San Diego Union Tribune

November 11, 2004

Smithsonian looks at war's human toll in 'Price of Freedom'

By Otto Kreisher

WASHINGTON – With the daily news reporting U.S. troops locked in bitter combat in Fallujah, the Smithsonian Institution is opening a timely exhibit tracing the nearly 230-year history of America's wars, from the Revolution to Iraq.

The display, "The Price of Freedom, America at War," is the Smithsonian's largest and most comprehensive effort to tell the story of the nation's wars and their impact on those who fought them and on the country as a whole.

While filled with the usual array of the implements of war, the show goes beyond previous historical exhibits at the Smithsonian to document the human element and the tragic cost of armed conflict.

Throughout the 18,200-square-foot exposition, the faces of the warriors – frequently etched with fatigue, pain or fear – look back at the visitor from paintings, photographs and videos. And numerous display cases and photos document the toll in wounds and deaths that are an inescapable part of war.

"Wars always come with a price and that's a price that's paid by individuals, not statistics," Lawrence Small, secretary of the Smithsonian, said yesterday at the dedication of the display.

"Across the country, across the generations, virtually every family has been touched by war in some way, at some time. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters have served, sacrificed, on the home front and the battle front and, obviously, some have never returned," Small said.

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hit the same theme in his remarks.

"From the Revolutionary War to the global war on terrorism, America's sons and daughters have indeed paid a very high price for freedom. We must remember that war is never glorious; it's a terrible thing, brutal and tragic," the Vietnam veteran said.

The exhibit contains many of the standard attributes of military history displays: well-preserved uniforms – ranging from George Washington's elaborate blue and white garments to Gen. Colin Powell's camouflage field garb from Desert Storm – and the weapons and machines of war.

In addition to documenting the progress of weapons from the Revolution's cumbersome and inaccurate "Brown Bess" muskets to the light but lethal M-16s and M-4s now at work in Iraq, a visitor can see an intact Huey helicopter, the most recognizable symbol of Vietnam.

Appropriately, the exhibit opens today – Veterans Day – at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

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