This wasn’t my introduction to Greenberg.
I can’t find the original article by Tom Wolfe, but this may give you an idea of the original controversy.
“3. The memorial was originally quite controversial.
Many people commended Lins winning design, with a former ambassador to South Vietnam calling it a distinguished and fitting mark of respect and the New York Times saying it conveyed the only point about the war on which people may agree: that those who died should be remembered. But others lambasted it as an insult. Author Tom Wolfe called it a tribute to [anti-war activist] Jane Fonda, Vietnam veteran Jim Webb, a future U.S. Senator, referred to it as a nihilistic slab of stone, and political commentator Pat Buchanan accused one of the design judges of being a communist. Some critics even resorted to racially insulting Lin, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Eventually, a compromise was reachedagainst Lins wishesunder which a U.S. flag and a statue of three servicemen were dedicated near the wall in 1984. Nine years later, yet another sculpture was added of three women caring for an injured soldier. Not only did the controversy quickly quiet down, but the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has since become both widely praised and wildly popular. It is still far and away the greatest memorial of modern timesthe most beautiful, the most heart-wrenching, the most subtle, and the most powerful, a Vanity Fair commentator wrote earlier this year.
Perfect? Are there other all-black veterans memorials in D. C.? Anywhere else? How many of them look like gravesites? Does any other war memorial you know list every (or nearly every) casualty of the war it proposes to memorialize. At best, the VWM is a eulogy, not a memorial. “Look at all those dead soldiers,” it screams, not “Thank these men for their service to America.”
I realize the memorial grounds have since become hallowed—not as the result of some edgy notion of aesthetics but because of the visits of relatives, friends, and other patriots. Where else CAN they go?
Dapper Warrior Tom Wolfe’s remarks about the Wall being “a tribute to Jane Fonda” are faintly ridiculous,and read like the overstated hollow bravado they are, but I can somewhat see that point of view, as I can yours. Remembering back that far, I can even recall my own ambivalent feeling about it, for just those reasons: that it was exceptionally grave, and almost functioned like a literal dark grave or a two dimensional mausoleum of names-only stretching over hundreds of feet of space.I did not know about Lin’s objections to the
statue and the flag that were added nearby several years later, but I doubt it was because of some nebulous and unprovable “anti-Americanism\” on her part. More likely a typical designer/architect’s not wanting her design to be broken up or offset by anything which might whack it out of aesthetic balance. I do remember Ross Perot’s distaste over it, and wasn’t he the one who proposed the separate tableaus depicting the three servicemen or the nurse attending to injured soldiers? Memorials like this, with these aesthetics are always going to be controversial, precisely because they break the traditional mold , which favors things like the statues you mentioned.The facts about the Vietnam War are something we should be mindful of,which was that it was started and “perfected” by a leftist American President of the New Deal/FDR type, grew under his “watchful eye” from ‘64 to’68 to the point where the incoming Republican President wound up taking even longer to end it. LBJ, who thought he could wage a war in Vietnam, while he undertook a schizophrenic and thoroughly wasteful “War on Poverty” during the same years, as if to compensate or offset the tragedy that was Vietnam.Throughout were still reeling from the deplorable treatment that Veterans got from so many on returning home,but the fact that it seems that more “Liberals” seemed to favor the Wall than “Conservatives” is equally irrelevant to the abiding fact that the ongoing reaction to it is fluid, ever-changing, just like we are. It will be viewed and experienced differently as we move through time and learn more about ourselves and the “leaders”, who involved us in things like that war. We “live and learn”, and that’s what
we owe to those who died, and who cannot learn.
And by the way, I understand why you feel it screams “look at all those dead soldiers”-—some can’t get past that overwhelming impression of it.But what it means is as complex and conflicted as the emotions of all those viewing it, and it hardly matters what Maya Lin’s politics might have been as a 21 year old, or anyone else’s (and I’m sure you won’t find many sniveling America-haters spending much time at the wall, then or now. Those are not people who know anything about coping with loss, or respect those who are forced to cope with it.Indeed, the Wall might work some reverse magic on THOSE people if they were mature enough to open themselves to it and witness the real emotions of the people who come and keep coming to the Wall.
I hope whoever reads my words reads them twice.