The military’s secret Afghan War Diaries, released by Wikileaks in 2010, details a staggering 463,000 incidents that happened in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009, from the mundane to the tragic. “Current Casualty list: 6x KIA (1x male, 4 female, one baby) 3x WIA (all female, one of which was 9 months pregnant),” reads one entry; KIA stands for killed in action, for wounded in action.
On a new website that launched today, designer Dylan Halpern transformed each of the logbook entries into a simple set of icons. The symbols show the type and category of attack–for example, friendly fire or an IED explosion–and whether anyone was wounded or killed.
The website is the offshoot of a massive printed visualization, stretching over 89-feet wide and 10-feet tall, that was on display last weekend at a gallery in Richmond, Virginia. As people walk around the Wall of War, they can follow each attack, explosion, and raid from the beginning of the war. On the website, you can scroll through the events, or jump from year to year.
Halpern was inspired to create both projects by the unprecedented scale and content of the leaked data.
“Usually this sort of information may be released decades or centuries after a conflict, and even then it is in a much reduced form,” Halpern says. “To have this sort of information so soon after a conflict presents a significant opportunity to explore the remnants and records that come from contemporary war, the meaning behind how we visualize and digest data, and how we can comprehend a body of information that is beyond the intuitive scale–beyond the size that we can naturally get our heads around.”
Rather than necessarily making data simple to quickly understand, like a typical infographic, Halpern wanted to overwhelm viewers with the reality and scale of the war. “The main aim was to illustrate just how many events occurred during the war and to try to understand–for myself and the viewer–what 450,000-plus rows of data look like,” he says. “The effect on the viewer I hoped for was a feeling of being overwhelmed, and for some I hoped that the piece might spark curiosity to dive deeper into the visualization.”
In January, Halpern plans to release an iOS “decoder” app that can translate each icon back into text.