Before sunrise on Tuesday morning, HLS students installed an exhibit on Holmes Field in front of the law library to recognize the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war, and to protest the continued U.S. occupation of Iraq. The students anti-war banners on trees in the field and illustrated the human toll of the war by covering Holmes Field with thousands of painted bamboo sticks. Thirty-two red sticks, each representing 100 of the roughly 3,200 American soldiers killed in Iraq, were gathered in front of the library, dwarfed by 6,500 black sticks, each representing the estimated 65,000-650,000 Iraqi civilian casualties that have amassed since the war commenced (at the most conservative Iraq Body Count estimate, one skewer represented 10 casualties, while one skewer represented 100 casualties at the Johns Hopkins estimate recently published in The Lancet). An anonymous participant in the action stated: “Often the dialogue is framed in terms of how the war affects us as Americans. We wanted to show how detrimental the war has been for everyone involved.” Students organizing the display wanted to reflect the message that since President George W. Bush launched the war against Iraq four years ago, the country has spiraled into chaos and there is no “mission accomplished” but death, displacement, and destruction of the country and its people, particularly given that 58% of Iraqis believe that their lives were better or the same under Saddam Hussein than they are today.
The HLS student action fit into a framework of broader mounting opposition to the war. According to a recent Gallup poll, a majority of the country thinks the Iraq war was a mistake. A banner in Holmes Field reminded passersby that 72% of American troops serving in Iraq think that the United States should pull out within the year. The strong opposition to the occupation has increased for a variety of reasons. Some cited by war opponents include the United States government’s use of torture, the various no-bid contracts given to corporations with close ties to the Bush Administration, the stripping of civil liberties in the name of fighting terror, and the hundreds of billions of dollars already spent on the war. The coalition of HLS students organizing the action expressed hope that their anti-war message will spread to other Harvard students and beyond. One student stated, “Even though Bush ignored the majority of the world, as well as the American people, when he unilaterally decided to launch the war, he cannot ignore the spreading voice of opposition. We hope that our action makes that voice a little louder.”