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“Eyes Wide Open” for the RNC

September 2, 2008

St. Paul, MN – Hundreds of pairs of combat boots are lined up in formation on the State Capitol Grounds in Minnesota today for the Republican National Convention. It's "Eyes Wide Open," an unusual display that has traveled the nation to show support for troops in Iraq. The 355 deceased military personnel represented by the boots had been from Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

"Eyes Wide Open" is sponsored and coordinated by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a nonprofit organization founded by Quakers in 1917. It carries out service, development, social justice and peace programs throughout the world. Michael McConnell with AFSC says "Eyes Wide Open" is all about honoring the troops still in action, as well as those who have died.

"Whether you're for or against the war, we can commonly mourn and recognize those who have been killed."

A similar exhibit was set up at the Democratic National Convention. "Eyes Wide Open" also looks at the economic cost of the war, now pegged at $720 million a day, although some critics of the display say the war cost is exaggerated.

McConnell hastens to add that, while the United States is pleading poverty and pointing to record levels of debt in the federal budget, the country is still considered wealthy; it's just a question of how the money is being spent. The war, he believes, is a big drain.

"Thirty-four thousand college students could get four-year scholarships to a state university for what it costs to wage war for only one day. Some of the trade-offs are astounding."

American Friends Service Committee also has called for better mental health care for veterans. After tracking the suicides of Iraq War veterans, a research project found that more than 100 veterans a week are taking their own lives, McConnell says.

"There have been studies that show Iraq vets are killing themselves at a rate three times as high as their age group in the general population."

"Eyes Wide Open" is on display at the Minnesota State Capitol Grounds, 102 State Capitol, St. Paul, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. today.

Deborah Smith/Steve Powers, Public News Service - MN