War, Peace, and Remembrance
On October 7, as people in cities across the country gathered to voice the frustrations of the “99 percent”, AFSC’s South East New England Program led a different kind of public protest. This one was silent. But it drew a lot of attention.
AFSC supporters dressed in black and wearing expressionless masks marched through the streets of Providence, RI, holding signs and distributing leaflets.
The occasion? The tenth anniversary of the United States attack on Afghanistan. The purpose? To use a theatrical “March of the Dead” to remind Americans exactly how much has been lost over the last ten years, from the tragic loss of human life to the more than $1 trillion dollars that could have changed our country’s course if it had not been spent on endless war.
Just a month earlier, the program had helped launch a conversation about war in another setting – one that might surprise many.
It was the week leading up to the tenth anniversary of September 11, and AFSC’s Martha Yager was setting up the “Eyes Wide Open” Exhibit – in collaboration with an associate professor - at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT.
It was raining, but the cadets helping Martha took their time placing each pair of empty boots on the green, stopping at each pair to pay their respects to another local service person whose life was cut short by war. By the end of the afternoon, the boots lay in long orderly lines, emanating in spokes from a young tree. The dead soldiers represented by the boots came from towns the cadets knew well, towns throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island. Martha added pairs of shoes, with photographs of Iraqi civilians killed in the war, to the outside of the circle.
The exhibit served as the centerpiece of 9/11 commemorations at the Coast Guard Academy. It also sparked serious discussion about the cost of war – in English classes, in political science classes, and among the young people who kept returning to the site over the several days it was there. The cadets were clearly moved. So were several of the professors.
The tragedies of September 11 and October 7 clearly needed to be remembered. But peace is much more than the absence of war. So the South East New England Program observed another day this past month as well: the International Day of Peace.
On a river running through the heart of Providence, a seasonal event called “Water Fire” draws thousands of people. Dozens of bonfires are built on platforms in the river and music plays from speakers along the river. On September 24, in tribute to the International Day of Peace, something else happened there too.
About 100 people walked along the river carrying paper lanterns and meditating on peace. They were led by representatives of eight different faiths, each of whom shared a prayer from their religious tradition with the crowd that gathered in a park at the end of the night.
As one of the speakers said, “We are not walking for peace tonight. Peace is the walk.” May all the commemorative events of the last month remind us to make peace our walk, and to insist that it become the walk of our nation.