Tuesday, April 04, 2006

THE THREE-PART SERIES by David Zucchino in the Los Angeles Times -- about the physical and emotional struggles experienced by U.S. soldiers who are wounded in Iraq -- is well-worth reading in its own right. But it becomes even more interesting when read in conjunction with Brian MacQuarrie's piece in today's Boston Globe about what happened when students at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, set up a display in front of the main dining hall on campus to raise awareness about the human cost of the war. Wooden stakes painted green and white were planted in the ground to represent fatalities in Iraq. Green stakes stood for Iraqis killed; white stakes stood for U.S. troops killed. Each stake represented 100 people killed.

There were 26 white stakes in all -- and 1,000 green stakes.

Less than two days later, all of the green stakes had been ripped out of the ground by people who obviously objected to the stark message they conveyed. That in itself, of course, sends a message -- and the student organizers of the project decided to let that message speak for itself.

... Organizers and college officials decided to leave the stakes where vandals tossed them. It is a new display, in a sense, and one the original organizers hope will fuel a broader debate of the war and freedom of speech.

"We think it's important that students see this," said Molly Haglund, a sophomore who helped organize the project. "We need to show the intolerance that exists on campus."

Haglund, 20, of Portland, Ore., said the idea grew out of a concern that Holy Cross students were not paying attention to the bloody conflict half a world away. "We didn't think people were talking about the war enough or thinking about it enough," said Haglund, who helped plant the stakes just before sunrise last hursday. "People are dying right now, and people need to pay attention to that."

Unlike similar displays that mark only US military fatalities, this display brings stark attention to Iraqi civilians killed in the three-year-old conflict as well. One thousand of the stakes -- representing the estimated Iraqi deaths -- are green; just 26 are white. That disparity, Haglund said, was intended as a reminder that "we need to think of all who died."

No reliable independent figures exist for the number of Iraqis killed in the war. More than 2,300 American soldiers have died.
Although Haglund said the display was not intended to be anti-American, some students apparently thought otherwise. On Friday morning, the day after the stakes were hammered into the grass, an American flag had been draped on a nearby fence, and a sign posted that read: "Freedom is not free." The slogan is frequently used by supporters of the war effort and veterans -- especially those who were wounded or killed -- and their families.

The discussion organizers hoped to promote with the stakes had begun, but neither Haglund nor fellow organizer Sarah Fontaine of Somers, Conn., was prepared for the mass vandalism that greeted students Saturday morning. The few stakes left standing were nearly all white ones representing US fatalities.

"I was just really, really offended when this happened," said Andrew Jaico, 20, a junior from Livingston, N.J., who helped paint the stakes. "All we hear is American deaths, and you can see the amount of green sticks."

By yesterday, organizers had pulled all the remaining white stakes from the ground and laid them with the green stakes. "We expected some to be taken," Fontaine said. "But it was very powerful seeing only the white ones. Do we only value the American lives?"

Which brings us back to the LAT series about how more and more American soldiers with serious combat injuries are being saved by modern medical techniques; and about the struggle they face after they leave the battlefield. I'm thinking that articles like these are crucial to understanding the real damage being done to human lives and families at home. I'm also thinking that it would be a good idea to see the same kind of series done about the save rate in Iraq for wounded Iraqis, and how that affects the lives of Iraqi families.

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