Counting Up the Costs of War

March 28th, 2011

By Jan Barry

Costs of WarHow many ways need it be said? America is going broke—and has become imperious, callous and cruel—waging wars around the world. A group of concerned citizens in New Jersey and New York set out recently to visually convey the costs of war for our nation. The result is a mind-boggling array of art work displayed at the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck, NJ.

The “Looking at the Human and Economic Costs of War through the Arts” exhibition on display through April 14 includes paintings, drawings, sculpture, photographs, poetry, dioramas and posters by war veterans, military family members and other concerned taxpayers, artists, writers, teachers and students about various aspects of wars’ costs.

Among the most memorable items is a carefully crafted prosthetic leg lent by a World War II veteran, Bob Levine, who lost his lower right leg from grenade wounds in 1944 in Normandy, France. The VA-issued replacement leg is part of a multi-media display of photos, drawings, newspaper clippings, tables of statistics and a diorama conveying the destructive effects of landmines and other explosives on arms and legs of multitudes of maimed survivors of war zones around the Earth.

“The Million Dollar Soldier,” another diorama made from a US Army camouflage uniform crafted for war in Afghanistan, vividly displays another side of the costs of the conflict in that part of the world. Pinned to the fashionably designed combat jacket are oversize price tags for the cost per soldier per year of keeping an army fighting for nearly a decade halfway around the world in equivalent dollar amounts to the tax bills to local residents for running the municipality and public schools of Teaneck.

The cost in lives in the war on terrorism is represented by a display of poetry and photos conveying former New Jersey resident John Fenton’s tormented grief over the death of his son Matthew, who died in May 2006 of wounds received as a Marine in Iraq.

Costs in torment to war survivors and family members is the subject of many of the art works. Nightmares are evoked from images torn from military actions around the globe. “A few years ago if I’d seen that piece I’d have run out of here,” poet Dayl Wise said of a mixed media painting by Ruth Bauer Neustadter of a precariously standing man rendered as a jumble of parts and bones. Wise read to a standing-room-only audience a pair of haunting poems—about losing his sturdy jungle boots when he was wounded in Vietnam and, decades later, suddenly seeing dead Vietnamese farmers amid the “road kill” as he drove on a highway near his home in New York.

"Open Wound" by Eli Wright

“Open Wound,” Combat Paper pulp painting made with military uniforms, by Eli Wright, US  Army veteran, Iraq

Other work addressing the corrosive impact of post-traumatic stress on war survivors includes a raging display of Combat Paper artwork made from shredded military uniforms by Iraq war veterans, including Robynn Murray, featured in the Oscar-nominated film, Poster Girl. Another piece along these lines is a “Costs of War” poster incorporating a poem I wrote, with calligraphy by Drew Cameron of Combat Papermakers, hand-printed on paper made from military uniforms:

"Costs of War" by Jan Barry

To convey a fuller view of this exhibition’s arresting visual impact, I created a Shutterfly photo album of the artwork and performers who appeared at a Costs of War cultural program on March 20. My poem on this topic is below.

Costs of War

homeless veterans,
dead civilians
in the millions—
shattered families—
from blasted cities,
ghostly villages
full of ghastly graves
in the ruins, ditches, fields…
pillaged farmsteads,
defoliated forests,
ravaged lanes
sowed with landmines,
roadside bombs,
booming blasts of doom
to passersby…
poisonous debris
seeding cancers,
crippling disorders,
including traumatic stress
and birth defects
for generations
in hate-filled nations…
what a toxic residue,
billions spent,
billions still due

— Jan Barry

(This article was also posted at EarthAirWater.)

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One Response to “Counting Up the Costs of War”

  1. Tom Carter |

    Jan, nicely done, again. These kinds of events are excellent outlets for the emotions and psychic scars of those who’ve been there. I like the art — very creative. And, as usual, I like the poem a lot. Billions spent, billions still due, and lots more dead and broken people, soldiers and civilians alike.

    Maybe someday humanity will advance to the point where wars will no longer be fought. There’s nothing on the horizon that makes that even a remote possibility, but there’s always hope….

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