Frosty relations between Russia and West and the rise of China in Asia have brought to some worries about a global or regional war with academics and specialists convening around the world to discuss how it might be prevented. One recent conference with experts from Europe and the Unites States was held in the South Korean capital Seoul to examine threats on the Korean peninsular and throughout the Asia Pacific. One of the panellists was Humphrey Hawksley who found that a key solution being advocated was far removed from the weighty and intricate discussion of rogue states and the international balance of power.
“Thank you all for your insightful and interesting contributions,” announced former US Congressman, Dan Burton, until recently a Foreign Affairs Committee heavy hitter, fixing his eyes on the banner above him that read Prospects for Peace in North East Asia. “Now, before the next session — lunch.”
“What’s in store next?” I flipped through the programme. James Wolsey Jnr, a former CIA director, wandered over to chat and scattered about the room were luminaries on international issues.
“Uhhh-oh!,” said one of the panellists, pointing to a section that said Foundation Day Program. “It looks like we might be going to a wedding.”
Eyes bulged with surprise. “We’re doing what?” exclaimed an analyst from the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington. She had just spoken on the future of Asian economies.
A wedding ceremony was being held in a stadium outside the South Korean capital, Seoul, run by the Unification Church, famous for its mass weddings between couples who had been matched and barely knew each other.
Inside, a vast tiered chequered landscape stretched back and up, brides in white, grooms in black, a peppering of colour from yellow flowers in button holes and bright headphones, their wires coiling out from translations sets so everyone — whatever language — could understand the vows. Most of thos tying the knot were young and a good many Americans and Europeans who had been paired off – essentially – to strangers.
“I soon as I saw his picture, I knew we would be suited,” said Anna, a petite brunette who had flown over from the States to marry a serious bespectacled South Korean computer programmer.
“And where are you honeymooning?” I asked him, but I he didn’t speak English. Nor did Anna speak Korean.
“Oh we’re not yet.” She explained that even after the wedding there would be no sleeping together for forty days. “It’s in case anything goes wrong.” She blushed, then squeezed his hand. “But with us it won’t.”
The Unification Church was founded in 1954 by the late and controversial Reverend Moon who said when he was 16 years old Jesus asked him to continue work left unfinished because of the crucifixion. He claimed a special gift for matching couples from different races, saying it helped understanding between cultures, and now it has spawned a myriad of businesses and international organisations, one of which had set up our conference.
It’s also had a rocky relationship with the establishment. Moon himself was jailed in America for tax evasion and many Christians reject his theology outright. I wasn’t clear how this wedding ceremony fitted in with our security conference or with a conservative politician like Dan Burton who was also an ordained pastor.
All was to be revealed later.
One of our conference helpers, Ke Sung Anderson, had been matched through his parents some years earlier.
“How does it work?” I asked. “Do you date first, go to the movies?”
“Not really.” He creased his brow. “Dating is like holding hands and you’re not supposed to do that. When I was 19 and going to college I knew it would be impossible to keep my virginity so to stay out of trouble I signed up.”
The reverend Moon’s widow, Mother Moon, as she’s affectionately called, presided over the ceremony, sitting on a throne-like chair with an empty one next to it in remembrance of her late husband. Together they’re referred to as the True Parents and she is the True Mother.
And with her came a flurry of activity, processions, music, couples chosen to receive gifts, while non-stop Mother Moon walked on and off stage in glittering robes, colourful trouser suits, changing her outfits as fast as a catwalk model.
Then, suddenly, a spotlight snapped on and the former US Congressman Dan Burton was at the podium congratulating the couples. “Samia and I are honoured to join you in renewing our wedding vows led by the True Parents,” he said, “with the ideal to protect marriage and the family and to reject socialism and atheism.”
And then it turned out our jovial conference organiser, Larry Moffitt, was himself matched in the early Eighties and I had to ask him what any of this had to do with prospects for peace in North East Asia.
He must have seen my sceptical look. “You gotta remember, Humphrey, marriage is a crapshoot,” he said. “We all find it difficult. But one thing’s for sure – and if you get this right everything starts falling into place – world peace begins in the bedroom.”