Display represents lost lives

Eyes Wide Open displaycombat boot
Today, in front of the Albemarle County Office building, 80 pairs of surplus combat boots with name tags were lined up like headstones along the sidewalk. The effect was no accident. They are meant to represent the 80 Virginians killed in the war in Iraq out of over 2,500 Americans killed since the conflict began. In addition, nearly 20,000 Americans have been wounded. No one seems to know for sure how many Iraqi civilians have been killed, but a recent study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad estimates –now with 95 percent certainty, they say– that between 426,000 and 794,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. The White House has disputed that figure, putting it at 30,000. The Iraq Body Count Database, which has been tracking press reports of civilian deaths since the war began, puts the number between 44,274 and 49,157.     

“I find it very moving because you think there should be people in those shoes,” said author Helena Cobban, a volunteer on hand to help the Friends Peace and Social Justice Committee organize its “Eyes Wide Open” display, an exhibit meant to honor those killed in Iraq and highlight the human cost of the war. In addition to combat boots, civilian shoes had been laid out to represent the Iraqi civilians killed.

Cobban, who lived and raised children in Lebanon during the war there, says she’s seen the effects of war on civilians.

“The war in Iraq has proved to be the same for Iraqi citizens,” she says.

“We were lied to back then, and we’ve been lied to again,” said Mark Heinicke, another volunteer, and a Vietnam veteran who originally supported the invasion. “Because I believed the lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction,” he says.

Heinicke, who says he’s no pacifist, recalls visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Wasington, D.C. and seeing a collection of shoes from people killed in the camps. He thinks, on a smaller scale, that the Charlottesville display has the same visceral effect. “They represent the lives that have been lost,” he says.

The display moves to the First Amendment chalkboard on Saturday and to UVA’s Brown Residential College on Sunday.