We Stand for Peace Every Saturday at West Side Market

I had a bit of an extraordinary experience last Saturday after standing behind the West Side Market in Cleveland with about a half-dozen like-minded friends. We are there every Saturday from 11 until noon, then go to the Koffie Cafe on nearby Market Street for lunch.

       Before entering the cafe on Saturday I stood in front of its large window to furl my peace flag, deliberately taking my time so as to increase the chances that the folks inside the cafe will notice the flag and me wearing my 50-year-old army duds. 

       Seconds after I walked inside a couple I did not recognize left their table and walked up to me, smiling, with the woman, Amy, indicating how grateful she was for my presence and message, reaching out to shake my hand. Her friend Lorenzo echoed her sentiment and we also shook hands. They live in Washington, D.C., but were in Cleveland to visit friends.

       I said to the couple, “I’m just trying to get across the idea that some war veterans are pro-peace.”
       I said, “Last fall I stood outside Progressive Field greeting people on the way to see a Yankees-Indians playoff game. One Indians fan stopped to talk and complained that my flag disrespects the American flag. I said to him, ‘From my perspective, after spending a year in Vietnam, I don’t see it as disrespecting the flag. I see it as respecting peace. People who have not been in a war will never ever respect peace to the same extent that I do’.” My critic said nothing, indicating I gave him something worth pondering, and we parted on friendly terms. You perhaps could call it a “teachable moment.”
       Now it was my turn to complain–to the couple from Washington.
       “The Cleveland Council on World Affairs gave some sort of humanitarian award to Condoleezza Rice (President George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser who pushed hard for invading Iraq),” I said. “I couldn’t believe it. She has lots and lots of blood on her hands. More than 4,500 perfectly healthy young Americans sent to early graves. Tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children blown to bloody bits and burned to death by our weapons of mass destruction.”
       The couple smiled in agreement in hearing my message and Lorenzo, glancing at the six medals the army awarded me after returning from Vietnam said my observations carry considerable weight–that I have “street creds”–for having survived in a war zone for a year.
       Then I said, “I thought Bush was our worst president ever, then along comes Trump. We’re living in a three-dimensional nightmare.” Amy laughed and Lorenzo smiled.
       A few seconds after we parted company Lorenzo came back to me and asked if Amy could take a picture of us together. I of course agreed, unfurling my peace flag for the photo. He asked if they could circulate the picture and I said, “Sure. I always encourage people taking my photo to circulate it as much as they can–on Facebook or wherever.”
        I regret forgetting to mention one other anecdote to the couple regarding people objecting to my flag, to wit: Some people have said to me over the years ‘There are supposed to be stars on your flag’ or ‘Where are the stars?’
        My response is always this: “The stars are in hiding. They are ashamed, embarrassed and disgusted with all the death, destruction, instability and chaos we have caused in the Middle East. Millions upon millions of refugees, and it all started with us after we invaded Afghanistan in October, 2001 and Iraq in March, 2003.”
         About a month ago a new friend of mine, Jonny Lewis, an actor, writer and director, traveled from his home in Michigan to meet me and observe my promotion of peace. On a Saturday morning during his visit, Jonny stood with me and my peacenik buddies behind the West Side Market. 
         One passerby, annoyed with our message, said “You have to have war before you have peace.”
         A rhetorical question occurred to me days later, which I wish had popped into my head at the time and I had said to the aggrieved passerby, “Well, if we never had war, wouldn’t we always have peace?”