At 9 am yesterday morning, Rudy Dietz and a team of about 100 volunteers began planting red and white flags on the green in front of Portland State University. Nine hours and 124,975 flags later, with dusk approaching, the Iraq Body Count Exhibit was in place.
The exhibit, in Portland for the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War—March 20, 2003—seeks to raise awareness about the war's death toll.
“It's sadly beautiful,” says Dietz, who has spent much of the day on Park Street passing out flyers and speaking with passersby.
Each white flag represents five dead Iraqis and each red flag one dead American soldier. Dietz “would love to represent each Iraqi with his or her own flag,” but would need another $30,000 to buy over 500,000 more flags to do that. As it is, the flags occupy all of 5 city blocks.
The IBCE goes by the Lancet Medical Journal
's October 2006 estimate of 655,000 Iraqi deaths. A January update to a more recent study conducted by the British firm ORB, Dietz points out, put the number at just over 1,000,000. Other groups say the toll is far lower. The Iraq Body Count—unrelated to the exhibit—claims that between 80 and 90 thousand Iraqi civilians have died since 2003.
“The reception from the public has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Dietz. “There are always going to be a few folks who disagree with what we're doing. They are welcome to think whatever they want.”
According to Dietz, the exhibit does not mandate any particular position on the war. “We believe the numbers speak for themselves,” he says.