"The Year 2000 is the most important project in the history of our planet." --Robert Muller
|Dr. Robert Muller|
When George Washington convened the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, he sat in a memorable chair. On the back of the chair was painted a sun which appeared half way above a horizon.
After spirited deliberations between delegates the day finally came when the last members signed the finished document which was to provide a framework for the United States government. Ben Franklin observed that painters had often found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. "But now at length," Mr. Franklin said in confidence about the new union, "I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun."
Almost two hundred years later, another Ben Franklin had become an "optimist-in-residence," this time in New York. Instead of laboring to create a new nation, Robert Muller was striving to create a viable United Nations. This "first 21st Century Man" became convinced that the sun was rising on the human family as it began to prepare itself to enter the third millennium.
Born in 1923, as a teenager Muller survived the Nazi ravaging of his forefathers Alsace-Lorraine. At the war's end Muller decided to devote his life to peace, having suffered from the divisions between France and Germany. He equipped himself with a doctorate degree in law from the University of Strasbourg.
In 1947, Muller won a contest by the United Nations Association of France with an essay on world government. He was invited to join the UN as an intern in 1948 and was privileged to rise over the next 30 years to the role of Assistant Secretary-General, working directly with three Secretaries General, from U Thant to Pe*rez de Cue*llar.
In this backup capacity to the Secretary-General, Muller became an architect of international cooperation and oversaw the creation and expansion of the UN's 32 specialized agencies and world programs. Each week he dealt with global questions concerning energy, the environment, health, outer-space, the oceans, population, children, women, the handicapped or the elderly. Muller would later write, "there is not a problem under the sun which was not brought to this global organization's system."
It was from this planetary light-house that Muller began to appreciate the importance of the year 2000 as a beacon for human achievement, commemoration and foresight.
In 1970, Secretary-General U Thant asked Muller to respond to a particular letter from a young person in India which suggested "that the UN should create in all countries young people's clubs for the next millennium, for the year 2000." Through several rounds of correspondence, Muller encouraged this aspiring diplomat to pursue his dream.
About this same time, the UN began to release population projections out to the year 2000. In response, the Economic and Social Council asked each specialized agency to project their work out to the century's end. Looking back now, Muller sees this as the inception of the UN's millennium march.
After asking "What will health be like in the year 2000?," the World Health Organization responded with a "Health for All in the Year 2000" action plan. Over the course of a decade, Muller witnessed nearly every UN program plan for 20 years out with targets for 2000 in the areas of food, literacy, industry, employment, environment or economic development.
"We usually underestimate the will and capacity of the human race to solve its problems," Muller says, putting UN planning in perspective. "When I joined the UN I was told that it would take between 100 and 150 years to decolonize the planet. It was done in 40. Over the years I was told the same about disarmament, apartheid, women's rights, indigenous people and the Cold War. Even the most stubborn of issues have or will succumb to the power of this bold new paradigm of cooperation."
Muller claims that at the end of the last century, there was practically no such preparation for a new century. In the 1890s, he mentions two: the first World Parliament of Religions in Chicago and the first World Peace Conference in The Hague. Now, for the first time in history, Muller felt that humanity had begun to prepare itself properly for its entry into a new century and new millennium.
"It took more than 500 years for the ideals of the Magna Carta to permeate the western world and to culminate in the French Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence. It took only fifty years for the UN to become universal and to exercise momentous effects on the course of history. Just think what influence 'We the People' of the world will have over the next 500 or 1,000 years! This is the first time in the entire human history that we are attempting to solve problems on a world scale."
The idea to celebrate the year 2000 worldwide with confidence occurred to Muller on the occasion of the American Bicentennial. He found himself in charge of how the UN would relate to the city of Philadelphia.
Out of curiosity one day he asked some prominent citizens of the Council of World Affairs, "When did you begin to plan the U.S. Bicentennial?" They replied, "Immediately after World War II." In amazement, Muller replied, "My God! You thought of this so many years ahead. This is fantastic." That thought never left Muller. From then on he thought that the UN should plan celebrations for the year 2000 well ahead of time.
A year later Muller took an end of the day walk to Grand Central Station to catch a train with John McConnell, the founder of Earth Day. McConnell mentioned that Margaret Mead was looking for an idea for Earth Day '77 that would be powerful and substantial.
Muller responded, "Why doesn't she write a letter to Nobel Prize winners, and ask them for their views of the year 2000, what the year 2000 might look like, with their vision of the future? She could put this together and give it to the UN Secretary-General on Earth Day."
