“We erect monuments so that we shall always remember and build memorials so that we shall never forget” – Arthur Danto
I visited the Vietnam Memorial in elementary school. I descended the V-shaped slope, running my fingers tips along the cold stone. I felt the soft rhythm of the indented names run up my arm. As I hit the middle of the V, the slope began to increase so I stopped. I looked at the dates and began to ponder the implications of the names carefully carved onto the stone.
My grandmother was accompanying me that day. Her brother had served in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. He flew into the battles to pick up the injured and took them to the hospitals. He had to choose who to take and who to leave. As you can imagine, this had serious implications to his mental health for the rest of his life. When he left for the war, he had recently graduated from an ivy league school. He was bright, funny, and had a zest for life. My grandmother always explained Uncle Bill to me this way. The Uncle Bill I knew lived on the streets. He refused to move into a decent home, although he had the money. He slept with a knife under his pillow and stole food from all-you-can-eat buffets. His eyes were kind but fearful.
Those names changed for me after hearing stories of pre-war Bill. The names signified the dead while the structure addressed the living.
I love this memorial. It shows physically the deep dark scar that was impressed upon this country after the war; not only of the dead, but the living and all of the families. A few years after it was erected, grass began to grow up to the edge of it. This signifies the country healing, although there is still a scar (which goes along with the quote which says we will always remember).
It was and still is a highly contested work of art. It was designed by Maya Lin (who was actually in her undergrad at the time of its design). She was a Chinese-American woman. My favorite part of the article was how it explained how Maya was considered an “other,” and that is why she could successfully relate with the vets who felt “othered” after the war.
I believe it was most contested due to is lack of a certain “stance,” if you will, on the war. This goes to further show the ambiguous nature of the war. It was not a victory, nor was it a defeat. It was not a unified fight as it was protested, but we did go as a country.
I would like to agree with the article that this monument is not a modernist sculpture. It has a distinct form for a reason and is site-specific. (Modernists did use quite a bit of black stone and linear designs such as the memorial, but they have a different feel).
Again, I love this memorial. I believe it embodies how confusing the war was and the “otherness” which came after.