the Canaanites at that time were uniformly on the Satanic side while the Israelites were uniformly on the Heavenly side.” — This is a justification for genocide — what if that still applied today: Could it be, one of these days, when/if the Lord of the Second Advent {Moon} gains absolute power, that an entire nation would be massacred or otherwise wiped off the face of the earth, and that that would be “good” in God’s eyes?) Why would that be necessary; and how much of the suffering and pain in human history was then “good” because it was caused by people following God’s will? How are we to understand and accept this? There are many, many more such examples, including many in True Father’s speeches … Are we being misled in a monstrous way in our understanding of God’s nature and heart? I hope not. ….
{End of excerpt.}
At that time I still blamed myself for not knowing God well enough, and not responding enough to his love, thinking that perhaps that was the reason I could not understand him. — I came to a different conclusion over the next few years, which was inevitable….
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