The names painted in black on scarlet silk, in children’s uneven print, are an unbearable documentation of waste: Lin Tse Tung, 9, Ali Ahram, 6, Soloman Goldfarb, 2, Maria Goering, 4, Federico Cortez, 3…. The banner stretches on for half a mile.
Two years in the making, the Banner of Hope was created by children in 40 countries, under the auspices of the San Francisco-based Children as the Peacemakers Foundation. Ninety of the banner’s 240 silk panels are inscribed with the names and ages of about 13,000 of the 18 million children killed by war and war-related causes since 1930. Other panels memorialize a geography of death: Cambodia, Gaza, Auschwitz, Beirut, Hiroshima….
“No one really knows exactly how many children have died, been wounded or displaced in adult conflicts,” says Pat Montandon, 59, the erstwhile socialite who started the foundation six years ago. “It’s as though we can’t admit to ourselves that we’ve done such a terrible thing.”
Last week the banner was unfurled publicly for the first time, from street lamps near Moscow’s Pioneer Palace. After two days on display before a changing honor guard of Soviet children, it was to be carried through Lenin Stadium on Sept. 3 in ceremonies expected to draw 100,000 people. It was then to be draped across the Siege Memorial in Leningrad, where more than a million of the 20 million Russians who died in World War II are buried in mass graves.
The banner will be paraded through East and West Berlin this week and through Belfast, Northern Ireland, next week. After that it will be flown to New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 20.
The tour is “a personal thing for me,” says Nguyen-Vu Tran Nguyen of Chamblee, Ga., a shy 16-year-old who escaped from Vietnam in 1981. “I know what war is like.” One of six children from around the world who are traveling with the banner, Nguyen-Vu won a 1984 prize from the foundation for an essay on peace. Also touring with the banner is 11-year-old Angela Staehle of Vernon, N.J., who worked on a panel with her Lounsberry Hollow Middle School classmates. “Sometimes I think about everything we could do if we didn’t have to worry about bombs,” she says. “We don’t have to change the world in three weeks on this trip. If we can get just one person to really imagine a world without war, then we’ve done something.”