Friday, September 18, 2009

Stopping to Look at 'The Faces'

I always have to stop when I see them.

They are "The Faces of the Fallen", a collection of pictures of the men and women in U.S. service in Iraq and Afghanistan who have died.

The collection, updated twice a month and available online at the Washington Post, my daily newspaper, now numbers more than 5,000 faces, many with "that look" we associate with Marines, others softened by smiles; some, their eyes hidden by their "shades". (What else do the sunglasses hide?) Overwhelmingly, they are male and young - my son's age (21) or younger, often - although this morning's "Faces" included a number who were in their 30s or even 50s.

Accompanying the pictures in the paper: name and age and hometown; date of death; also a few lines about how they died - by suicide bomber, improvised explosive device, a sniper's gunshot,"natural causes". Online, you can search by age or year of death, home state, military branch. And you can hear tributes, courtesy of Washington Post Radio, that aim to make the pictures real for us by offering, perhaps, a quote by a mother, a father, a life partner, or a friend, maybe a colleague who fought alongside the soldier who died.

I always have to stop when I turn the page and see them. I don't turn the page again until I've looked at all the faces, read the accompanying notes, taken in the loss, because I'm not looking at the 5,130 faces all at once, just the most recent who have given up their lives in the desert of Iraq, along a sand-whipped highway, in Afghanistan's crags. Every one is one too many.

I once wrote in a letter to an editor that there should be a room in the White House wherein is posted the picture of every person who dies because of "our" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the President should have to go to the room each day and just sit. . .and look. Then look some more. Until he can take in the loss. And do something about it.

Albert Einstein wrote that "[a]ny intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction."

Will we ever move in the opposite direction? Away from the violence, the loss? Could looking at "The Faces" the way we looked at the picture of a child running down a highway in Vietnam get us into the streets, on the Mall, at the doors of Congress?

I always have to stop when I see them. Do you?

"Faces of the Fallen":

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