LAST WEEKEND, WHILE THE OP-ED BATTLE DRUMS beat ever louder, George W. Bush finally called the United Nations chicken for not endorsing his war plans against Iraq. Naturally, I took refuge among the World Federalists, whose local chapter was meeting at the local center of the Ba'hai faith — itself as internationalist a religion as you will ever find. As one young Ba'hai put it, “I guess because I'm a Ba'hai, I am a world federalist.” Which may be why this gentle creed has been so vigorously persecuted in its Iranian homeland.

Elsewhere, as the nation stumbled toward conquest, peace marchers were out in the hundreds. But only in South Los Angeles could you find a bunch of people dedicated to the idea of planet Earth as something better than a tribal gaggle of estranged, self-interested countries, some evil, some not so evil, none to be trusted. Except for “The greatest nation on the face of the Earth,” as our president likes to call it. So just what is one to make of the freaks who still promote “global citizenship” and “loyalty to the community of mankind?” A couple of years ago, when I last visited the Federalists (as they like to call themselves), there was hope that America was, in the post-Soviet world, beginning to see itself as part of an international community. From treaty beginnings such as the newly authorized World Criminal Court and NAFTA, a stronger world unity and even community might grow, to the point where, as W.F. activist and speaker Tad Daley put it, “Our highest loyalty is a global loyalty.”

But the Bush regime doesn't do treaties — or even keep them. It's annulled the ABM treaty, Kyoto global-warming protocol and the International Criminal Court. Now, only U.S. troops are authorized to commit atrocities without punishment under international authority. The U.S. is the only coherent state in the world to have rejected the Convention on Children's Rights (ungoverned Somalia is the other). The list goes on and on — the child-soldiers ban and rights-of-women agreements. Screw the world. As one pro-administration publicist put it: “The new unilateralism seeks to strengthen American power and unashamedly deploy it on behalf of self-defined global ends.” Unilateral, in case you've forgotten, means one-sided. In effect, international law is abolished.

Our president seems to think that prolonged occupation of Saddam's satrapy by a huge American force will teach Iraq and the rest of the world that we are right and they were wrong. But historically, America's going it alone against its allies has led to ghastly international missteps like the Smoot-Hawley tariff that helped spark the Great Depression, and the catastrophic rejection of the League of Nations, which might otherwise have prevented WWII. That last terrible lesson helped create the United Nations. But those who actually wrote the U.N. Charter — among them the late Senator Alan Cranston — wanted more: a global republic and an end to war. They founded the World Federalists of America, whose membership has included Einstein, Walter Cronkite, John Anderson and even — way back when — Ronald Reagan.

Nowadays, though, world federalism, while not without its celebrities, is more typified by the wholehearted people who put bumper stickers (ranging from “Vote Democratic” to “1-800-ESPERANTO”) on both ends of their cars. These people are nice people, wonderful people and, on the whole, not young people. When I was very young myself, World Federalism was a mass movement. Now there are said to be 12,000 WFA members in the U.S. There are far more fundamentalist Christians who believe that global government is a scheme of the Antichrist. Not to mention millions elsewhere who opine that such a government should only exist under Taliban-style Islam.

But as Daley puts it, “This is not the end of human history.” He believes humans will finally have to become more aware of their similarities than their differences. This weekend also saw the culmination of the Jewish High Holy Days, which are dedicated to faith in our abilities to transform ourselves and this world. So it was good to know that the WFA is still there to tell us how this can best be done.

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