Lessons Learned

From the artist Nancy Hiss:
On May 26th 2012, I finished a 12.5 mile drawing. The Iraq Names Project is/was a memorial of 4498 names of international coalition forces who died in Iraq – listed chronologically by date of death. Here are some things I learned:

1. WAR is HELL: People join the military for many reasons – people who are teachers, firefighters, and athletes – people who need direction – people who need a job – people with deep-seated ideals – mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. Because the Iraq war was fought by a volunteer force, a very small segment of our population was directly touched by death. These families live the tragedy every day.

2. A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE OBLIVIOUS: The greatest interest in the project was in the months before the 2008 election, and when there was a l o n g thread of names. Most times people simply walked by it, on it, or around it. They were either oblivious, or afraid, or not curious enough to engage. Maybe these are reasons we allowed the invasion of Iraq in the first place.

3. POLICE SUPPORTED IT: The police were not oblivious, and even though the project was technically illegal (chalk is a banned graffiti medium), they allowed it to happen and at times explained and defended it. Many police officers are veterans.

4. PORTLAND IS BEAUTIFUL: Hundreds of peopled helped me chalk. They brought me chalk, water, coffee, vegetables, flowers, smiles, and thank-you’s. People in Portland are extremely nice (or oblivious) but never mean-spirited. Thank you. And the view from the sidewalk was always interesting.

5. WE NEED TO TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER: I met many homeless veterans. This is intolerable.

6. I CANNOT LET THEM GO: Guilt drove the project and it was not appeased. Maybe because these names represent the tip of the iceberg-of-loss. I am planning a work on paper – a stacked list of names.

Pictured is Sokolowski, 26, from Ocean Township New Jersey. He was a volunteer firefighter.

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