October 20, 2005

Visual Memory

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Walking to my early morning class a couple of Thursdays ago, I caught a glimpse of them. A large group of people and what looked like U-hauls sprawled across the arts quad. Then I saw the sign. Oh that’s right, I got a flyer about that, yeah, the Eyes Wide Open exhibit. The early-to-rise group diligently went to work, unloading the trucks and jostling about at daybreak. The view of the arts quad after my one hour and 15 minute lecture was astounding. Hundreds of pairs of boots had already been lined up. It truly was a sight to be seen. I looked for more details. I noticed a sign that told the number of dead from the war. 1,949 American soldiers. Geez, 1949 – that’s a year, I thought. Almost two thousand soldiers have been killed.

I spotted a friend who was volunteering. She told me they had to change the number just that morning; there was another attack that had claimed more lives. I decide to take a look around. I only have one class on Thursdays so there was ample time to kill.

Each pair of boots had a white tag on them, some blank, but most with information. A name, hometown, age. I found myself drowning out the letters, instead closely examining their ages. A fixation with numbers, I guess. Many of them were kids. Kids like you and me. Some of them had already started families. I looked at a picture of a younger soldier, 23 years old I think, holding his infant in his arms.

Were they alone when it happened, were they scared? They must have been scared senseless. How are their mothers coping? Are they doing alright? A woman from the Ithaca Journal asked if she could quote me. I was numb from feeling and all I could say was that it’s amazingly tragic; these kids were as old as I am.

I stood in bewilderment, while the organizers remained steadfast in their work. I walked while trying to mull over the harsh facts, and almost tripped over a piece of string the organizers had used to meticulously line up the boots. A field of boots, representing lives lost. Lives lost. It was hard to come to grips with – the fact that these were lives that were lost.

I tried to find out more about the organizers. The American Friends Service Committee. Sounds like those Quaker people. I go to their website later. Sure enough, the AFSC is, “… directed by a Quaker board and staffed by Quakers and other people of faith who share the Friends’ desire for peace and social justice.” Well I’m not a Quaker and I don’t think I have to be one to be moved by their stunning tribute to our brave soldiers who had lost their lives. Politics, religion and diehard convictions aside, one can appreciate this memorial to those who have fallen in the Iraq war, and the astronomical toll the war has had on both sides in terms of casualties.

For a balanced view, I decided to read the entire transcript of President Bush’s recent address to the National Endowment for Democracy. It is a sweeping and lengthy speech, and demonstrates America’s steadfast sense of duty in seeing this battle, and the all-encompassing war on terrorism through to ultimate victory. But when does it become less about strong convictions and resoluteness and drift into an unwillingness to admit error and humility?

What astonishes me is how far detached our plans for creating a democratic and sustainable Iraq today are from the initial reasons we used to justify the invasion. At this point, regardless of the validity of our motivations at the start of this war, we owe it to the Iraqi people to assist them in creating a stable and safe environment. But is our continued and onerous fight to create a democratic and sustainable Iraq all we can do?

There’s this great scene in the movie Saved, where Pastor Skip is asked by his son Patrick why he does not leave his crumbling loveless marriage and responds by saying, “Divorce is not a part of God’s plan!” Patrick shrugs and before walking away offers, “Dad, you need to think of a new plan.” As I finished writing this column, I read another news report of soldiers fatally wounded over the weekend. I am eternally grateful to our troops for serving this country in a capacity I can not fathom doing myself. They possess tremendous courage and I think the world of those who have paid the ultimate price for our safety.

At present, 1,979 troops have died and the number continues to rise. Our military commitments in Iraq are expected to increase further as well. More than 100,000 Iraqis have perished. I’m not going to pretend to know the answer. But I think we need another plan.

Archived article by Sophia Asare
Sun Staff Writer