A friend called me Saturday morning. “Are those your headstones on the sandbar,” he asked. “Headstones? Not mine, but I’m on my way there,” I replied.
Downtown already, I hopped on my bike and rode to Hood River’s new acreage. Headstones, indeed. Hundreds, no, thousands of white paper headstones stood in the sand, glowing in the early morning sunshine. A dozen or so shovel-bearing, forty-something war protesters, an efficient team, planted the symbolic Arlington Cemetery on the no-mans-land sandbar. Figuring that my four years of apathetic opposition needed to end, I joined in.
This simple paper construction formed a poignant monument to the Americans who’ve lost their lives in the war. While looking at the 3211 gravestones, covering about an acre of land, I couldn’t help but imagine 3211 bodies lying on the barren sand. 3211 sounds like a small number – after all, around 58,000 United States servicemen died in Vietnam – but 3211 white paper gravestones, placed about 4 feet apart, covers an area about the size of a football field.
More significantly, though, was this comparison raised by the protesters: 3211 white headstones cover one football field, but headstones for the 600,000 dead Iraqi civilians would cover 200 football fields, about 200 acres of land. To make a monument to the dead Iraqis, the Hood River delta would need to be at least 10 times bigger. To put it another way, 600,000 is roughly the population of Portland, Oregon. Think about that.
Putting this number of civilian deaths into perspective is easy: estimates of civilian casualties in Vietnam hover around 350,000, estimates of genocide deaths in Darfur are between 200,000 and 400,000, and between 500,000 and 1,000,000 civilians died in the Rwandan genocide.
Protestors and peace activists keep mentioning the 3000 dead Americans, but the actual toll in lives from this war is much more horrifying, rivaling civilian deaths in conflicts described as outright genocide. It is important that protestors calling for peace and withdrawal remember that “our” 3000-plus deaths, affecting the families of our servicemen, are not the only deaths tearing apart families and communities. It’s hard to visually remind ourselves of 600,000 deaths, but it would serve us well to humbly remember that “our” people are not the only people dying on the sands of Iraq.
Temira “Two Mirrors” Wagonfeld is a champion Windsurfer, an international traveler and a freelance writer. Her “Naked Wisdom” is a featured column at NewWest.Net/ColumbiaGorge.