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.
Thank you for such a thoughtful response. We’re really not that far apart—especially on much of the futility of a war half-fought. But the memorial was meant to honor those who fought the war, not those who ordained it nor the wisdom of the decision to wage it. Those who fought it deserved far better than to have been osmosed into an opinion of the war that damned its warriors along with all its malconceived strategies. It’s no accident that Jan Scruggs, frequently cited as one of the veteran-proponents for the memorial, had been a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War before the group mysteriously became (and broadened into) Vietnam Veterans of America. Even if Scruggs took no part in the former group’s treachery, he certainly had no problem aligning himself with it in the late 60s/early 70s.
This isn’t the first time I’ve looked for Wolfe’s Washington Post full-page article on the wall. It’s well worth the read and far more edifying than the Post’s gloss (”a tribute to Jane Fonda’). “Dapper warrior” aside, he’d already written rather extensively on modern art and the slightly more significant nonsense peddled by the Left. The wall not only incorporated both Wolfe specialties, it soldered them together. But the fact that I detest it doesn’t mean that I despise those who find solace or awe in a visit. On the contrary, they’ve supplied the dignity, grace, and integrity the wall was never meant to reflect, no doubt a great disappointment to the original selection panel.