A brief bit of “performance art,” you might say, complemented my time promoting peace to hundreds of Cleveland Browns fans and some Tennessee Titans fans heading to FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday for the first regular season game for both National Football League teams. As usual, I was wearing my 51-year-0ld U.S. Army uniform and carrying my peace flag, standing about a hundred yards from the southwest gate of the stadium.
Several people–mostly men–shook my hand, which was gratifying, with them always saying “Thank you for your service.” Several men and women said same without shaking my hand, perhaps not agreeing with my peace message but appreciating my service, which included a year in Vietnam as a reporter, then editor, for the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division newspaper. A few people recognized the “Big Red One” patch on my left shoulder.
One elderly woman–okay, she was probably about my age–walked over to shake my hand, as she had done during the two pre-season home games. Since I had seen her before, I said, “Hi, sweetheart! What’s your first name?” and she said, “Ellie.” I told her I hoped to see her again. One young woman who shook my hand softly said, “You’re the best.” A nice compliment that I had not heard before. A couple of men remembered me from previous peace initiatives outside the stadium, saying, “You’re back!” and “It’s nice to see you again.” I said, “Gotta keep pushing for peace” and “Gotta keep promoting peace.” I was my usual cheery self, saying, “Good morning! It’s a great day for football!” or “It’s a beautiful day for football.” Most people agreed, although some feigned deafness.
There was a brief “performance” by a man several feet away who, as he walked by, said nothing while looking straight ahead and avoiding eye contact. He raised his right arm straight up and gave me half of a peace sign–and it wasn’t his index finger. I shouted “Thank you!” A young man said loudly “Support the war in Iraq!” The fact that he made his comment when he was several feet past me reveals he did not want to chat. If he was interested in conversation I would have said to him, “If you like war so much, why don’t you sign up…volunteer for combat in Iraq? Oh, wait. I know. You want other Americans to go to Iraq, but not yourself. Right?”
One middle-aged man stopped to chat and I told him, “We need more peace, civility, tolerance, mutual respect and compassion in our society.” He added, “And strength,” which I took to mean military strength. I said, “We don’t need to invade other countries.” He quickly turned and walked away, saying nothing. A couple of young men heading to the stadium shouted, “USA!! USA!!” I quickly shouted back, “Peace on earth!! Peace on earth!!” They said nothing in reply, but a woman a few feet behind them clapped after my response. Some time later a young man walking away from the stadium shouted “America!!” and I quickly shouted back, “Peace on earth!” He kept walking without saying anything.
Toward the end of my gig a middle-aged man walked up to me and said rather tersely, “Where are the stars?” As I gave him my standard spiel, he began to smile. I said, as I have done in the past, “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.” Still smiling, he said, “I like it,” and walked away.
I realize being a voice crying in the wilderness that I will have absolutely no effect on the military industrial congressional complex, all of which entities comprising that complex are in bed together–the most pernicious menage a trois in human history. But if my presence can dissuade even one young person from joining the military, such as the young man who admonished me to support the war in Iraq, then I have achieved some measure of success.