You probably know this is a photo of “the wall,” the most famous section of the Viet Nam war memorial in DC. It was designed by Maya Lin, a Chinese American architect. The purpose of the design was to create the image (when seen from above) of a giant wound, not a sign of victory, but a sign of hurt, of pain. Many people objected to this “non-triumphant” design, as well as the idea of an Asian designing it (even though Lin was Chinese and not Viet Namese, and by heritage only, having no prior allegiances to another nation). I can’t think of a more appropriate way to go about it.
But nationalists Congressmen who had long ago pledged themselves to a blind empire demanded that a bronze statue of upright, standing soldiers be placed beside the memorial. However, the artist crafting the bronze soldiers felt he could not craft them unless he depicted them as young, vulnerable, and gazing on at the deep gravity of the endless names before them. An artist who believed in truth.
Senator James Webb called it “a nihilistic slab.” But that just means the piece is honest. After all, what is war, if not nihilistic? Some even called the memorial “a black gash of shame,” and perhaps that is appropriate, for America should be ashamed of what she did to all those young men, as well as to the people of Viet Nam. 58,256 names. And that’s just the people who were on—what do they call it?—”our side.” If there is one thing that could make this memorial more complete it would be to list the names of known Viet Nam citizens killed in the war too, North and South.
I wish every war memorial looked more like this, showing the endless names of those we sent away, rather than bronzing up war and puttin’ a cherry on top.
After all, of all the memorials in America, this one has become known as the one that has brought the most healing. And it’s healing people need in remembrance of war, not pride. Pride is a sin. Historically, memorial statues have tugged people towards idolatry, whereas words engraved in stone alone have given them the pause they need to enter into authentic reflection and spiritual transcendence. The statues are roped off; the wall you can touch.
Why am I going on about the Viet Nam memorial? Because I look at our involvement in the Middle-East and I realize that we have not learned our lesson. I’m not going to give you a manipulative sermon on why you should feel guilty for having a cook-out. Cooking out is not what we should feel guilty about. If there’s one reason why you would drive by a memorial today, it’s not to remember the reason you have the “freedom” to cookout (an activity people in many countries can do), because if it was, I would gladly never cook out again if it meant one less widow or orphan in the world, be they American or Afghani.
Great memorials don’t honor war: Great memorials open the old wounds to bring them a deeper healing.