I was able to squeeze in an additional opportunity to promote peace this weekend, thanks to the World Champion Houston Astros being in town to play the Indians in a three-game series that began Friday evening. My venue was the intersection of East Ninth Street and Carnegie Avenue, by Progressive Field, my typical hangout when greeting baseball fans “from both sides of the aisle.” The location is perfect for conveying the peace message to considerable vehicle traffic as well as pedestrian traffic. It was an especially-busy high-traffic evening because the Celtics were in town to play the Cavaliers in their sixth game of the Eastern Conference Finals at the neighboring Quicken Loans Arena.
I hadn’t been at the intersection since the Indians home opener on Friday, April 6th, when I was joined by my new Michigan friend Jonny Lewis, who came to town to meet me and see me “in action.” (Jonny, a writer, actor and director, has a number of anti-war video shorts on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channe
As usual several people thanked me for my service and a few said they liked my flag. However, the majority ignored me or offered a terse, robotic “Hi” or “Hello” when I gave them an upbeat “Hi!”
One young man on a bike stopped to chat. Turns out he’s an army veteran who was a bit uncomfortable with my presence. He asked why I was there and I said, “To promote peace. I’m trying to get across the idea that some war veterans are pro-peace. We’re not all cold-blooded killers, rapists and arsonists.”
Referring to the Vietnam War, he mentioned satchel charges being among weapons that killed Americans and I said, “That wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t stuck our noses into Vietnam’s civil war in the first place.”
The young veteran said we were in Vietnam to stop “the spread of communism” and I quickly countered, “We were sent there to kill communists and now Vietnam, a communist country, is our ally against China. Bottom line: more than 58,000 American lives wasted…3.4 million Vietnamese men women and children blown to bloody bits and burned to death by our weapons of mass destruction.”
He brought up the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and I provided a brief history lesson. “We provoked Japan to attack us. In the summer of 1941 we instituted a complete and total embargo on oil and scrap iron going to Japan. We were strangling that country economically and out of desperation, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. We put the embargoes in place because American companies were afraid Japan, after invading China in the 1930s, would take control of the tin, oil and rubber resources in southeast Asia–commodities important to American companies.” I encouraged the veteran on at least two occasions during our conversation to read Dr. Howard Zinn’s book “A People’s History of the United States,” which was my source for the information.
The conversation was friendly and we shook hands before he left. He thanked me for my perspective. I said, “Differences of opinion make life interesting. Life would be pretty boring if everybody agreed on everything.”
The next day, Saturday, was my traditional gig behind the West Side Market, with about a half-dozen other proponents of peace. A few young people from China and Taiwan asked if they could take my picture with them and of course I happily obliged, encouraging them to circulate the photos as much as possible.
A middle age couple, each with a camera, also took photos. I said to the woman, “Some people have said to me, about my flag, ‘Where are the stars?’ or ‘There are supposed to be stars on that flag.'” I told the woman that when people make such comments, I say, “The stars are in hiding. They are ashamed, embarrassed and disgusted by all the death, destruction, instability and chaos we have caused in the Middle East, beginning with our invasion of Afghanistan in October, 2001 and then Iraq in March, 2003. Millions upon millions of refugees, and it all started with us.”
The woman was visibly stunned, as I noticed her jaw drop. She was shocked.
On Sunday, for about the 10th straight year, I stepped into the Blossom Time Festival Parade in Chagrin Falls. Usually I walk in front of the Chagrin Valley Little Theater entry, which this year was publicizing the play “Sister Act.” However, this year I opted to walk in front of a late-model yellow VW beetle convertible which displayed a magnetic peace symbol on the hood, along with other magnets, channeling the 1969 Woodstock concert, but promoting “Woofstock,” which is a dog rescue effort.
As you might imagine, there was minimal applause among the hundreds of spectators in conservative Chagrin Falls as I walked down East Washington street. However, one woman walked out of the crowd and approached me, thanking me for my service. Another woman approached me from the other side of the street, but said nothing, simply briefly applauding my presence. I told her, “Thank you. You made my day.”
I heard boos on two occasions but simply waved at my antagonists.
Walking back up the East Washington Street hill to fetch my car, a woman with her two young daughters asked to take my picture with her teenage daughter and her 12-year-old daughter. Mom liked my message and we talked about the “fear-mongering propaganda” we hear from politicians.
Farther up the hill a spectator and I chatted for about five minutes. He identified with my message and during our conversation I mentioned Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, noting that “A week before he accepted the prize he ordered the deployment of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan.
“What a sick joke that was!”
My blood was already pretty warm while wearing my 50-year-old wool and polyester uniform on a July-like day when an obnoxious driver in a big black SUV stopped at a traffic light started razzing me, bringing my plasma close to the boiling point.
My immediate response, as is often the case with obstreperous folk, was, “Thank you. You’re very kind. You must be a Christian, a follower of the Prince of Peace. Do you think Jesus would like my flag?”
He said something indicating Christ would not appreciate my flag. Yeah, right. Sure.
My adversary really got my Irish up when he alleged I was not a war veteran. The light changed and as he started to drive away, I shouted as loud as I could: “VIETNAM!! YOU BEEN IN A WAR? I DIDN’T THINK SO!”
Isn’t it interesting that those who support war the most have never been in one. What a funny coincidence.
Today, Memorial Day, I stood in the shade of a tree not far from Shaker Heights City Hall, waiting for the parade to start. For the first time in about 10 years of joining the parade, I unfurled my flag. Normally I do not do that until I step into the parade. A woman who walked by with her youngster said to me, “Were you in Chagrin yesterday.” I said, “Yeah. I get around.”
Shortly before the parade started a man walked over to me, shook my hand, thanked me for my service and said, “I like your flag.” I said, “Thank you. I wish everyone did.” Turns out the gentleman was Jonathan Kuehnle, principal of Shaker Heights High School.
In past years I walked in front of people from Christ Episcopal Church and Plymouth Church, since members of those congregations are also fans of the Prince of Peace. But neither church was represented in the parade. So I decided to step in behind supporters of David Weiss, who is running for mayor of Shaker Heights. Driving behind me was a mammoth shiny like-new Shaker Heights garbage truck, which some parade observers no doubt would like to see me inhabit–but not in the driver’s seat, if you catch my drift.
One elderly spectator along the parade route stepped up to me and patted my upper left arm, saying, “I’m glad to see you. I was afraid you wouldn’t be here.”
On the walk back home after the parade, a young mom pushing a stroller asked to take my picture. She said my presence was “a powerful image.” I said, “Yeah, people won’t soon forget it, especially those who don’t like what they see.”
Oddly enough, a minute or two later a spectator who became a nemesis some 10 years ago when I first stepped into the Shaker Parade started heckling me. He was one of those malcontents who had not forgotten my “powerful image” over the years.
We went back and forth for about five minutes and it was clear the poor man was on a different planet. He did not have his facts straight and his perspective was simply delusional. He was impossible to reason with, although we found common ground in that Hitler had to be stopped.
As we walked away from each other I cheerily shouted, “See you next year!”
He said nothing. No surprise there. I’m sure he’s not looking forward to seeing me next year.