a rainy Saturday in late October dozens of pairs of army boots and
civilian shoes stood in silent rows within our Schoolhouse as part of the
Eyes Wide Open Exhibit sponsored by the American Friends Service
Committee. Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee brought this exhibit to
us as part of their continuing commitment to peace.
At first, the Committee planned to set up the exhibit outdoors. But bad
weather forced a change in plans. And while heavy rain and fierce winds
pounded the grounds of our Meeting, indoors, the shoes waited for those
who perhaps haven’t fully felt the pain and suffering of the war in
Iraq--and for those whose sons and daughters the exhibit represents.
American Friends Service Committee's widely acclaimed exhibition on the
human cost of the Iraq war included over 189 pairs of empty combat boots,
tagged with the names of Pennsylvania soldiers who have died in the
current Iraq war, together with pairs of civilian shoes representing
hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died during the
conflict. The shoes filled the floor, benches, and window sills throughout
our Schoolhouse. Especially moving was our nursery, in which the Committee
placed the shoes of Iraqi civilians, killed in the war, in concentric
circles on the floor and overflowing the windowsills.
The AFSC created the exhibition based on Quaker beliefs in the worth of
every life and the idea that "love and faith overcomes violence and
injustice." Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out, an
organization of families and friends of soldiers who openly oppose the war
in Iraq, support the exhibit.
Eyes Wide Open isn’t only a physical memorial for soldiers, but also
a tool to educate the community about the many causes that could be
supported by the funds that, up to now, have been allocated to sustain the
war in Iraq. The exhibit includes statistics showing how many students
could be helped with their college educations, how many schools could be
built, as well as other community projects instead of spending the money
the an AFSC representative, the proportion of Pennsylvania soldiers who
have died in the war is disproportionate to the state’s population.
Although men and women may enlist from ages 18 to 51, the average soldier
is in his or her late teens. Many, lacking skills for the workplace or
general direction, enlist in the armed forces right out of high school.
The AFSC chose the title "Eyes Wide Open" because of what it
perceives as a lack of accurate coverage of the war and its effects on
soldiers and their families. It’s the attachment of photographs, notes
of commemoration, and mementos–placed neatly in Zip-Loc bags–to boots
of the fallen soldiers by their loved ones that further makes this exhibit
Since 1917, the American Friends Service Committee has championed the
dignity and worth of every individual, the sanctity of human life and
humanity's collective responsibility to promote peace. For nearly 90
years, The AFSC has worked in war zones on four continents, gaining an
intimate knowledge of the costs and horrors of war.
the AFSC’s Chicago office first unveiled the exhibit in January 2004,
there were 504 pairs of boots symbolizing the lost lives of U.S. soldiers
in Iraq. With each passing week and each stop in a new city, AFSC
representatives added ore pairs of boots to represent the newly fallen.
Alongside the boots stood a wall of remembrance with the names of the more
than 11,000 Iraqi civilians who have been killed since the U.S.-led
Although a majority of Americans now believe this war is a tragic
misadventure, the human cost of the Iraq War grows every day. How many
more boots will be standing at silent attention before this war ends,
before Iraqis and American soldiers are out of harm's way?
Eyes Wide Open: The Cost of War to Pennsylvania is a memorial to those
who have fallen and a witness to our belief that no war can justify its
The empty boots and shoes speak for themselves. As one visitor put it
after viewing the exhibit, "This is all so sad."
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