Visuals bring home the Iraq war.

Wake-up Call 

Visuals bring home the Iraq war.

Alone on a page, the number 1,052 evokes no emotion. Discarded on a doormat, a pair of boots has no impact. But a combination of these elements -- 1,052 pairs of boots each bearing the name of an American soldier who has died in the war in Iraq -- can be powerful. The display is in town as part of Eyes Wide Open, which also includes 1,000 pairs of shoes (representing a tenth of Iraq's civilian casualties) and a sculpted plowshare made of 10,000 spent bullet casings.

"During the Vietnam War, one of the things that moved people was seeing body bags and coffins," says Ira Harritt, whose local chapter of the American Friends Service Committee sponsors Kansas City's installment of the touring exhibit. "Now, that's done behind the scenes. Though they can't come close to the actual experiences of the families and soldiers, these dramatic displays help people see and feel the reality of war."

Depicting $151 billion, however, would be time-prohibitive for a modestly staffed social-justice organization, so speaker Phyllis Bennis has to let merely evoking the figure boggle minds. In recent articles related to her book Paying the Price: The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War, Bennis, a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., has used comparisons to convey the unfathomable magnitude. For example, she says that $151 billion -- the bill to U.S. taxpayers thus far for the war -- could be used to provide health care for 27 million uninsured Americans.

As its title implies, Eyes Wide Open has the power to provoke conversions. Yet Harritt acknowledges that the people who most need the wake-up call might avoid the exhibit, writing it off as an unpatriotic protest.

"It's surprising how polarized people have become," he says. "They've been hypnotized by hyperbole. This exhibit is factual and nonpartisan. It's a reminder that human suffering is tragic, no matter whose life was lost."

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