Boston Common exhibit opens eyes

by Beacon Staff • November 9, 2005

Last Thursday the Boston Common was filled with boots-2,037 pairs of boots to be exact. This installation, entitled Eyes Wide Open, served as a visual representation of the lives lost in the War in Iraq. Each pair of army boots symbolized an American soldier killed in the conflict. On the other side of the sidewalk, there was another area filled with boots arranged to symbolize the Iraqis who were killed in the conflict, many of whom were civilians.

Several Emerson students said they thought the display helped illustrate the human cost of a war that many oppose.

Freshman journalism major Kate Richling said the exhibit was particularly moving because it provided a visualization of the number of people lost in combat. Richling, who supports war protests because a family friend died in Iraq, said the rising death toll contributes to her sense of personal loss.

"Seeing how much one death affected my hometown, the fact that it happened over 2,000 times is insane," Richling said.

Eyes Wide Open is a traveling exhibit created by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). The committee is a Quaker organization that accepts members from all denominations, according to the group's Web site. AFSC members are also committed to social justice, peace and humanitarianism while championing the worth of the individual, the Web site said.

When the exhibit was unveiled in Chicago in 2004, it showcased just 504 pairs of boots. Since then, Eyes Wide Open has traveled to over 70 different cities. At each stop, people came to grieve for their loved ones and leave photographs, ID tags and other mementos, group members said.

In Boston, the installation began at the Massachusetts State House on Nov. 1. It was then moved to the Boston Common on the 3rd and concluded in Copley Square on the 8th. In addition to the main display, Eyes Wide Open also featured a reading of the names of the war's casualties, candlelight vigils and meetings and receptions with the AFSC Boston Chapter and guest speakers.

Speakers at the event included independent journalist Dahr Jamail, parents of soldiers who were casualties of the war and members of the organizations Military Families Speak Out and Gold Star Families for Peace.

Jamail, who has been working to expose what he called "untold horrors" experienced in Iraq, shared stories of prison torture, understocked hospitals and a lack of potable water and electricity for the Iraqi people.

"The future for Iraq looks quite bleak as long as [the] operation continues," Jamail said.

He also told the audience about "Operation Phantom Fury," which he said devastated homes and lives in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. With their city under siege, hundreds of residents were displaced and forced to take refuge in tents or abandoned buildings. Jamail said the conflict in Fallujah was one of the most censored stories this year.

"The American media has failed to report the destruction of an entire city," he said.

Another guest speaker was Carlos Arredondo, father of Alexander Arredondo, a 20-year-old soldier killed in action Najaf, Iraq. Arredondo called the day his son died "my last moment to support this immoral war."

Arredondo had created a special tribute to his son to travel along with the pair of boots, which includes photographs, a plaque with his son's name on it and a wheeled table with an American flag over it, symbolizing a coffin.

Charley Richardson, a member of Military Families Speak Out, spoke of an e-mail he received from a member of the organization. The member, who is the mother of a soldier, said that her son had been told to kill all Muslims-anyone with brown skin, including women and children.

"It's after returning to the US that soldiers have to face what they've done," Richardson said. "Soldiers are going to fight a war we all know is based on lies."

Some students, although saddened by the loss of life signified by the boots, support the war in Iraq and feel that the military presence has a positive impact on the nation's people.

Sophomore TV/video major Kim Diesel said in a later interview that her best friend, a member of the Marine Corps, served in Iraq two years ago and will return this January.

Her friend was originally assigned to Japan, but chose to return to Iraq, Diesel said, because of his desire to help its people.

"He said so many people thank him," Diesel said. "He always reports back that [the Iraqi people] are appreciative."

Diesel said when her friend went to war two years ago, "He said he had a better shot of getting killed by a drunk driver in America than by an insurgent in Iraq."

Now, despite the death toll, Diesel said her friend is willing to risk his life by returning to Iraq in January.

"It's a chance he's willing to take because he can see the difference he makes," she said.

This is a risk that many members of the AFSC do not want American military to take. The audience at the forum was encouraged to sign two petitions developed by the AFSC.

The first petition was to bring the National Guard members home from Iraq, with the idea that the Army needs the National Guard to continue fighting, and their withdrawal might help stop the war.

The second petition calls for a proposed law that requires the Massachusetts governor to take all necessary steps to bring about the immediate withdrawal of the state's National Guard from Iraq. The law would be added to the ballot in 2006.

Diesel said she thinks the call for the removal of troops from Iraq is an unreasonable request. She said she thinks many students back the cause because they are often misinformed.

"Things will implode if we take [the military] out now," Diesel said. "The administration and the media are reporting it horribly because they only report people dying since that's what sells."

Many students interviewed said they thought the exhibit was powerful, regardless of their feelings about the war.

"I thought [Eyes Wide Open] was amazing," Richling said. "It was the kind of thing that grabbed your eye."

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