OBITUARY

'Citizen of the world' Garry Davis issued passports to Assange and Snowden

Garry Davis renounced his American citizenship

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 10:58am
NYT

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On May 25, 1948, a former US Army flier entered the US embassy in Paris, renounced his American citizenship and, as astonished officials looked on, declared himself a citizen of the world.

In the decades that followed, until the end of his long life last week, he remained by choice a stateless man - entering, leaving, being regularly expelled from and frequently arrested in a spate of countries, carrying a passport of his own devising, as the international news media chronicled his every move.

His rationale was simple, his aim immense: If there were no nation-states, he believed, there would be no wars.

Garry Davis, a longtime peace advocate, former Broadway song-and-dance man and self-declared World Citizen No 1, who is widely regarded as the dean of the One World movement, a quest to erase national boundaries that today has nearly one million adherents worldwide, died last Wednesday in Williston, Vermont. He was 91. Though in recent years he had largely ceased his wanderings and settled in South Burlington, Vermont, he continued to occupy the singular limbo between citizen and alien that he had cheerfully inhabited for 65 years.

"I am not a man without a country," Davis told Newsweek in 1978, "merely a man without nationality."

I am not a man without a country, merely a man without nationality

The quest for a unified earth was an objective on which Davis had trained his sights very early. It was born of his discomfort with a childhood of great privilege - his father, Meyer Davis, was a renowned society orchestra leader known as the "millionaire maestro" - his grief at the loss of a brother in the second world war and his horror at his own wartime experience as a bomber pilot.

"Ever since my first [bombing] mission over Brandenburg [Germany], I had felt pangs of conscience," Davis wrote in a 1961 memoir, The World Is My Country. "How many bombs had I dropped? How many men, women and children had I murdered? Wasn't there another way, I kept asking myself."

The other way, he came to believe, was to eradicate conflict by eradicating borders. In November 1948, six months after renouncing his citizenship in Paris, Davis stormed a session of the UN General Assembly there.

"We, the people, want the peace which only a world government can give," he proclaimed. "The sovereign states you represent divide us and lead us to the abyss of total war."

In 1949, Davis founded the International Registry of World Citizens and was soon inundated with requests to join from around the globe.

Today, more than 950,000 people are registered world citizens, according to the World Service Authority, based in Washington.

In 1953, he founded the World Government of World Citizens. The demand for its documents proved so brisk that he established the service authority the next year.

More than half a million world passports have been issued, though there are no statistics on the number of people who have successfully crossed borders with them. Half a dozen countries - Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Mauritania, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia - have formally recognised the passport.

In old age, Davis was far from idle. Last year, he had a world passport delivered to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Just weeks before he died, Davis had a world passport sent, via Russian authorities, to Edward Snowden, the fugitive former national security contractor accused of violating espionage laws, whose US passport was revoked in June. Snowden was not available for comment.

The New York Times