Margaret Mead loved the idea. As Earth Day's International Chairperson, she sent letters out to all prior Nobel Laureates and soon received 33 statements. To Muller's surprise, he too was asked by Mead to make a proposal. "So that's what I did," Muller says with a grin, "I answered my own call with a proposal for a worldwide celebration of the year 2000!"
Muller's historic letter to Mead concluded with the dream: "I propose we hold in the year 2000 a world-wide Bimillennium Celebration preceded by unparalleled thinking, perception, inspiration, elevation, planning and love for the achievement of a peaceful and happy human society on Earth."
By and large, except for a few people, the immediate reaction among various ambassadors to Muller's bimillennial proposal was nil. The main objection by various UN diplomats was that if their government made a year 2000 proposal before the General Assembly they would be accused by the poor countries of diverting attention from immediate problems to a distant future. With some twenty years to go, Muller realized that the year 2000 was still too far away for most.
But in 1979 Muller's proposal caught the eye of Global Education Associates (GEA), led by Pat and Jerry Mische. The leaders of this citizen's movement encouraged Muller to proclaim his call for Bimillennial Celebrations more clearly and publicly to 70 of their colleagues, gathered from around the world. From that Stony Point meeting, the GEA delegates drafted and signed a two-page "Pledge for a Bimillennium Celebration of Life."
Looking back now, almost 20 years to this GEA Pledge, the first of many millennium resolutions to come, Muller says it is amazing to see how its values of justice, peace, ecological and economic security, have been at the forefront of deliberations to shape a humane world order.
By the early '80s, Muller would say, "We have to manage our planet with more intelligence. By the year 2000 we will be fully into the business of making a new world. Historians will some day be astonished by the UN's role in ushering humanity into the third millennium."
"I may have a proposal for world peace but no illusion whatsoever that it can be done immediately. I never give up. I have to work a long time ahead. For example, I proposed in 1977 that we should celebrate a world Bimillennium in the year 2000 the same way as the U.S. had a Bicentennial. Such an idea takes time. It must be repeated and repeated in dozens of speeches and writings. It must be proposed to prominent people, to government representatives in the United Nations, to journalists, to educators.... I am never disappointed because things do not happen overnight, but I know that if I work long enough at it, we will have a Bimillennium celebration world-wide."
Muller continued to express his faith that humanity was preparing itself for the third millennium. As Assistant Secretary-General of the UN, he delivered on average 180 speeches a year. In those speeches, he would often mention the miracle of how humans at long last were self-consciously organizing themselves to solve the planet's problems in view of 2000.
Muller's last assignment at the tall glass house in Manhattan was to organize the 40th anniversary of the United Nations in 1985. In his book, "My Testament to the UN," Muller writes: "nothing could have been a more appropriate finale to my thirty-eight years of service with the world organization." The 40th anniversary celebration became a model to Muller of how the UN might spur on member nations to appoint national commissions to celebrate the year 2000.
In 1986, Dr. Muller retired to Costa Rica, where he began service as a one-dollar-a-year Chancellor of the UN University for Peace, a university which he helped create. Working from his hillside writer's cabin just above the University, Muller rises at dawn, watches the sunrise and writes for two hours every morning in order to conclude his lifework.
One of the first pieces Muller wrote from Costa Rica was the poem "My Dream 2000." Written in 1986 for a progressive educational campaign named "Countdown 2001", "My Dream 2000" became a banner for the millennium movement over the next decade, being translated into at least seven languages.
Besides speeches and poems, many of Muller's books, including "New Genesis" and "The Birth of a Global Civilization," elaborate on his dream for worldwide celebrations of the year 2000. Two books in particular highlight the Millennium Moment in a specific way.
The first is Muller's 1991 novel, "The First Lady of the World," It begins in 1992 with the fictional inauguration of the first woman Secretary-General, Indian diplomat Lakshmi Narayan. Inspired by a wise Frenchman, she becomes an advocate for worldwide Bimillennium celebrations preceded by a rennaisance of the UN's various plans for 2000 and beyond.
As Muller's millennial tale unfolds the arms race ends by the mid-90s and a World Peace Service is created in lieu of military service to allow young people to do world service in poor countries. In 1998, a World Constitutional Assembly is convened in Philadelphia and given till 1999 to come up with a World Constitution to fulfill the dreams of Simon Bolivar and George Washington. The novel reaches a crescendo in the year 2000 as the Bimillennium is celebrated worldwide and humanity enters a new planetary age of cooperation and fulfillment.
