"Eyes Wide Open" Anti-War Display in San Francisco on March 25, 2005

On March 25, 2005, the traveling war memorial exhibit called "Eyes Wide Open" arrived in San Francisco. Sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC, better known as the Quakers), the exhibit consists of thousands of pairs of shoes, lined up in rows, representing all the servicemen and -women killed in Iraq.

The exhibit generally gets a warm reception at each of its destination cities, though there was a counter-protest when it traveled to Dallas in February.

According to the media, much of the controversy surrounding the exhibit focuses on the fact that none of the families of the dead soldiers gave their permission for their loved ones' names and photos to be included in the display. As a result, some of the names were removed.

But what the families actually didn't like was the exhibit's not-so-hidden agenda. Critics point out that Eyes Wide Open purports to honor the fallen servicemen in Iraq, while it actually uses the fašade of supporting the troops to promote a hardline anti-war stance.

Sure enough, in the tent that accompanied the exhibit, a series of large panels laid out the case against the war, using the usual litany of "facts" that the anti-everything crowd has repeated so often as to actually believe they're true.

Also in the tent was this quilt supposedly made by a little Iraqi girl. Am I the only one who thinks it looks suspiciously like something designed and made by an American public relations firm? Call me a skeptic, I don't care -- that crying fish is just a little too "perfect" as far as I'm concerned, not to mention the name "Fatima" in Roman letters instead of Arabic.

There was a minor controversy in San Francisco when the Board of Supervisors voted to lower the flag at City Hall (seen here in the background) to half-staff in honor of all the casualties of the Iraq War, regardless of nationality (undoubtedly in conjunction with the arrival of the exhibit, though the article doesn't mention that detail), but the mayor refused to do it, citing some arcane regulations as his excuse.

But the entire exhibit bothered me for a completely different reason. Alongside the shoes representing the American troops were additional rows of "civilian shoes" representing "Iraqi casualties." And what bothered me was the misleading way "civilian" and "Iraqi" were equated without any further elaboration.

Alongside the "civilian" shoes (which, by the way, are not actually shoes from Iraq, but rather shoes donated by American volunteers to symbolize the Iraqis' shoes), there was a memorial wall, seemingly modeled after the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC, but in this case inscribed with the names of Iraqis instead of Americans.

So -- am I hard-hearted? What's wrong with mourning the "civilians"? As I looked at the placards honoring the Iraqis, it occurred to me that the vast majority were adult men. Hmmmm -- why would this be the case? Perhaps because most of them were combatants? While there undoubtedly have been innocent victims of the war (and yes, each of those deaths is a tragedy), not every single Iraqi who died was a "civilian," as the AFSC would want us to believe. I'm not sure if reliable statistics have ever been released, but from the careful manner in which the United States has conducted the campaign it seems fairly obvious that a substantial portion -- I'd estimate 75% at least -- of the casualties were (in order, from the start of the war) soldiers in Saddam Hussein's army, Republican Guard troops, Ba'athist "insurgents," Sunni militia members, foreign jihadis, and all manner of thugs, fanatics and killers.

In other words, the enemy. Terrorists. The American military has gone to extremes to minimize civilian casualties, and the vast majority of the time if someone was killed by U.S. forces, that person was killed while actively engaged in the battle to kill Americans.

So who exactly is being eulogized by these shoes? Are we walking somberly through the exhibit, wallowing in guilt and shame, to honor all the terrorists who wanted nothing more than to kill us?

Seeking clarification, I went over to the literature table. There, I discovered that the Eyes Wide Open logo depicted not an American soldier, as one might expect, but rather a Muslim girl. Which, I suppose, indicates what the real focus of the exhibit is.

The exhibit schedule revealed that on the following day a muezzin would perform a Muslim call to prayer over the shoes -- with its repeated cries of "Allah Ackbar."

Even more chillingly, the AFSC's "Iraq Quick Facts" sheet handed out to all visitors listed Saddam Hussein as the current president of Iraq.

What the hell? Were the organizers of Eyes Wide Shut merely against the war in principle -- or were they taking sides?

As I scanned the pages, lost in my thoughts, I found an unexpected ally. A guy dressed in grungy clothes, looking a bit like a down-and-out former gang member or drug addict, was crossing the plaza and surveying the exhibit with an air of disdain. Somehow sensing that I wasn't the typical Eyes Wide Open fan, he said to me as he passed, "Which ones are the Al Qaeda shoes? I wanna see the Al Qaeda shoes."

Perhaps, I thought, we were being too harsh. The rest of these people viewing the Eyes Wide Open exhibit are merely naive, I reasoned. They don't actually think there is a moral equivalence between the terrorists and those who fight terrorism.

And then I noticed this. Turns out I was right -- San Franciscans don't think Americans are the equivalent of the terrorists. They think Americans are worse than the terrorists.

Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on?