Group raises awareness about war

Flags were placed outside Coffman Union to demonstrate the costs of the Iraq War.

Hilary Brueck

Four thousand Post-it-sized white flags, much like the ones power companies use to mark where pipelines lie, dotted the cold, greenish-gray spring grass in front of Coffman Union on Thursday.

But these flags had nothing to do with electrical power. Instead, they were put out to raise awareness for a fight happening halfway across the globe.

With a possible economic recession looming, Adam Hennings, campus coordinator for Students for Barack Obama, decided he needed to do something to raise awareness about the costs of the Iraq War “because it’s become invisible for so many people,” he said.

So he and nine of his friends each dropped $10, bought the flags and stuck them in the ground.

He said the visual was an experiment to display the cost of war in a raw, optical form, much like the “Eyes Wide Open” exhibit touring the country, which displays one pair of combat boots for every fallen American soldier in Iraq.

Each flag signified:

ï One of the 4,035 American soldiers killed.

ï 21 of the estimated 82,772 to 90,305 civilians killed.

ï $125 million of $511 billion the United States has spent on the war.

One woman heading into Coffman midmorning shouted back to Hennings, “Thank you for doing this!”

He said that was a pretty typical response throughout the day, and he actually got fewer negative responses to this more artistic form of politicking than he normally does when he tables inside Coffman.

One student strolling by the ground-level display noticed the flags and sat down to write on them in small, scratchy pencil marks.

He scrawled the names of five of his friends killed in combat in Iraq. The soldiers hailed from all corners of the country – Nevada, Florida and New York.

The student-veteran’s contribution to the display resonated with Carrie Christensen, a sophomore volunteering with the event, whose boyfriend has been on tour in Iraq since January.

Originally, the group had planned to get passers-by to sign a collective letter to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., asking the presidential candidate to end the war. However, they decided it was more important to be less political and simply raise awareness.

“If we politicize it too much, we would lose our message,” Hennings said. “I don’t deny that we’re doing something controversial.”

Hennings and his friends continued to hand out stickers printed with the words: “Yes, we care Senator McCain,” a response to McCain’s controversial statements that the U.S. could be in Iraq for 100 years or 1,000 years and Americans wouldn’t care.

The comments have been a hot issue in the media, and McCain has argued it was a largely hypothetical statement to say he would stay as long as it takes.

Sean Niemic, first-year engineering student and University College Republicans officer, said he disagrees with the idea of “exploiting soldiers’ deaths to make a political point.” He didn’t attend the demonstration and was unsure of its intent.

In comparison to past wars, Niemic said the American soldier death toll in Iraq isn’t extremely high.

“Four thousand, as terrible as it sounds, is not a high number,” he said. “And though we pray for the families of all of the victims, saying ‘well 4,000 died, let’s get out,’ I just don’t agree with that.”

In Washington, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who’s been extremely vocal about the need to get out of Iraq, applauded the students’ efforts.

“I think when young people get involved, things change,” Ellison said. “Us older people spend a lot of time lamenting the youth, but really the youth have always been a very important part of the movement for social justice, and they are today.”

Ellison said he was in Iraq a few months ago and is very supportive of getting out right away.

“That we’re somehow the skeleton holding up Iraq, I don’t believe that’s true,” he said.

Andy Mannix contributed to this report.