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Vietnam Memorial Essay, Research Paper
Streaming jungles. Napalm. Underground tunnels. Agent Orange. Guerrilla warfare. Vietnam. A conflict that started in controversy, ended with controversy, and has made nothing but controversy since. When the men returned home from war, they were not greeted with pride but with uneasiness. The veterans even faced controversy over their own memorial. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has been an issue of debate since its beginning, a debate that is far from worthwhile.
Vietnam is a very important war in the story of America s history. Vietnam was America s second most expensive war, behind World War II. It also is America s fourth most deadly. With a cost of $123 billion and a death toll of 57,661 American lives (Divine 956), it is hard to comprehend why it took this country ten years to dedicate a proper national memorial. Vietnam didn t begin as a gruesome event that would give millions a chill with its mention. In fact, in December of 1962, there were ten to twelve thousand American troops participating in a nice little nine-to-five war (Devine956). The U.S. had a presence in Vietnam for the purpose of stopping the spread of communism. When the Americans wanted action, they could go out and find it, and when they wanted a break, it was said that they had no fear of counterattacks. This method of part-time warfare went on for a while, no fighting after 4:30 or on weekends, but unfortunately the situation changed dramatically. Two years later 50,000 more troops were sent down for combat. In 1967 40,000 men and boys were stationed there(Divine 956). The combat was like nothing they had ever seen. At first air strikes were sent but they did not have as much effect as planned. Next, hoards of troops were sent in to search out the North Vietnamese in their own jungles. This ended up in complete failure due to the fact that the Vietnamese were so much better adapted for this guerrilla warfare. Not only were 303,600 soldiers wounded in battle, but troops often didn t have basic day-to-day commodities. Something that made this war different was not only that it was thousands of miles away from American mainland and had no potential for harm to the American public, but also that we had no real enemy. There were no Germans, no slaves, no rebels, just the vague idea of COMMUNISM on the other side of the world, an idea that many found too vague to be losing American boys to.(Matt Moran 3/28/00). Rebellion began in the fall of 1694, at the campus of UC Berkeley. Students felt a responsibility to speak out because people they had grown up with were dying on the other side of the world, for debatable causes. In the end, Vietnam was, and still is, a very controversial issue. This controversy overhangs the veterans, the American public, and the Vietnam War Memorial as well.
Located between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in the Washington Mall, the Vietnam War Memorial continues to be a topic of HOT debate. Ten long years after the Vietnam conflict ended, many thought it was time to erect a monument, as had been done for the other wars in America s history, to celebrate the lives lost in this conflict. It was decided that there would be a competition for who would be the one to design it. A total of 1,421 people submitted designs for the contest. The winner was a Maya Ying Lin, a student at Yale majoring in architecture. This Chinese-American was given power over the money privately raised for the construction of the wall. The design is two walls forming a V each 246 8 long. They meet at an angle of 125 degrees, 12 minutes. Each of the two walls point at the northeast corners of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Just in case this huge piece of stone was going to move somewhere, it is supported by 140 concrete pilings, each of which has be driven 35 feet down into bedrock. At the point of this V the height of the walls are 10 1.5 .
All of the stone for the wall, including that for the walkways and safety curbs are black granite, quarried near Bangalore, India. The different parts don t all look the same but they are all made out of exactly the same stone. The reason for their differences in appearance are due to the different techniques used to finish them. Some parts were polished while the others were honed or flame treated. All of this work on the stone was done in Barre, Vermont. This may seem like a lot of travel for a monument, but there is more. The names and inscriptions were gritblasted in Tennessee. The letters are .53 tall and on average, .015 wide. The original 57.939 were all written in Optima typeset(nps.gov).
In 1984 Frederic Hart made a statue of three servicemen — A Black, a White and Hispanic– to mollify some of the tension over the Lin design. This is a lifelike statue that depicts the heroism involved in the war. An American flag was also added. The statue was originally going to be added in the middle of the V but artists complained that it would disrupt the message of Lin s monument, so the three bronze men were placed over to the side. It is said that they appear to be looking at the names on the wall themselves. This statue was unveiled in 1984 and did a good job in satisfying the veterans. The last and final addition to The Wall was another sculpture by Glenna Goodacre, who created the Women’s Memorial in bronze. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial was dedicated Veterans Day weekend 1993.
There are two distinct sides to the debate over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. . There are those who say that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a powerful piece of art that does the war justice, and those who say that it is a black gash of shame and a tribute to Jane Fonda, the antiwar activist. Both sides have very convincing arguments to defend their positions, but most is left up to taste. Those who dislike it compare it to the Holocaust Memorial of Berlin. This memorial turned out to be rows of large granite blocks that looked something like tombstones. The debate over this monument was similar. People complained that its look did not commemorate those who lost their lives, but rather brought back painful memories of HOW they died.
