Fifty-eight thousand dog tags, one for each U.S. soldier who died in the Vietnam War. I did not know any of them. All were strangers to me. Yet standing below this shimmering array listening to them tinkle in the gentle movement of air from the Chicago Public Library’s giant air-handling system, I thought of the human stories cut short–not only those of these soldiers but of ALL–their soldiers, civilians; men, women and children–cut down by the war I remember well.
Who is a stranger? In the heat of conflict, in the fears generated by political rhetoric, lots of people can be viewed as strangers. It helps a lot to keep the conflict going, to view others as enemies, if we can categorize them as “stranger.”
But as animosities fade with time, as fears generated by political rhetoric turn out to be unwarranted, perhaps the other seems less a stranger. For whatever reason, the older I get, the less use I have for the category “stranger.”