Above and Beyond


The National Veterans Art Museum‘s exhibition Above & Beyond is on the third floor of Harold Washington Library Center through February of 2020. The art installation features over 58,000 hand-stamped replicated dog tags representing U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. The dog tags are suspended from the ceiling of an open 13 feet x 34 feet installation on our third floor near the escalators. Nearby is an interactive kiosk where you can look up the names of veterans and find the location of their hanging dog tags. The piece was created by veteran artists and is meant to help viewers reflect on the impact of war. This is the only memorial to Vietnam veterans outside of Washington, D.C.

Photo by Roman.
Photo by Roman.
Photo by Roman.

The exhibition is too easy to ignore. The tags hang silently, motionless, the weight of them no more than that of a passing cloud.

But “reflect on the impact of war?” What could those of us without the experience of it really know?

Not nothing. Neither you nor I can plead total ignorance. Here are the two things I know:

As of 2019, even though the fighting has long since ceased, the Vietnam War is not over and will continue for decades in the future. People continue to die as a result of it: injury, suicide, chemical contamination, unexploded weapons. It continues to cost money, both public and private. And as violence begets violence, echoes of the mayhem continue.

And finally, those 58,000 dog tags are really only our side of the story. The dismal tally of death from that criminal fiasco is two orders of magnitude greater. Imagine that hanging from the ceiling. Imagine that accompanied by the moans and sighs of the bereaved.

Pacifism is probably foolishness, but keep this exhibition in mind the next time some politician asks you to endorse a war or “military intervention”.

Author: rmichaelroman

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