The Story Only Shoes are Left to Tell and the Work Left for Us

One day earlier, when the anti-war march was winding down, my younger brother, Joseph, and I walked to the front of the event stage. There Code Pink had set-up what may have been the most moving display at the protest, an eight-foot cylinder containing pairs of shoes representing the Iraqi dead, which, according to a John Hopkins report is more than 650,000.

One of the group’s members encouraged protesters to place an ID tag, including the victim’s name, gender, age, and manner of death, on to one of the hundreds of shoes spilling out five feet around the base of the mobile memorial. The memorialized dead were victims of everything from insurgency car-bombs to pre-invasion U.S. bombing raids.

My brother and I each took a tag and solemnly tied it to a pair of shoes. Crouched down, affixing a tag to a pair of shoes, I took time to inhale the stench of death and mourn the inane brevity of these lost-lives. I reflected on the basic fact that each of the countless pairs of shoes represented a human life, a body that once breathed the air I was then inhaling, a body suffocated of life and joy and a future. Bodies that belonged to children like eight-month-old boy Mohsen Basem Naji and the one-year-old little boy named Mahdey Abed al-Atheem, both of whom existed now as a pair of warn out, donated shoes.

You really come to terms with what an empty pair of shoes means when you visit the Holocaust museum. There you find enormous bins filled with the belongings of slain Jews including hair, scissors, and, shoes. Of all the things I saw in that museum, it’s a quote by Moishe Shulstein that stands out the most. Displayed before a sea of drab, dusty, brown shoes emptied of Jewish feet by Nazi gas chambers and execution squads, it read:

"We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.
We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers,
From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam,
And because we are only made of fabric and leather
And not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire."

On the plane ride home to Central Florida, I listened to news reports of the President’s talk of war with Iran; and Cheney having told a Newsweek reporter, "Well, I’m vice president and they’re not," in response to a question about criticism coming from his own party (see February 5th issue). All I could think about were the hundreds of thousands of shoes emptied in the wake of the initial bombing of Baghdad.

Proving that the drums of war are not merely practicing, but preparing for battle, the February 19 issue of Newsweek magazine reports that "At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. ‘They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,’ says Hillary Mann, the administration’s former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs." Newsweek also reports that a second Navy carrier group heading for the Persian Gulf will likely be followed by a third carrier. (See "Rumors of War" Newsweek Feb. 19, 2007).

Can you hear he bombs crashing indiscriminately into Iranian family homes, the futile wail of emergency vehicle sirens struggling to save lives, religious extremists pointing to the U.S. as the true face of terror? I can hear an innocent choir of civilians singing out the famous and all too redundant ode to war, a cacophonous melody of moans, cries, and screams. 

The question for each and every one of us to ask ourselves now is: will we allow our government, our military to murder more children, those not at all different from our little boys and girls, our grandchildren? Will you let them?

While I was overjoyed at the success of the January 27th anti-war event, I can’t help but to be, at the same time, disappointed. You see, in April 2004 I attended the March for Women’s Lives, a pro-choice march attended by more than 1 million men and women. I have to admit, I sometimes looked around at the dedicated Americans who came to Washington to stop the war, wondering, where is everyone else? Have they not yet realized that the right to live without threat of occupation and invasion is as important, as personal, as the right to choose?

If we don’t force Congress to reign in our nation’s Executive Branch, we may all face the day when the world asks us, why should we forgive your complicity in savaging the people of two nations in less than a decade, while abhorring the complicity of the Germans who failed to stop Hitler?

For those in our nation who have become so addicted to personal luxury and comfort, who have lost humankind’s greatest virtue, the power of empathy, it may do them well to recall the millions of German civilians who died during Allied bombing campaigns.

Hopefully, the United States will be cleansed of its pathological addiction to machismo, militarism, and monetary materialism in time to save its people from a similar fate.

Do two things right now: call your representatives and sign the petition at And whatever you do, be on the streets of either DC or your hometown on September 15: 

Photo from