On Sunday morning, while fresh dew still lay undisturbed on the South Park Block grass, Air Force veteran David Ibbotson, 76, carefully bent down to drive a small red flag into the ground. His aging knees softly cracked as he paused briefly before placing it, his eyes fixated on the flag. Ibbotson continued to place flags–over 100 that morning–each reminding him of how lucky he is to be alive. “The idea is very powerful,” Ibbotson said. “When you see these flags displayed, you get a striking visual of the war’s awfulness.”
On Sunday morning, while fresh dew still lay undisturbed on the South Park Block grass, Air Force veteran David Ibbotson, 76, carefully bent down to drive a small red flag into the ground. His aging knees softly cracked as he paused briefly before placing it, his eyes fixated on the flag.
Ibbotson continued to place flags–over 100 that morning–each reminding him of how lucky he is to be alive.
“The idea is very powerful,” Ibbotson said. “When you see these flags displayed, you get a striking visual of the war’s awfulness.”
Ibbotson and many other volunteers, ranging from retired teachers to young children, worked last Sunday to place well over 100,000 small flags into the ground as part of the Iraq Body Count Exhibit, which is currently on display across the campus Park Blocks. This month brings the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, and the sea of red and white flags are meant to visualize the at least 655,000 Iraqi deaths and 3,972 American deaths that have resulted from the war, event organizers say.
Each of the red flags represents five American casualties, and each of the white flags represents at least five Iraqi casualties.
PSU student group, Students for Unity, as well as Veterans for Peace, volunteered to help set up the display that will remain on campus until March 20.
Dana Halverson, Students for Unity coordinator, along with Iraq Body Count Exhibit organizer Rudy Dietz both said they feel that the Park Blocks provide a perfect backdrop for the event.
“Until I saw the numbers displayed like this, I really didn’t understand just how devastating the war had truly become,” Halverson said. “What’s really unfortunate is that we would ideally like to represent each individual with their own flag, but in order to do so we would need 437,000 more flags, and that’s just for the Iraqis.”
The Iraq Body Count Exhibit, which organizers say is meant to be nonpolitical, makes its third return trip to Oregon, having visited University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark College in previous years. It was first displayed at University of Colorado, Boulder by the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center in October 2006.
As the exhibit travels around the United States, coordinators hope to collect enough money to purchase more flags so they can take the display to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
“Were hoping that someday soon we can travel to Washington with enough flags for an even one-to-one ratio,” Dietz said. “At five cents per flag we are about $30,000 short right now, but no one’s giving up.”
While students, local peace activists and other community members spent time placing all the white flags, veterans were encouraged to place the red flags for fallen U.S. soldiers.
Grant Remington, who served in Vietnam, is president emeritus of the 72nd chapter of Veterans for Peace and spent last Sunday afternoon planting the display’s flags and swapping stories with other veterans.
Veterans for Peace is a national organization that was founded in 1985, and according to its Web site, one of its goals is to increase public awareness about the costs of war.
“These flags symbolize the total waste of life, liberty and money,” Remington said. “These people have lost their lives, the people of Iraq have lost their liberties, and we are all losing money because of this.”
Remington said he still continues to look for signs of hope.
“Perhaps this will show that we, as inhabitants of this world, need to rise up against the current bloody administrations everywhere,” he said. “The more people can see this exhibit, the more it can provide a visual wake-up call.”
While Remington and Ibbotson placed flags, a young boy with his father approached the men and asked what all the flags were for. Remington gave the boy a red flag to see if he would like to place it in the ground. He watched as the child positioned the flag next to all the others.
“Seeing him place the flag gave me more hope that our future generations can achieve universal peace and understanding,” Remington said. “The smallest of influences can lead to great change.”