Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Michael: Eyes Wide Open Visits Tucson

When I first heard about ‘Eyes Wide Open’, a memorial to the fallen on both sides of the Iraq War, I wasn’t that impressed. I didn’t think that a bunch of old shoes were a fitting memorial of our troops, or of the Iraqi civilians who have died, for that matter.

But I was wrong. There is something more than just eerie in the ranks of empty boots lined up at attention; there is something deeply moving about it. You can feel the quiet presence, or more aptly, the keen absence where vital young lives should be.

The presence of absence

Only the boots representing CA, AZ, CO, and NM soldiers were on display in Tucson, so the memorial required less space than some earlier installations that memorialized all the fallen troops. Under the eaves of the Armory Park Community Center, alongside all the shoes representing Iraqi civilian casualties, the memorial had an air of intimacy.

Arizona boots

California boots

Although the shoes representing Iraqi dead were much more numerous than the boots representing troops, they were placed much more compactly; almost anonymously.

A corner filled with Iraqi shoes

Throughout the installation of the boots, the Iraqi shoes lined the wall, and gave an impression of our fallen soldiers standing in front of the Iraqi dead, guarding them, or trusting them to follow.

Not all the Iraqi dead were completely anonymous, however, plaques bearing the names of the Iraqi dead ran through the center of the installation.

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Some of the fallen were only identified by the age and sex.

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The boots of each of our soldiers were identified with their name, rank, age, and state of origin on a tag attached to each pair. It was obvious which soldiers had friends or loved ones who had showed up at the memorial. Often these intimates left behind photos, flowers, mementos, or tributes to their loved ones.

memorial to a CA soldier

memorial to an AZ soldier

 memorial to an AZ soldier

 memorial to an AZ soldier

The AFSC was not content to only memorialize the fallen, they also had an educational mission. The installation included a series of info-graphics that taught about the origins of the Iraq War, lest we forget our original mission in Iraq was justified by rhetoric very far from the democratization of the Middle East.

No WMD found

No links to Al Qaeda

The info graphics also pointed out the nearly absurd imbalance in power between the so-called “Axis of Evil” and the might of the United States’ armed forces in terms of military spending.

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Finally, AFSC questions. in a very clear and forceful way, our government’s obsession with militarism. Illustrated by a comparison of government spending in several important sectors, AFSC questions whether the priorities this comparison reveals are also your priorities.

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The second day of the memorial installation ended with a multi-faith memorial service for the dead. Several Christian sects, a Muslim Imam, a Jewish Rabbi, a Sikh, and a Native American spiritual leader all participated with readings, sermons, and song. The participation of local religious leaders of several faiths was a promising final note. It took too long to collectively acknowledge the sacrifice of the soldiers who died in Vietnam because of the political divisions in the country. Loss so deep and so terrible should never be left to fester because of political considerations. I am glad that AFSC is doing this tour. It brings comfort to many, and public recognition and acknowledgement of the sacrifices being endured for this war.

Some may claim that the tour is anti-military, but it is anti-war. The AFSC is against all war, but not anti-soldier. Detractors see this tour as a political statement in opposition to this particular war, but it is not that. It is call to recognize that all war is barbaric, and all wars bring a freight of human tragedy in their wake. We’re lost if we cannot even honor our dead without political zealots using it to take crass political shots at the mourners.

Eyes Wide Open is an attempt to honor those we’ve lost, and to contextualize that loss. No life is lost in war is lost in vain, so long as it brings us closer to making war itself obsolete. No grieving parent, having given up the most precious thing they will ever have in their lives for their country, should be denied the right to have that sacrifice honored and contemplated by their fellow citizens. I can think of no more comforting thought to a grieving parent than the hope that no parent need ever suffer such a loss again.


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