POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — The Vassar College Alumnae House lawn will be transformed into a living memorial of the Iraq War when the American Friends Service Committee's national exhibition "Eyes Wide Open: The Human Cost of War" is shown in Poughkeepsie, Tuesday-Wednesday November 15-16 (http://www.afsc.org/eyes/). To honor the people who have died in the war, "Eyes Wide Open" displays a pair of combat boots tagged with the name, rank, and home state of every fallen U.S. soldier, as well as displaying a field of shoes and wall of remembrance to memorialize the lost Iraqis. Multi-media presentations on the history, cost, and further consequences of the Iraq War will be presented both days at the exhibit site, with additional related activities scheduled for November 15.
"Eyes Wide Open" will be free and open to the public, and will be held in the Vassar College Chapel, on the college's Raymond Avenue campus.
Local events to accompany "Eyes Wide Open" will include a daylong series of readings, and musical and dance performances to be held at the exhibition site. [More details below.] Also speaking there will be Celeste Zappala, of Philadelphia, whose son Sgt. Sherwood Baker was killed in a Baghdad explosion on April 26, 2004, making him the first Pennsylvania national guardsman to die in combat since World War II,
Slightly more than five hundred pairs of combat boots were displayed when "Eyes Wide Open" was first shown in January 2004 at Chicago's Federal Plaza, representing each U.S. casualty of the war. At the subsequent stops of the exhibit over the past two years, more boots have been added for every additional U.S. death. The exhibit has now toured more than 65 cities in 26 states and the District of Columbia, with sites including Philadelphia's Independence Mall, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and various college campuses. At each stop, "Eyes Wide Open" has prompted an outpouring of personal expressions, with visitors adding notes of commemoration, photographs of lost soldiers, identification tags, flowers, and U.S. flags.
"Eyes Wide Open" was conceptualized and organized by Michael McConnell, regional director of the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago, IL, who felt that the human face of the Iraq War was not being accurately portrayed to the public. "It's very important that people realize the full cost of the war," said McConnell. "These victims are our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. "I didn't want the deaths to just become a statistic."
The Vassar College Office of Religious and Spiritual Life is the primary local sponsor for "Eyes Wide Open," with additional local support from the Friends Meetings of Poughkeepsie, New Paltz, and Bulls Head-Oswego, the faculty of the Vassar College departments of geology/geography, psychology, sociology, art, English, and history, and of the Vassar programs in American Culture, Women's Studies, and Environmental Studies, as well as the Vassar College Anti-War Group, Dutchess Peace Coalition, Dutchess Greens, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Poughkeepsie, Hudson Valley Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace-Tappan Zee Chapter, Saint Margaret's Episcopal Church, Vassar College Blegen House, Vassar College Student Activists Union, and Rabbi Daniel Polish.
"An important standard of ethical thought about war, that's all too often been overlooked in the massive violence of the past century, is the need to continually take stock of the human costs on both sides of a conflict," said the Rev. Samuel Speers, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life at Vassar. "Both pacifists and those who believe that sometimes, and regrettably, war is necessary, are in agreement that one must ask when war cannot or can no longer be justified, given the loss of life. My office is a sponsor of 'Eyes Wide Open' not to take a side on this question, but out of the conviction that responsible citizens must ask it."
On Tuesday November 15, from 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., New York Times writer Molly O'Neill and New Yorker magazine cartoonist Liza Donnelly will be among the featured presenters in "Artists Responding to the War," a daylong program of brief presentations to accompany the exhibition at the Alumnae House lawn. Vassar students of various religious faiths will begin the program from 10:00-11.45 a.m. with a series of readings and musical performances, and the noon-5:00 p.m. segment will feature writers John Balaban, Frank Bergon, Patricia Wallace, and Nancy Willard, poets Paul Kane and Paul Russell, dancers Kathy Wildberger and Steve Rooks, and the Poughkeepsie-based Al'Kebualan Drumming Circle.
Later on November 15, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., a benefit reception and silent art auction for "Eyes Wide Open" will be held at the Vassar College Alumnae House, including donated works by sculptor Harry Roseman, New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly, jewelry maker Olga Bush, and photo portraitist Lorna Tychostup. There will be a $25 admission fee to the reception for the general public, and a $15 fee for students, and all proceeds will go to the American Friends Service Committee. The AFSC is a Quaker organization comprised of people from various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service.
The Vassar College Alumnae House is located on Raymond Avenue, between Fulton and College avenues in the Town of Poughkeepsie, across the street from the main Vassar College campus. For more information about "Eyes Wide Open," or to register for the benefit reception and auction, please contact the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at (845) 437-5548.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.