Norlin flags stir controversy
They stood in rows on the field Monday morning as students walked to class, with no one around to claim responsibility; thousands of white points overwhelmed the Norlin Quad like an expansive field of tulips. But these were no spring flowers; more than 100,000 tiny flags covered the ground, representing a portion of the estimated civilians and U.S. troops dead in Iraq.
The Indigenous Support Network (ISN), a student group that opposes the Iraq War, put together the demonstration and plans to keep making displays with flags on Norlin Quad every semester until the war is over, said Todd Muchow, a senior international affairs major and member of ISN.
The current display, which should last at least another week, took over 80 volunteers and cost more than $20 thousand to put together. Volunteers gathered to put the flags in the ground around noon on Sunday, Oct. 29, coming and going during a period of a few hours, Muchow said.
“The bulk of everybody worked from noon to 4 p.m. Probably the (most people were there) from noon to 2 p.m.,” Muchow said. “It didn’t take that long.”
The demonstration consisted of more than 100,000 white flags, each representing six to seven Iraqi civilians killed, and more than 2,000 red flags for U.S. troops killed.
The focal point of the demonstration was at the foot of the stairs to Norlin Library: a brief explanation of the flags on the field in a makeshift shrine to those killed, where spectators were invited to bring items to pay tribute to the dead. A sign read: “Died in Iraq: 650,000 Iraqis, 2,786 U.S. troops.” Several cardboard tombstones displayed the names of some of the U.S. soldiers who had died.
Hanging from the shrine were a few tattered letters on notebook paper, a collection of blown-up photographs tacked onto a bulletin board that appeared to depict bloody women and children from Iraq and a dozen red roses scattered across the ground.
The display caught the attention of onlookers who, as late as Friday, were still stopping in small groups near the Norlin steps to gaze out over the flags and read the signs.
“I can’t believe (each) of these flags are six or seven people,” said Trevor Holmes, 23, of Boulder as he looked at the display.
Holmes, who gradated from Naropa University in 2004, said he came to the CU campus to look at the demonstration.
Holmes’ 21-year-old brother, Connor Holmes, is currently serving in the Anbar Province in Iraq and has been there about a month, Holmes said.
Holmes said he didn’t know how his younger brother felt about the war in Iraq after experiencing it firsthand. His brother wanted to go to Iraq, but once his brother returns, “It will be interesting to see (he) feels about war,” Holmes said.
Holmes said he supported the anti-war message of the demonstration and added, “There’s no justifiable reason for war.”
Muchow said the purpose of the demonstration was to turn the numbers into something people could comprehend.
“Basically, it’s a visual,” Muchow said of the project. “It’s kind of hard to understand what war is when you’re living in the U.S.A. It’s like an art project of the toll this war has taken.”
The flags could remain on the Norlin Quad for a total of two to three weeks, but the date they will be taken down hasn’t been determined, Muchow said. After the flags are removed, they will be stored in a group member’s garage to be put back on the field some time next semester.
“As long as the war is going on, ISN plans to keep putting these out there,” Muchow said.
DISPUTE OVER NUMBERS – NOT ALL STUDENTS IN SUPPORT OF THE DEMONSTRATION
Kyra Glore, a senior physics major, said she knows her views on the situation are not politically correct.
“Considering all the people in the world who have died, for both meaningful and stupid reasons, this really doesn’t matter as much as people think it does,” Glore said of the display. “It’s not going to change anything. (War) is human nature, unfortunately.”
Another student said he doesn’t agree with the source the student group used to gather its numbers.
“One thing I don’t like about it is (that) it’s cited from the John Hopkins study, and that study has been condemned,” said Bryce Byers, a senior economics major.
Byers said the generals on the ground in Iraq and others have said the body count was much lower, and Byers said the accurate numbers were “closer to 30 thousand.”
Byers said an organization called Iraq Body Count estimated that the body count is 48,693, including insurgents.
The latest count of civilian deaths in Iraq is between 45,162 and 50,127 according to the Iraq Body Count Web site.
Byers also said the demonstration on the Norlin Quad doesn’t reflect where civilian deaths might have come from, or the meaning of the numbers it uses.
“Think about how many were killed under Saddam Hussein’s rule alone,” Byers said. He also asked how many were killed by U.S. soldiers versus how many were killed by insurgents.
The ISN group got its numbers from a recent study by John Hopkins University that was published in The Lancet, a medical journal from the United Kingdom, Muchow said.
Muchow cited a Washington Post article explaining how Iraqi physicians and overseas epidemiologists estimated the death toll by talking to families in Iraq for the John Hopkins study. He said that he and many groups consider the numbers from Iraq Body Count to be too low and that the estimate from the John Hopkins study is more reliable.
Messages left at the display took the dispute into writing. One note tacked onto the bulletin boards with pictures of bloody women and children in Iraq read, “The seeds you sow, so you shall reap. Justice will come to those who wage war.”
But another message on a piece of notebook paper weighed to the ground with a candle read, “Finish the job, finish it well. Don’t let their sacrifice count for nothing.”