There were opportunities aplenty to promote various perspectives of peace during the first day of the scheduled three-day Cleveland National Air Show over Labor Day weekend at Burke Lakefront Airport. On Saturday, the first day of the series, I took my usual post at the northeast corner of the intersection of East Ninth Street and North Marginal Drive.
Two women on bicycles had stopped at the intersection waiting for a policeman to allow them to move on. The first woman bicyclist said, referring to my peace flag, “Where are the stars?” I said, “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’s all on our United States government. Some people have said to me, ‘If you don’t like it here, why don’t you leave?’ and I said, ‘I love my country. But I’m not too happy with some of the things our government has done. You need to make a distinction between our country and our government.”
The woman was quiet for a few minutes, thinking about what I had said, then offered me a drink from her water bottle, saying, “I don’t have any germs.” I demurred, saying she would need the water for herself, but she said she would get the bottle refilled. Her kind offer made me think she appreciated my comments.
The second woman, nodding in agreement to my observations, offered a postscript that she is disgusted by our space program, and I commiserated, saying “What a boondoggle that is. Spending billions and billions of dollars unnecessarily.”
A Cleveland fireman holding a fireman’s boot on his shoulder was collecting donations for muscular dystrophy research and to fund care for victims of the disease. I asked if he would hold my flag while I dug my wallet out of my back pocket and he politely declined, saying it was against fire department regulations as it would look like he was making a political statement to the general public. Soooo, I awkwardly clutched my flag as I retrieved my wallet.
A number of people thanked me for my service, and I often said, “Wasn’t my idea. I got drafted.” They would laugh and one woman said, “Thank you for not dodging,” meaning not dodging the draft. One gentleman said, “I agree with your message, but disagree with your methodology”….whatever that means. I’m guessing he had not experienced the bitter taste of war.
During the afternoon of my seven-hour gig, with an hour off for lunch at Subway on East Ninth Street, a different Cleveland fireman stood next to me for a while, collecting donations. I said to him, “When people thank me for my service, I sometimes say, ‘I didn’t serve my country. I served deceitful, lying, fearmongering, war-mongering politicians and their war-profiteering bed partners. Those truly serving our country are medics, nurses, doctors and mental health professionals who work very very hard to mend as best they can the psyches and bodies of those savaged and ravaged by war. They are the real war heroes. Not those who kill and destroy. That’s not heroic. It’s barbaric.” The fireman smiled, then said he was going to stand several feet away next to the sidewalk leading to the air show entrance. He might not have liked what I said. Too bad.
A man stopped to chat about my pro-peace message, agreeing with my comments about war, saying the only “accomplishments” with our wars are “we killed a lot of people” and generated “lots of money” for war contractors. He said he had been a scoutmaster at his city in Pennsylvania and when a traveling exhibit of a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall was set up in his town, he and others held a vigil at the wall because the names of three former Boy Scouts in his troop were on the wall.
Toward the end of the show, I walked up to a Cleveland policewoman on a motorcycle who I remember from last year due to her memorable eyelashes which appear to have been purchased from a Fuller Brush man. I said to her, “A lot of people think our military is keeping us safe, but it is people like you who are really keeping us safe–state and local police, the FBI and CIA. When our military kills people and destroys property with our weapons of mass destruction, it simply generates more hatred for the United States among survivors of our attacks.” The officer agreed.
A young couple with their little boy–I’m guessing about eight years old–agreed with my pro-peace comments completely. The lad, apparently smitten with my uniform, said he wanted to “be in the army’ when he grows up. I said, much to his mom’s delight, “Welllll, maybe you should consider working in the medical field. Isn’t it better to help heal people than to kill people?” The mother, hugging her son to her side with her left arm, said, “Thank you for saying that.”