According to an AP-Ipsos poll conducted in February 2007, Americans greatly underestimate the number of Iraqi civilians killed in the war. While the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone, and a recent John Hopkins study estimates over 650,000 civilian causalities between March 2003 and July 2006, the median estimate by Americans is 9,890. Margot Norris explains the discrepancy between public perception and body count data as the result of de facto practices by the Pentagon. By restricting press access to the suffering, the government systematically obscures public knowledge, which in turn blocks affect, empathy, and protest. The moral and political defeat in Vietnam helped usher in the illusion that human loss is irrelevant to military success.
Cherry Blossoms addresses the disparity between human suffering and perception of that suffering. The project starts in a backpack outfitted with a small microcontroller and a GPS unit. Recent news of bombings in Iraq are downloaded to the unit every night, and their relative location, to the center of the city, are superimposed on a map of Boston. If the wearer walks in a space in Boston that correlates to a site of violence in Baghdad, the backpack detonates and releases a compressed air cloud of confetti, looking like a mixture between smoke and shrapnel and the white blossoms of a cherry tree, completely engulfing the wearer. Each piece of confetti is inscribed with the name of a civilian who died in the war, and the circumstances of their death. With Cherry Blossoms human loss resonates beyond the boundary of conflict.