October 7, 2005

War Memorial Visits Ithaca

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A soldier died this morning, raising the number of U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq to 1,945. His death adds one more pair of boots to “Eyes Wide Open,” the acclaimed war casualties memorial currently being showcased in Ithaca.

“Eyes Wide Open” is a traveling exhibition run by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization which promotes social justice, peace and humanitarian service. The exhibit is designed to call attention to the human costs of the Iraq War. It opened yesterday on the Arts Quad at Cornell, and was moved this morning to Dewitt Park in downtown Ithaca. The memorial will stay there until Sunday at 4 p.m.

The memorial primarily consists of nearly 2,000 pairs of boots, each representing a death of an American soldier who fought in Iraq. The boots are organized by the home state of the soldier. Family and friends can send flowers, pictures and notes to travel with the boots around the United States.

“Every pair of boots represents an empty life,” said Tammara Rosenleaf, a member of Military Families Speak Out.

Rosenleaf spoke at the dedication of the memorial around noon yesterday. Other speakers included Kent Hubbell ’67, dean of students, Jane Marie Law, a professor in the religious studies department, and Elliot Adams, a Vietnam War veteran affiliated with the organization Veterans for Peace. The short speeches covered a variety of topics from the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam, to the impact of each death of a soldier.

“Each boot does not just represent an individual,” said Kaitlyn Van Arsdell ’08, a volunteer at the memorial. “It represents family and friends and all the people missing them who will never be able to seem them again.”

Van Arsdell and other volunteers, ranging from Cornell students, to Ithaca residents, to members of the AFSC, arrived on the Arts Quad at 6 a.m. yesterday morning to begin unloading the bright Yellow Penske truck which transports the boots. Though the memorial is run by a Quaker organization, it received nominal sponsorship from campus groups such as the Cornell Political Coalition. The memorial began in Chicago in January 2004 with 504 pairs of boots. Now, it also contains around 1,000 pairs of civilian shoes to commemorate those who died in the September 11 attacks.

“Eyes Wide Open” is supposed to be a non-partisan way to raise awareness about war casualties.

“The idea is not supposed to be hostile; it is not shoving the tragedy down people’s throats,” Van Arsdell said. “People can observe and walk through and experience. No matter what you think about the war, you can appreciate the memorial and be moved by it.”

Despite the memorial’s attempted objectivity, anti-war sentiments seeped in during many of the speeches.

“This war in Iraq is nothing but reckless disregard for the future of our world,” Rosenleaf said. “In a meeting with officials in Washington, we asked what number was an acceptable number before they say it is enough. I said I am not willing to negotiate with the lives of loved ones.” Some students objected to the demonstrators and their message.

“Two people came up to me and asked what it was,” said Kelsey Dow ’08, a volunteer and member of Young Friends, a Quaker organization on campus. “I said it was a war memorial, and one guy responded ‘it’s a bunch of liberal hippie bitching’ and spit. But, generally people have been respectful.”

The memorial is a part of a nation-wide movement against the war. Van Arsdell, who is a member of numerous campus organizations which protest the war, said that there is too much student apathy.

“The student body hears facts but think they are depressing and there is nothing they can do about it, so the go on with their everyday lives,” she said. “They do not realize the incredible power they have as part of an Ivy League institution.”

Archived article by Bekah Grant
Sun Contributor