Winston-Salem Light Project Shines Light On The Horrors Of World War I

The Winston-Salem Light Project just completed its 10th annual outdoor lighting installation. The Winston-Salem Light Project has become a tradition, a must-see exhibition of public art.

This year’s WSLP returned to its original home, the Millennium Center, to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. While the WSLP focused primarily on WWI, they used the “great war,” the “war to end all wars” as a starting point to explore the wider topic of war.

Eight large-format projectors blended and mapped an ever-changing tapestry of images onto the Millennium Center’s edifice. Vivid, massive images explored the themes of nationalism, war and its effects on society.

The installation began with images of war through the ages; Greek, Roman, Medieval, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War. War has always been a terrible and unjustifiable demonstration of evil, but technological advancements made World War I a particularly brutal and costly war, fought in trenches with high casualties.

Looking back on WWI, the foolishness of war, the inherent madness of it is particularly easy to appreciate. Sending young men in the prime of their lives to kill and be killed for the glory of God and country? Who could justify that? Howard Zinn brilliantly summaries the human cost of WWI:

“Ten million were to die on the battlefield; 20 million were to die of hunger and disease related to the war. And no one since that day has been able to show that the war brought any gain for humanity that would be worth one human life.”

Since WWI, military technology (the science of death and destruction)  has made many improvements. Wars will always be fought on the ground. They will always extract a large number of lives. But today our government has the ability to wage wars around the globe with relatively low American casualties.

Instead of soldier meeting soldier on the battlefield, bombs are dropped from drones piloted many thousands of miles away. This makes war easier to ignore. But, it’s perhaps more important now than ever that we oppose war and militarism.

I appreciate the Winston-Salem Light Project shining a light on war. After the WSLP showed images of WWI, they showed U.S. presidents and various world leaders speaking on the topic of war and peace.

Famous clips of presidents Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Barak Obama were shown. Instead of showing a video of president Donald Trump, the audience was shown Trump’s twitter timeline.

The installation ended with the detonation of an atomic bomb, a huge mushroom cloud on the front of the Millennium Center. It was a moving reminder that our civilization cannot long endure if we continue to wage war.

The connection between cigarettes and war should is worth mentioning. The WSLP’s annual show took place a mere stone’s throw from the Reynolds American Building. Reynolds (now a subsidiary of British American Tobacco) made Winston-Salem the city that it is today.

Reynolds’ success is tied to World War I and subsequent wars. Reynolds’ wildly popular Camel Cigarettes were introduced in 1913, on the eve of WWI. They were given to soldiers by the carton. They were seen by generals as being almost as important as bullets, indispensable for maintaining troop morale.

Many of the soldiers that survived WWI, later succumbed to cancer and other diseases associated with tobacco consumption. The same is true of soldiers that fought in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

Cigarettes are the most deadly consumer product ever invented. Though cigarette consumption has plateaued in recent years, it’s still the leading cause of death in the U.S. And the numbers are even worse in China and other parts of the developing world where the tobacco epidemic annually kills a staggering amount of people.

War and tobacco consumption are two twin evils that need to be abolished. I commend the Winston-Salem Light Project for examining war. But tobacco, war’s handmaiden also deserves scrutiny. But in Winston-Salem, though omnipresent, tobacco is a topic that is rarely mentioned.

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