Monday, April 27, 2009

Counting Lives Lost

The campus was quiet on Saturday when I visited DeAnza College in Cupertino, CA. I purposefully went looking for this exhibit, "Counting Lives Lost", unlike the few passersby who were curiously and accidentally drawn into this breathtaking display of "an abstract measurement of Grief".

Kathleen Crocetti of Watsonville, a Blue Star mother, whose son serves the country in the Air Force is the artist behind the exhibit. The traveling sculpture installation, depicts the almost 4,274 American casualties and almost 99,000 Iraqi dead since the beginning of the war in Iraq, each represented by a five-inch clay figure placed in a base of tons of sand.

Ms Crocetti's artist statement at the first display of her exhibit on Memorial Day 2006
I find that when numbers get past a certain size they are just big numbers, and the abstractness of numbers numb us to the reality of the situation. I have made one small 4 inch figure for every person who has died in Iraq since we invaded.

At this point in time for every US troop member we have lost there have been 16 Iraqi. It is important to me that we as a nation recognize not just our loses, but the losses we have caused. At the same time, honoring our own and being respectful of them is paramount to my piece/peace.

I want people on both sides of the war debate to come see my work, it is a memorial. Each American figure has an American Flag across his/her chest and then 16 anonymous shadow figures standing behind. The shadow figures represent the 1:16 ratio of Iraqi dead to American dead. The 1:16 ratio is very conservative; we do not know exactly how many Iraqis have died. Of the 39,400 known Iraqi dead only 3,500 of them have been named, the other 90% are anonymous to us. They are certainly not anonymous to their families.

During the last two months I have gotten our community involved in catching up with the Iraqi body count. During these work parties while we were cutting out clay bodies we talked.

In the making and the talking we feel as if we are doing something. Grieving is an active process, not a passive one, and recovery is a choice. It is my belief that as a nation we are in denial and have not yet begun to mourn. We need to start the grieving process now, because it is painful and uncomfortable and the sooner we start acknowledging our culpability and responsibility the sooner we will stop inflicting grief upon others.

Memorials are usually held after someone has died. Honoring those who have died on both sides of the battle field while the battle continues to rage makes my work political. It is my aim to honor those who have died as respectfully as possible while making the growing abstract number visible and tangible. War is war; I am not interested in conversations about how and why we got into this situation.

I am in mourning; eventually as a nation we will need to mourn the dead, maybe the sooner we get started the sooner we will stop.

I am in mourning, too. 5 years ago on Memorial Day, I received that knock on the door that so many military families fear. I was told that my son, 1Lt Ken Ballard was coming home from Iraq in a flag covered casket.

To see the human cost of war displayed in such a bold way as is on display at DeAnza College, should draw visitors in, to at least, have an internal conversation with themselves to ask if this loss of life is okay with them. The war has been sanitized and the costs kept under cover so that the general population has not been affected. We, Gold Star Families, who have lost a loved one in war, mourn the dead every day, but when will the rest of our country share in this grief? Ms Crocetti is right, "eventually as a nation we will need to mourn the dead, maybe the sooner we get started the sooner we will stop".

This installation will be on exhibit until June; I encourage you to visit and for you to view this abstract measurement of grief. If only for a few minutes, you will be able to share in the grief of the 4297 families, including my own.

Yesterday marked the 5 year anniversary of the death of Sgt Sherwood Baker and today is the 5 year anniversary of the death of Sgt Adam Estep- my thoughts are with their families and friends.


libhom said...

The most credible estimates of the Iraq war dead on the Iraqi side are over 1.3 million. The artist would have had to change the ratio dramatically to account for that.

FOIL said...


Demara and I wanted to thank you for your thoughts this past Apr 29 2009. As you might already know, Demara is/was Adam's wife. She is doing better but the pain is still there. I am sure you can understand this statement, "You never get over it you just get used to it." D is going to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) and is studying to be a doctor in the Air Force and is finishing up her second year. Our thoughts are with you as well.

GSMSO- Gold Star Mom Speaks Out said...


Do you think we'll ever know the actual number of Iraqi deaths? It's a number the previous administration had no interest in at all.

GSMSO- Gold Star Mom Speaks Out said...


Thanks for writing. I will always remember the death of Adam and of course, Demara's loss. Adam had just arrived in Iraq, making way for Ken's unit to leave. 30 days after Adam was killed, I got the news about Ken.

It sounds like Demara is doing well in school and moving forward. I'm not sure if "you get used to it", I'm still waiting for that to happen. ;-( I say it doesn't get better, it gets different and I'm sure the pain will always be there in some way.

take care

libhom said...

GSMSO: As of 2006, a peer reviewed study in the Lancet, Britain's most prestigious medical journal, calculated the losses at 650000. Whether we get an accurate accounting probably depends on whether the authors of the last study can get back there and update the numbers.