A monument to the victims of the Holocaust should not be a monument to the Holocaust. Its purpose should be to honor the lives of the people who perished, not they way they died… to commemorate the victims of Hitler s gruesome tyranny with a gruesome memorial would be to award Hitler a second, posthumous victory over them by
changing the subject to him(Michael Lind 3).
Many people believe there is no need to have depressing memorials commemorating depressing events. The event is not what the memorial is being built for, it is for the people who lost their lives to it. When Lin s memorial was chosen, Vietnam Veterans around the world called it an insult. Since the dawn of our new nation, all memorials have been constructed in white or another light color. The color of this memorial is a powerful black. Others complain that to have this memorial going right into the ground is just as insulting. Finally, to refuse to include the American flag is to, Produce an effect similar to the one Jimi Hendrix produced with his dissonant electric-guitar version of the national anthem. (Michael Lind 3). Protesters of the monument believe that those who chose Lin s monument from the thousand plus other entries must have believed that Vietnam was a bad war. Because the war was believed to be bad, they chose a dark monument to symbolize this. Some may believe this as true, but it is impossible to argue against the fact that a memorial is used to praise the courage of those who served, not the goals or result of the conflict. Another negative opinion of the Monument is that because it is original, it can be considered bad just for that reason. The average building lasts sixty years and monuments much longer than that. For this reason they must be able to go through many changes of taste, unlike the dress of the old portraits of presidents in the White House(Michael Lind 4). It can be argued that the monument, designed and built in the 1980 s, is already outdated and the style in which it was built represents 70 s artistic minimalism, as well as 70s antimilitary Leftism. (Lind).
One thing that can be interpreted two ways is the idea of people leaving things at the wall when they visit. Those who don t like the monument would say that the artist made the monument so much like a grave, that it inspires people to leave flowers and other things at it. Instead of looking at the monument and being thankful for the good deeds of the people it represents, they look at it as a giant tombstone over a mass grave. Searching for a name and making a rubbing is something that would be done at Arlington National Cemetery. Others might argue that the momentos left there, show that the memorial is popular, and therefore effective.
The Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated it late 1982. It was chosen from over a thousand different designs. The memorial wasn t built until ten years after the end of the conflict. When these lengthy sets of times are considered, it is obvious that nothing about this monument was a mistake or something that was looked over. Although an argument is that this monument was built faster than any other in history, this is just the construction time where as the preliminary activities went on for much longer. The darkness of the memorial is not a sign of shame, but rather complements the power of the whole thing. When the men who fought in W.W.I, W.W.II, and all of our nations other wars, they were greeted as heroes. When the men returned from Vietnam they were treated as outcasts. Instead of being looked at as heroes and protectors of our country, people thought of them as killers. When they returned they did not receive a job well done, but questions of their efforts even having any reason. Instead of being proud of their conquests, veterans returned with nothing and spent their time attempting to forget southeast Asia. For ten years these men had nothing, but this was changed in 1982 with the Vietnam Veteran s War Memorial. The memorial gave the veterans solidity of their past. At the same time it gave them a gathering place to talk to others in the same situation. The Veterans don t care if the monument is black, or if it is connected to the ground, but rather that their actions be respected. Veterans go to the monument unsure, and return proud. An account from John McCain reads as follows: Two men had never met before, but they had fallen into conversation, swapped war stories and in a few minutes were clutching each other and weeping. If that kind of healing goes on, says McCain, well, then it s a good thing . Stories like this are infinite. A man puts a picture of another under a name on the wall. A man approaches and says, I was best friends with that man in the war, and the first replies, That is my brother . A man searches on the computer for the location of his friend s name, someone he had taken out onto the med. chopper heavily wounded, with his own hands. Another man next to him can t find the name of his friend either. It turns out they were looking for each other(Nancy Smoyer 1). Does the fact that the design of the wall may have a look of the 70s make any difference to these stories? The Vietnam War Memorial is the most visited monument in Washington and the second most popular tourist attraction. At seven in the morning when all the other monuments are barren, the Vietnam memorial is teeming with life.
The issue of the Vietnam War Memorial has be an issue of debate for a long time. Some say that it is a discrase to those who fought and others think it is a powerful piece of art. There is no right anwser and a decision will never be reached. The importnat think is that the monument has helped put an end to the painful pasts of those effected by the vietnam war. One sign of the memorial s sucess, I say, is that it has followed a path similar to those it seeks to commemorate. Like the veterans themselves, it has gone from being feared and loathed to being widely relered. (Michael Lind)
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