Group wants to end war, not glorify it, with traveling memorial in Raleigh

BY MARTHA QUILLIN November 7, 2014 

Doug Ryder, left, Roger Ehrlick, right, and Jim Senter, on ground, put together the final pieces of a hand-made memorial bell tower Friday on the south side of the State Capitol in Raleigh.

RALEIGH — A stiff wind from Friday’s cold front blew across the State Capitol grounds and struck the tower that Roger Ehrlich and his partners were trying to raise, making its hundreds of aluminum plates rattle like sabers.

But instead of weapons of war, the plates are meant to be symbols against it, forming a sort of anti-war memorial Ehrlich hopes will encourage people this Veterans Day to consider the cost of world conflict rather than to glorify it.

A lot of war monuments are built with the idea that war is fought to guarantee freedom,” said Ehrlich, a sociologist-turned-artist who lives in Cary. “That’s a big lie, and we wanted to do something different.”

Ehrlich conceived the tower for the local chapter of Veterans For Peace, a global nonprofit based in St. Louis that says its main mission is to end war, in part by educating the public on what the group says are war’s true causes and effects. It also hopes to help veterans heal from their combat experiences, Ehrlich says, by supporting conciliatory efforts such as the clearing of mines from former battlefields, so the land can be used for farming.

The group first erected the 24-foot structure on Memorial Day and has displayed it several times since.

It was built in three pieces that can travel on the back of a trailer – the smaller pieces nestled inside the larger – and be put back together on site. Between its metal frame are stretched metal stakes once used to support young apple trees in Ehrlich’s family’s orchards near Asheville. Each metal rod becomes a rack on which hang the metal plates, hammered from empty aluminum drink cans.

The group calls the triangular tower “Swords to Plowshares,” a biblical reference to Isaiah’s prophesy that one day, nations will not lift swords against one another.

The tower has evolved since it was introduced. Veterans – and those who remember them – inscribe names and messages on the plates, the way thousands of people have left notes at the base of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

John Hueur, president of the local chapter, helped raise the tower Friday afternoon so it would be in place on the south side of the State Capitol building in time for today’s Veterans Day Parade, which will pass close by.

Members of Veterans For Peace will participate in the parade, which will wind along several blocks of downtown Raleigh, a moving salute to those who have served.

Ehrlich and Hueur, who were not members of the armed forces but who had relatives who fought in both world wars, say their intent with the memorials is not to diminish veterans’ sacrifices but to see a world in which such sacrifice is no longer needed.