A second book which Muller devotes solely to the theme of millennium preparations is "2000 Ideas & Dreams for a Better World." Launched on July 11, 1994, "2000 Ideas" is a 2,000 day countdown towards the millennium. Each day he records another idea for creating a better world. For example, Idea #10 hopes "by the year 2000 that all national hymns will have been rewritten in peaceful terms." Idea #27 proposed that 1999 be declared a "World Year of Forgiveness." Within 48 months, Muller had finished Idea #1900 of his 2,000 ideas noting that 81 of them had already been fully or partially implemented.
Despite Muller's quiet efforts in the early '90s to encourage member states to bring the celebration 2000 idea before the General Assembly, his efforts came to naught. Even the 50th anniversary of the UN came and went without any Bimillennial proclamation.
Meanwhile, the world began to hear how the Millennium Moment would be marked by an Olympics, a World's Fair and a Millennium Exhibition. By 1996, Times Square had conducted its "Search for the Big Idea" for New Year's 2000.
Then as 1997 opened, a new Secretary-General took the stage. Seeking to restore confidence in a battered UN, Secretary-General Kofi Annan put forward "the most extensive and far-reaching reforms in the fifty-two-year history" of the world body.
To climax these UN reforms in the year 2000, Annan proposed that the General Assembly prepare for an extraordinary "Millennium Assembly" during the year 2000. Approved by the General Assembly, the UN's year 2000 session will be peppered with "summit segments" at which heads of Government would come in order to articulate the challenges for the new millennium and embrace a second generation UN to serve the world community.
The planning of the first UN Millennium Assembly segment got under way in the fall of '97. Secretary-General Annan urged non-governmental organizations to hold a companion "People's Millennium Assembly" in the year 2000, in order to cement a new partnership between those organizations and the United Nations.
For Muller these developments were a dream come true. He predicts the year 2000 "Millennium Assembly" will review the preparatory work of the UN's historic world conferences since the '60s and "design a core vision of what our Earth and humanity should aim at and look like in the future."
In the meantime, Muller was appointed international advisor to a new Foundation for the Future in Belleview, State of Washington, whose work and vision will be the Year 3000.
As far as the UN inspiring various millennium celebrations worldwide, Muller points to various International Years which are in the works for 2000 and 2001. He reports that Argentina, inspired by his "Dream 2000," has called for an "International Year of Thanks-Giving" in 2000 to honor gratitude "as the noblest expression of the human spirit." The UN General Assembly adopted the proposal in 1997.
Ivory Coast and UNESCO have proposed that 2000 be proclaimed the "International Year of the Culture of Peace" to celebrate the vision of peace on earth and the need for long-term action to create it. And Japan has put forward a resolution calling for the year 2001 as the "International Year of Volunteers" to recognize the growth of volunteer service worldwide, and the role that citizen movements will have in shaping the third millennium.
Despite these themes for world celebrations, it is uncertain whether the UN's financial situation will allow them to take a defining role in the burgeoning millennium movement. The world body is under severe financial constraints, mainly because of arrears by the United States, which in 1998, still owed $1.3 billion for regular dues and peacekeeping ventures. The conservative U.S. Congress has so far withheld funds contingent on petty UN budget-cutting measures, compared with the colossal military expenditures on this planet.
As the sun rises on the new millennium, however, Muller has not given up faith. "The so-called financial 'crisis' of the UN is nothing new. The same problems of collecting dues of member nations plagued the world body when I was Director of UN Budget back in the late '60s."
These present day troubles do not shake Muller's confidence in the human future. He quips, "At the UN, you have both the comedies and the dramas of human destiny. It is both a Shakespearian stage and a five penny opera. But above all, it is a Temple to God's Creation and humanity's dreams."
My Dream 2000
by Robert Muller
That on 1 January 2000
The whole world will stand still
In prayer, awe and gratitude
For our beautiful, heavenly Earth
And for the miracle of human life.
That young and old, rich and poor,
Black and white,
Peoples from North and South,
From East and West,
From all beliefs and cultures
Will join their hands, minds and hearts
In an unprecedented, universal
Bimillennium Celebration of Life.
That the year 2000
Will be declared World Year of Thanksgiving
By the United Nations.*
That during the year 2000
Innumerable celebrations and events
Will take place all over the globe
To gauge the long road covered by humanity
To study our mistakes
And to plan the feats
Still to be accomplished
For the full flowering of the human race
In peace, justice and happiness.
That the few remaining years
To the Bimillennium
Will be devoted by all humans, nations and institutions
To unparalleled thinking, action,
Determination and love
To solve our remaining problems
And to achieve
A peaceful, united human family on Earth.
That the third millennium
Will be declared
Humanity's First Millennium of Peace.
Source: Countdown 2001, Alexandria, VA, 1986.
* adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 Sept 1997
For more on Robert Muller, see http://www.robertmuller.org/