A Nightmare Hall of Mirrors

Artwork by Sam Wiener - 1970
“Those Who Fail to Remember the Past Are Condemned to Repeat It.” Sam Wiener. 1970.

In 1970 artist Sam Wiener created an artwork that addressed the slaughter then occurring in Vietnam, but his work unfortunately still has resonance in our world today. Those Who Fail to Remember the Past Are Condemned to Repeat It was originally titled 45,391… and counting, with the title changing as the numbers of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam kept climbing. Wiener’s sculptural work consisted of a small open topped box lined with mirrors into which rows of small flag-draped coffins were arranged. The coffin’s reflections expanded into infinity, conveying the idea that the nation was trapped in a nightmare hall of mirrors.

The artwork asked a question that no one could answer – “for how long does the war grind on and how many will be sacrificed?” Wiener also created a mass produced poster of this image that was heavily distributed in the early 1970’s – it is a poster that could just as well have been created in the present day. Since Bush’s war on Iraq began, the number of U.S. troops to have died as of this writing is 1,702. Over 12,000 have been maimed and wounded. Estimates on Iraqi civilian deaths vary, with 22,248 being the minimum.

We were told that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction, and that if we didn’t invade and disarm the country, we’d soon see a mushroom cloud rising over New York City. Not only were there no WMD’s, we now find out through the Downing Street Memo (the transcribed minutes of a meeting held by the British Prime Minister eight months before the invasion), that intelligence was being “fixed” in order to make a case for war. A Nightmare Hall of Mirrors indeed.

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