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Even cowardice speaks

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When Molly Haglund and her college classmates were planting 1026 stakes in the campus quadrangle, they didn't expect that their act would wind up on the front page of the Boston Globe. That is what happened""with some help from vandals.

The Portland (OR) sophomore, her associate Sarah Fontaine and a group of two dozen students at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, had a simple goal: memorialize those who have been killed in Iraq and start campus dialogue about the war. They painted 26 stakes white, one for each 100 American soldiers killed, and 1000 green, one for each 100 Iraqi victims. (The toll of Iraqi deaths is hard to determine; the British medical journal, The Lancet, estimates the number at 100,000.) They hammered the stakes into the lawn with the permission of college administrators and after having taken full responsibility for the display in a campus-wide email.

"We chose the quadrangle in front of the cafeteria," says Molly, "because we wanted students to talk about the issue over a meal." Students did talk, in the cafeteria and in classes, but real dialogue didn't get going until 48 hours later, after campus police wakened Molly to report that vandals, covering their cowardice under nightfall, had uprooted the stakes. Not the white stakes, she discovered; just the green ones.

"What were they trying to say?" asks the Central Catholic High School graduate. "That Iraqi lives are less important than American lives?" Molly and Sarah decided to leave the green stakes strewn around the lawn. Another student, evidently disheartened by the vandalism and figuring that she could make an even more powerful symbol of the commonality of Americans and Iraqis in futile killing and death, uprooted the white stakes as well.

The women also arranged for a forum and a panel of students and professors to air issues. Molly reports, "The silence on campus about the war these last couple of years had been deafening. At the forum we asked why that is so and how in the future we can carry on dialogue about something so big as this war."

Molly's own opinion is that the silence had to do with the absence of a draft, the inability of the media to report the whole tragedy of chaos and death, and the fact that "we live in bubbles and behind gates, absorbed in our own little worlds.

Whatever the reason, at Holy Cross College dialogue is finally beginning. Molly and Sarah hope that the discussion, which has until now swirled about the display and how to foster civic and civil debate, will turn to questions about the war itself. It is just possible that their courageous deed, magnified ironically by an act of cowardice, might help spark national debate about the question Molly and Sarah hung over the display and posted on their email: "How many more?"
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James Parker has retired from careers as a professor of theology and as a public relations officer for a research institution.
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