Iraq war exhibit opens

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-lavLbaBcdM.jpg’, ‘Photos by Jon McGinty’, ‘Fallen soldiers: More than 550 pairs of combat boots represent U.S. dead in Iraq—more boots are on order to bring to current casualties.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-aq3L8pKjTc.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jon McGinty’, ‘SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES (above): 10,000 spent cartridges represent Iraqi dead; combat boots memorialize fallen U.S. soldiers. The “Eyes Wide Open—Beyond Fear, Towards Hope” exhibit will be on display at the Unitarian Universalist Church through May 19.’);

Display at Unitarian Universalist Church runs through May 19

A compelling multimedia exhibit about the war in Iraq is currently on display in Rockford. Titled “Eyes Wide Open—Beyond Fear Towards Hope,” the exhibit is housed in the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St. It was created by staff and volunteers in the Chicago office of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, as part of their mission to “speak truth to power.”

“We spent the better part of a year putting it together,” says Chuck Hutchcraft, Chicago area coordinator for AFSC. “We wanted to show what this war is costing us, in terms of lives lost and resources diverted.”

The invitation to provide a Rockford venue for the exhibit was extended by Stanley Campbell on behalf of the Rockford Peace and Justice Action Committee and Rockford Urban Ministries, and by Senior Minister David Weissbard, on behalf of the UU church.

“This is not being displayed with the assumption that everyone shares the Quakers’ antiwar sentiments,” says Weissbard, “but that this is a responsible statement of a valid position with which many of us do agree and that deserves to be shared with the community.”

The visitor is greeted in the narthex by a wall of color photos showing friendly Iraqis with no hint of anger in their eyes. On the floor in a corner stands a single blade plow immersed in a sea of empty brass shell casings. The shells sweep up on the blade where they have been flattened and fastened, a graphic reference to the biblical edict to “beat your swords into plowshares.” The 10,000+ shells represent the Iraqi civilians killed thus far in the ongoing war.

Inside the social hall, large panels of words and images document the “disconnect” between what the Bush administration said was true about Iraq, and what we now know to be misleading or false: the existence of WMDs and mobile biological weapons labs; the “immediate threat” of Saddam Hussein, and his links to al-Qaeda and 9/11 terrorists.

A black tower invites the viewer to “look within” at tragic images of suffering soldiers and civilians. One soldier walks among the Iraqi dead and asks: “Why do we do these things to one another?” A wall of TV monitors shows network news clips of maps, weapons and other war coverage, including Nightline’s recent broadcast of the faces of fallen U.S. soldiers. The youngest is 19, the oldest is 50.

The most pervasive element of the exhibit is the boots—more than 550 pairs of used combat boots, each with the name of a fallen U.S. soldier attached. Included is a pair for 1st Lt. Brian Slavenas, 30, the helicopter pilot from Genoa, Ill., who was killed on Nov. 2, 2003, when his Chinook was shot down while transporting other soldiers to the airbase where they were to leave Iraq. Since the death toll has risen to more than 750, more boots are being added to the next installation.

A table near the entrance invites visitors to write comments, sign up for mailing lists, or to communicate with government officials. A laptop computer is available to e-mail senators, representatives, or the president. The Social Responsibilities Committee of the UU church is sponsoring an essay contest for local high school students, with a $100 prize for the best essay on reactions to seeing “Eyes Wide Open.” Official entry forms are available at the exhibit.

“We are taking this exhibit to the Heartland of America,” says Michael McConnell, regional director for AFSC. “We want the people to decide the future not on manufactured fears and false perceptions, but on documented realities.”

Public viewing of “Eyes Wide Open” is available Monday through Friday from 2-8 p.m., and on weekends from noon-2 p.m. The exhibit closes May 19. For more information or to schedule a large group visit, call the church office at 398-6322.

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