View 740 Sunday, September 02, 2012
The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, RIP
There are many official obituaries and I can’t add to them. The most sympathetic will be at the Washington Times http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/sep/2/rev-sun-myung-moon-founder-times-dies-92/ which thr Reverend Moon founded. The Times was no more a Moonie newspaper than the Christian Science Monitor is run by the successors of Mary Baker Eddy. You don’t generally rely on the Monitor for the latest in medical science breakthroughs, and one did not turn to the Washington Times for the latest news on missionary activities in Asia, but there was a time when the Monitor was among the best national papers on space science, and the Times was an excellent Cold War paper.
I have not thought about the Reverend Moon for more than a decade. The announcement of his death sparks irregular memories. Apologies for this ramble.
I met Mr. Moon in the early 1980’s when I received an invitation to attend and speak at a conference on the unification of the sciences to be held in Seoul. I would also participate in panels on science and society. The conference was chaired by a Danish physicist, and as far as I could see from the attendance and conference list there wasn’t a Moonie in the bunch. My friend and one time collaborator Dr. Charles Sheffield was also on the speaker list. Neither of us knew a thing about the Unification Church other than from popular press accounts of his mass weddings. On the other hand they were paying all expenses and a good honorarium. All told it seemed like a good deal.
It was. I discovered that I would be expected to attend one of the Reverend Moon’s mass weddings – about 22,000 couples, mostly Asian but some Americans – and attend a dinner at which the Reverend Moon would speak, and I would also meet the Reverend Moon. I wasn’t expected to participate or comment on those activities; I was there for the science. That was the first of my engagements with the Reverend Moon.
The conference was quite real. The International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences had many attendants, including several Nobel prize winners. It was conducted by scientists and not one of the participants – so far as I could tell – was part of the Unification church. Some of Moon’s religious trainees attended the various seminars and panel discussions, but they did so as students, not as participants. In the sessions I took part in there was absolutely no indication that Reverend Moon’s church was involved, other than some statements from the founder to the effect that there was a unity between religion and science and philosophy. I believe a similar sentiment was delivered by a Jesuit from Notre Dame. I am not sure what I learned from the conference, but I was glad I went to it. And the pay was good.
I attended other conferences sponsored by various organizations founded by but not run by Reverend Moon. One of them was in Korea, and my wife was a participant: Roberta was invited to conduct a session on reading education, a matter in which she has a great deal of relevant experience. I don’t know how the participants were selected or how Roberta and I became regulars at Reverend Moon’s international conferences. They seemed to be a mixture of people with impeccable credentials, and people with a lot of experience and practical ideas, some obscure, and I learned something from every one of them. I was once on a panel with Glenn T. Seaborg on the future of nuclear energy. He had the credentials. I like to think I had some good ideas.
Roberta and I also participated in the Reverend Moon’s conference in Moscow in 1989. By that time it was clear that the USSR was coming apart, but it had not yet done so. I had long been restricted from travel to Iron Curtain countries, but that passport had expired and my new one had no restrictions; and the group that Reverend Moon took to Moscow included a former US Senator, several Nobel Prize winners, well known journalists, and conservative political writers; it seemed safe enough even for a notorious anti-communist who was nevertheless popular with Moscow computer science people. I wrote about all that in the past, but most of that seems to be lost. I did find a reference about halfway through my mailbag for July 2001 http://www.jerrypournelle.com/archives2/archives2mail/mail162.html and I am sure there is more – I did at least one BYTE column from Moscow – but much is as elusive as the snows of yesteryear. I will always be grateful to Reverend Moon for making it possible for Roberta and I to see the last days of the USSR.
I attended one of Moon’s mass marriages in Seoul, and I know I wrote about it. Most of the participants were Asian, but there were more than a hundred Americans. The couples were matched by Moon himself. Some of them were meeting for the first time. I followed the statistics on those marriages – one of Moon’s organizations, not staffed by members of his church, kept track of them – and they claimed a far higher success rate than average. At another ceremony in Madison Square Garden Roberta and I were both present and apparently were remarried, although the State of New York was not involved. Including our renewal of vows at Cana in Galilee and participation in the Reverend Moon’s ceremonies we have been married at least four times.
The Moon organization bought the bankrupt University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. This was greatly disturbing to the faculty. I was asked to meet with the faculty, and I did: I described my experiences with some of Moon’s organizations, which was about all I could do. I didn’t think they had much to fear, but I couldn’t reassure them about possible Unification plans because I knew nothing about them. I did propose to the faculty and to the Moon organization an academic program, namely an experimental school that would start with first grade to give a real head start: teach all the children to read in first grade. That would of course have to be run by my wife, not me. There was some interest in that from both Bridgeport and the Moon organization but nothing ever came of it; and in fact not long after that the Unification organization began to come apart, even as the Soviet Union came apart. Perhaps without the Cold War there was less need of it. It was about then that Reverend Moon began to claim, or appear to claim, that he was a messiah, and much of the cooperation he had enjoyed from other religious organizations began to wane. In any event that was about the end of my participation in organizations sponsored by Revered Moon, although I continue to enjoy friendships with people I met through his groups.
But in its day, the Reverend Moon sponsored but did not control – did not so far as I can see attempt to control – an astonishing array of organizations and publications. There was The World and I, an excellent magazine run by Morton Kaplan. I first met Morton when he was an associate of Herman Kahn, and participated in Kahn’s presentations to the Boeing Company advanced planning staff in 1960. The Washington Times under Armand de Borchgrave was an interesting newspaper, hardly non-partisan but certainly independent of Unification. And Moon’s conferences were informative and enjoyable.
I have no right to an opinion about the Unification Church and its beliefs because all I know about it came from listening to speeches by the reverend Moon, and those were all in Korean. It was understood that if he paid your way to Seoul, or Moscow, or elsewhere, you would attend his speech. While I was in Moscow I received a dinner and award from the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and one of the Academicians accompanied and sat with me during Reverend Moon’s presentation. Neither of us understood Korean, nor did we discuss our host’s views, and as usual I found it difficult to understand the translator. In person Mr. Moon was an impressive man who radiated great energy, but I spent very little time in his company. I will always be grateful to him for introducing me, through his organizations, to Glenn Seaborg, Georgie Ann Geyer, Tom Bethel, Richard and Daniel Pipes, Nikolai Tolstoy, and dozens of others, some of whom remain friends to this day.
I realize that it is a bit odd that I have written more about the Reverend Moon, who I met only a few times and never knew well, than about others, some friends, or Neil Armstrong. I can say that I am unlikely to know or say anything about Neil Armstrong that dozens of others do not know better than me. In its time the Reverend Moon and his groups were important in the Cold War, and his death has stirred up many old memories.
© 2012, jerrypournelle. All rights reserved.