'Eyes Wide Open' 

The human cost of war

Eyes Wide Open, the widely-acclaimed exhibition on the human cost of the Iraq War, returns to Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis this weekend.

When the exhibit was first unveiled by the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago in January of 2004, there were 504 pairs of boots symbolizing the lost lives of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. With each passing week, each stop in a new city, more pairs of boots were added to represent the newly fallen, including a stop in Indianapolis Sept. 11, 2004.

The site of the exhibit, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Circle, on the three-year anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Towers was fitting and imposing, as Monument Circle memorializes Indiana veterans in wars going back over 150 years.

On one side, a pro-war rally included prominent Indiana officials and local heroes. On the opposite side, 1,007 pairs of empty combat boots marched silently on the steps, marking part of the human cost of using violence as a solution in Iraq. So poignant was the display that the Indianapolis installation of Eyes Wide Open garnered a two-page spread in PEOPLE Magazine later that month.

When the American armed forces casualties in the war reached 4,000, it was determined that the exhibit was simply too large to continue touring. Since then, individual exhibits representing the human cost of war for each of the 50 states have been established, and when the exhibit returns this weekend, it will be comprised of more than 130 pairs of boots representing the Indiana men and women who have been killed serving in Iraq.

Erin Polley coordinates the Indiana exhibit. “It’s a very powerful thing,” she said during a recent visit in Indianapolis.  “We don’t intend it to be controversial or aggressive, but it’s impossible to see it and not be moved.”

As the exhibit is displayed across the country, families and friends often come to grieve for lost loved ones and strangers honor those who gave their lives to a cause far from home. At each stop, person after person leaves notes of commemoration, photographs of lost soldiers, identification tags, flowers and American flags to accompany the boots on their journey.

“In nearly every city, a family member or friend of one of the soldiers shows up,” Polley continued. “Some are skeptical at first, but nearly all thank us for honoring their son or daughter and keeping their memory alive.”

Eyes Wide Open will be on display from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 11-12. Volunteers are needed to help set up the exhibit each morning, as well as dismantle it each evening. Members of the local chapter of Veterans for Peace will assist with the formation of the boots. Names of the Indiana soldiers who are represented in the exhibit will be read as part of a noon memorial service each day. The event is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, North Meadow Circle of Friends, Veterans for Peace and the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center.

For more information, or to volunteer to help with the exhibit, contact Erin Polley at epolley@afsc.org or 317-626-0868.

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