I'm still shocked, even though I shouldn't be, when people call me a pacifist. They look at the facts that I write regularly for Antiwar.com and that I oppose every war the U.S. government is involved in, as well as virtually every war the U.S. has been in since the revolutionary war. (I'm not sure about the war of 1812-14.) On that basis, they conclude, I must be a pacifist.
But I'm not a pacifist, at least insofar as I understand the term. I take "pacifism" to mean opposition on principle to using force, even in self-defense. As I once said, after someone in a roundtable discussion had called me a pacifist, "If you come at me and try to kill me, you'll see how much of a pacifist I am. I'll defend myself, with force if necessary." It was fun to see the person turn a little pale when I made my non-pacifism clear in such a personal way.
Having said that, I think it's also true that way too many people resort to force as a solution way too much of the time. Force is rarely a solution, and there are so many other creative options for resolving disputes. We on Antiwar.com do a great job of explaining why force is wrong. But I think it's also important to talk about various options for making peace. Which brings me to my successful attempt at peacemaking at a December 14 football game between the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots.
This was the first NFL game I had ever been to and I had a lot of trepidation. Tales of fights at Oakland Raiders home games are legendary. My daughter had gone with her boyfriend to an exhibition game before the season started and had told me that multiple fights had broken out near where they had sat. I don't like fights and seek to avoid them whenever possible. I made sure that I wore neutral colors to that I wouldn't upset Raiders crazies. (I couldn't find anything black or silver in my closet that was also rain-resistant.) And so, if you had told me that I would actually insert myself into a conflict in order to make peace that day, I wouldn't have believed you. But that's precisely what I did.
At the stadium, my friend and colleague Jeremy Arkes and I settled into an area sheltered from the rain to watch the game. About four rows in front of us, we noticed two young men wearing "Tom Brady" sweatshirts. Tom Brady, of course, is the injured star quarterback of the New England Patriots. That wasn't a wise idea at a Raiders' home game, but hey, that was their right. They were just sitting there watching the game and minding their own business. But to my right, milling in the aisle, was a hefty young man who was shouting insults at them. As he got drunker, he got louder and more belligerent. At one point, he flicked a cigarette butt at one of the New England fans. The cigarette butt bounced off the man's back and fortunately, I guess, he didn't notice it.
Finally, one of the fans in the same row as the New England fans turned around and shot a nasty look at the out-of-control Raiders fan. When that didn't work, she pulled her index finger vertically across her neck, her signal to cut it out. That didn't work either. So after a few minutes, she came back to talk to the Raiders fan. "Look," she said, "there are children present, so cut out the bad language."
Raiders fan: If you're for New England, then you get out, too.
Woman (pointing to the large R-A-I-D-E-R-S letters on her black and silver sweatshirt: Hello. Can you read?
Apparently, he couldn't: He kept up his abuse of her and of the two New England guys. Minutes later, the woman and her family got up and moved. Shortly after, another family got up and moved. That solved their problem, but the result was that a large percent of the people left were young guys who were obviously Raiders fans, some of whom turned to smile at the troublemaker. He escalated his vituperative language and ran down the steps to where the New England fans were sitting, leaned down, and, I'm sure, made a nasty comment.
Have you ever been in a situation where you can almost feel a mob mentality developing, where you think that things could very quickly get out of control? That's what I sensed happening. Normally, if I'm in such a situation, I leave. But in this case, it was clear that those two hapless New England fans could be in serious trouble, and I didn't feel right just abandoning them. So I asked Jeremy, given that he might be put at risk, if he minded if I intervened. "I don't plan to get in a fight," I said, "but I'm not willing to leave this alone. There are many more steps before it leads to a fight and so I doubt there will be a fight." Jeremy said that was fine.
So I walked down to the two New England fans, crouched down to where I was at eye level, and said, "Excuse me, sir, do you want me to get the Events Staff people here to take care of this?"
I hoped he would say no and that I could tell myself that I had done my good deed for the day on the cheap. But he immediately said, "Yes, I would appreciate that."
So I walked down the steps and located two young people wearing Events Staff jackets. On the way, I figured out how to raise the subject so that they couldn't avoid taking action. I asked one of them, with the most naïve tone I could muster:
"Excuse me. Is there a rule here against verbally abusing other fans with bad language and even threatening them physically?"
What was she going to say? Of course she would have to say yes. And she did.
"OK," I said, "there's a fan doing that. Please come with me."
We walked up the stairs to where the abusive fan was, and something in me made me want to confront him openly rather than trying to hide. So I walked right up to the troublemaker, stuck my arm out so that my finger was less than two feet from him, and pointed at him. I left the male and female Events Staff people to deal with him and walked back to my seat. They talked to him for a minute, did an elaborate handshake, and then walked away. Of course, after they left, he turned to me and started verbally abusing me. Various other people around him started chanting, "snitch, snitch." It made me realize how primitive some people's thinking is. What was bad, according to them, was that I had "snitched" on someone. The troublemaker's threats of violence to innocent people, apparently, were not as bad as what I had done.
I've always believed that when you stand up to evil, you do better if you're sure that it's evil and sure of your own moral righteousness. The "snitch" comments, therefore, just bounced off me. So I ignored them and concentrated, instead, on the game. Oh, yeah, that's right – some of us were actually there to watch a football game, a fact that seemed a detail to many of these "fans." But they, and especially the troublemaker, kept yelling various abusive comments. So, finally, I turned and looked at the troublemaker, who was about five or six feet away, and stared daggers at him. I'm generally a gentle person, but my look was one of menacing hatred. At least that's the look I was going for. After about five seconds of looking at me, he turned away.
As I said, there was a football game on and within a minute or two, the Raiders, by this point in the fourth quarter clearly in a losing cause, made a great play. I cheered and so did many of the fans who were actually watching the game.
A couple of minutes later, the troublemaker came back and said, "I'm sorry, man."
I thought this was a sucker play and so I ignored it. But a few seconds later, he said again, "I'm sorry, man." He seemed to be genuine and to want an acknowledgement.
So, without looking at him, I said aloud, with a purposeful edge of anger in my voice, "No problem."
And that was it. A few minutes later, with the game clearly out of reach for the Raiders, Jeremy and I got up and left. On the way out, I went by the two New England fans, crouched down, and said, "Hey guys, have a great evening." "Thanks," one of them said, "You, too."
I said to Jeremy, "It might have looked as if we were close to a fight, but I had lots of options left." And that's what I believe. Am I pacifist? Absolutely not. But are there many ways to avoid fighting and to resolve conflicts? Absolutely yes.
Copyright © 2009 by David R. Henderson. Requests for permission to reprint should be directed to the author or Antiwar.com.