Lost amid all the noise that accompanied the RNC was this silent, powerful message of peace

Rows of boots on the Capitol grounds honored the memories of more than 300 Midwestern soldiers who have died in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
MinnPost photo by John Reinan
Rows of boots on the Capitol grounds honored the memories of more than 300 Midwestern soldiers who have died in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

As the marketing noise from the Republican National Convention dies down, I want to take a moment to remember a quieter message that was delivered during the gathering.

On the grounds of the state Capitol, rows of boots memorialized the ultimate price paid by more than 300 fighting men and women from five Midwestern states: Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Illinois.

On green grass under a patchy blue sky, with the glorious golden horses of the Capitol dome as a backdrop, the display by the American Friends Service Committee was powerful and moving.

A few blocks away, downtown St. Paul was a mass of parties and protests, a gigantic exercise in political gamesmanship. But here among the ranks of polished, black boots, each bearing the name of a fallen soldier, was a reminder that the actions of our political system have real consequences. Some boots were decorated with flowers, small flags or stuffed animals; others stood alone, stark and shiny.

“A visual display sometimes speaks to people on a different level,” said Emily Knight of Minneapolis, who worked with the Friends’ Chicago office to coordinate the event. “I would say this is not a political message; it’s a silent witness for peace.”

There was a special display of "Gold Star boots:" the actual boots of fallen soldiers, donated by their families. These boots belonged to Sgt. Thomas J. Sweet II of Bismarck, N.D.
MinnPost photo by John Reinan
There was a special display of “Gold Star boots:” the actual boots of fallen soldiers, donated by their families. These boots belonged to Sgt. Thomas J. Sweet II of Bismarck, N.D.

I don’t doubt her sincerity, but I also don’t doubt that a message of peace has always been political, especially when the nation is not actually at peace.

Several displays honoring dead Iraqi civilians continued the shoe theme.
MinnPost photo by John Reinan
Several displays honoring dead Iraqi civilians continued the shoe theme.

The event also memorialized Iraqi civilian deaths with circles of ordinary shoes, again bearing names and ages of the dead. As the father of a young child, I found it especially heartbreaking to see a pair of tiny pink sneakers laid out in honor of a dead 1-year-old girl.

As the hour changed, Friends quietly read aloud the names of the fallen soldiers. Meanwhile, people filed silently past the “Gold Star boots.” Unlike the rows of boots on the grass – which were generic Army surplus items – the Gold Star boots were actually worn by fallen soldiers and donated by their families.

Battered, scuffed, caked with mud, their presence was a startling contrast to the polished, orderly display laid out in front of them. Moving as the main display was, the Gold Star boots and the personal mementos and messages accompanying them were a more searing reminder of the human cost of war.

During the convention, I saw every kind of event delivering every kind of message. But this is the one that’s stayed with me afterward.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/15/2008 - 10:45 am.

    It wsa indeed powerful.

    I hope that every murderous Islamic terrorist saw that silent tribute to peace.

    I hope every brutal dictator took a moment to reflect upon the boots of those who so unselfishlessly made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom and democracy.

    I hope every misguided domestic terrorist will appreciate the sacrifices men and women have made and are still making to ensure their right to peacefully petition the government for redress before they assemble their next firebomb.

    And I hope that those silent tributes give pause, not only to those who would shout “God damn America”, but to those who would listen and say nothing.

  2. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 09/15/2008 - 03:13 pm.

    The ‘Eyes Wide Open’ traveling national exhibit was at the College of Saint Catherine on 29 September 2005. The boots represented the number of U.S. military personnel that had died in Iraq, and was changed to 1933 on that day. I believe 24 was the number of Minnesotans in the group of [collective] casualties on that date.

    As quiet and less visible than this display is that last week (7-13 September) was National Suicide Prevention Week. The number of suicides among active duty and military veterans is escalating, as military people experience repeated deployments to combat zones.

    A group of Minnesota people planning a one-day workshop several months ago gave up on getting funding for a suicide prevention workshop this year. So, no workshop, but millions of dollars spent on a political convention by government agencies, political parties, and corporate contributions.

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