The Iraq war is 4 years old, and the American body count still climbs. This week, Brave New Foundation launched the Iraq Veterans Memorial, an online tribute by friends and families of those killed. Jim Miller discusses memorialization in the YouTube age.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Pentagon videos don't show close-ups of anyone getting killed, but we know they are. We know the numbers, at least of American service people who have died, and we've seen many efforts to humanize those numbers. The latest, timed to coincide with the anniversary of the invasion, comes from a documentary company called the Brave New Foundation. It put out a call for one-minute video tributes by the friends and families of slain soldiers, which have been set to music and posted on YouTube.
The company also has compiled the videos on its own site, in what it calls the Iraq Veterans Memorial, inspired by the Vietnam Memorial as well as the AIDS Quilt. [BEGIN VIDEO CLIP] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] WOMAN: Nearly one year ago, I lost my fiancé, my life, my soul-mate, Lance Corporal Eric Palmisano… MAN: My name is Matt Howard. I want to talk about my friend Shane Swanberg… WOMAN: I'm here to honor my brother, Army Specialist Genaro Acosta… WOMAN: First Lieutenant Kenneth Michael Ballard was my only child. He was 26 years old when he was killed in Iraq… MAN: I'd just like to talk about my friend, Jose Perez, who was a guy I served with when I was in the Army… MAN: My son, Lance Corporal Alexander Arredondo, U.S. Marines…
WOMAN: Eric, you’re an impossible act to follow. We'll miss you forever. [END VIDEO CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: So far, Brave New Foundation has received dozens of video submissions, and more continue to trickle in. The group's executive director, Jim Miller, says the videos submitted thus far have at least one thing in common. JIM MILLER: There was such love. There was such love expressed, and the remembrances were really of happy times and of things that these people accomplished during their lifetimes. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Was there one that you just can't get out of your mind? JIM MILLER: [LAUGHS] They really all were very special. I mean, the image of Army Sergeant Sherwood Baker's mom speaking about the last time that she saw her son. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let's listen to that. [BEGIN VIDEO CLIP] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] SHERWOOD BAKER’S MOM: And then he walked back into his barracks, and raised his hand, as if in a salute to us. And that night an incredible full moon rose in the sky, the biggest full moon I had ever seen. And I thought it was a sign, but I didn't know what kind of sign it was. [CRYING] Now whenever I see full moons, I always think of Sherwood. [END VIDEO CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know, it does seem as if you're asking a lot of the people in these films. Do you think that most of them are equipped to grieve in such a public fashion? JIM MILLER: You know, that's a good question. I tended to notice that the majority of the videos that we received were from friends and family who lost their loved ones, you know, a few years ago. And I'm sure it's because the grieving process takes a long time. I mean, it's something that you don't get over. BROOKE GLADSTONE: It's tough to get a read on the politics of the people in these videos. Was that intentional on your part? JIM MILLER: Well, we wanted this to be as non-partisan as possible. This is really meant to be a memorial. We did not want this to be anything more than that. I mean, that was not the intention. BROOKE GLADSTONE: But I wonder, I mean, the impact of all of these individual losses taken together could constitute an antiwar message, don't you think? JIM MILLER: You know, I think that maybe it's a Rorschach, or you can just put it in front of somebody and they'll have their opinion. There's been a lot of articles written about the memorial over the past week on both sides.
In speaking with a lot of service members who are still there, and there are some service members who spoke about fellow soldiers whom they lost, what always strikes me is that what they think of the war itself isn't as important as the mission that they're doing and the fact that they know if they weren't doing it, somebody else would have to take their place. [BEGIN VIDEO CLIP] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] MAN: It's a really unfortunate thing, because this is a guy who really believed in his job as a medic. You know, he was the guy that was tasked with taking care of us. You know, he was a guy you could lean on, and when you had any sort of issues – you needed an IV because you were dehydrated or you needed something because you got injured or whatever it was – you know, he believed in that, and he really worked to his fullest to make that happen for us. [END VIDEO CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know, I think about the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., or the Everlasting Flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And I wonder about the aesthetics of this project, this amateur video posted on YouTube. Do you think it serves the people who are trying to communicate those emotions? JIM MILLER: Well, I think those memorials you mentioned are indeed works of art and places that people can go to pay tribute. The unique aspect of this memorial is that you don't need to travel anywhere in order to view it.
As far as the quality, I mean, I don't have a problem with the quality, but if there is a question of quality, I think that the emotion way outweighs that. BROOKE GLADSTONE: It may even be that the raw quality of the footage contributes to the message, because it isn't mediated by art. JIM MILLER: Yeah. You know, it's not slick. It's there, and it's real. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think the impact then will be different from the kind of memorial that happens, you know, 10, 15, 20 years after the end of the war – that it can actually have an influence on the debate over the war? JIM MILLER: Well, I don't know. I really cannot predict it. I mean, we as a foundation put a lot of things out there. We work on a lot of different social justice issues. And we do hope that people do something with what we're putting out there.
But there is so much information out there right now that it's hard to have an idea of what's going to take and what's not. I mean, you do a lot of very good shows on a lot of very relevant topics, but how much of that sticks? It's hard to assess. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jim, thank you for coming on the show. JIM MILLER: Thank you for having me, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jim Miller is the executive director for Brave New Foundation, the group behind the Iraq Veterans Memorial. We'll link to the video from our website, onthemedia.org. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, citizen researchers rake the muck in the Justice Department scandal, and an argument over genocide. BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media from NPR.