Last Wednesday, RPEC made a powerful public statement about the human cost of war by displaying the Eyes Wide Open-Virginia exhibit in Monroe Park all day.
The exhibit includes 206 pairs of empty combat boots each tagged with the names of Virginia soldiers who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the boots have notes and memorabilia left by loved ones, attached to them. The boots were displayed together with shoes representing the countless Iraqi & Afghan civilians who have died during the conflicts.
As of today, 72 servicemen and women from Virginia have died in the war in Afghanistan, and 134 have died in Iraq, according to the independent website icasualties.org. Between 150,000 and more than a million Iraqis died during the war in Iraq, depending on the estimate. If we had a pair of shoes to represent every Iraqi killed, we would require miles of space to display the shoes.
Pedestrians walking through the park were confronted by the long stretch of boots. Passerby commented “I had not known there were so many killed,” and “I feel a presence here, the presence of those who have died.” Some stopped for a long while and examined the exhibit carefully. Others paused briefly before moving on.
We handed out nearly 600 information sheets and saw two to three times that many people pass through the exhibit.
The display is a reminder of the tragic human cost of America’s recent wars.
Eyes Wide Open Virginia is co-coordinated statewide by Richmond Friends Meeting and the Richmond Peace Education Center.