Research Paper on the Vietnam War: Compare and Contrast the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall and Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial
If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go. Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own. And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind. David Giffy (Vietnam veteran)
Vietnam War lasted from 1959 until 1975 and had grave consequences that influenced greatly not only the history of Vietnam itself but of other countries as well. It was a civil war where the belligerents, South Vietnam and North Vietnam, were supported by such world powers as the USA and the USSR and their allies respectively. Though the main aim of the war was to unify Vietnam as a state, with time the war started to be accepted, especially by Americans, as another battle against the communist regime. That is why, at first, all the deeds of the Government were backed by American public.
For the United States it was a hard war and a useful lesson for future reference. Americans were dispatched to the South Vietnam in order to defend local insurgents, who by strength and quantity excelled American troops. Besides, as American leaders admitted later, they did not know the might of their enemies and could not correctly assess it, they did not know the potential of the country and of the people. So American participation in the war was doomed to failure. Being aware of it, it is even more awful to realize how many our compatriots perished there, fighting for South Vietnam but, in fact, not having gained any goal.
As any war Vietnam War was cruel and devastating; it carried away lives of millions of Vietnamese civilians who did not live to see their country united, and thousands of Americans, who did not return home. The loss in war had a pernicious impact on the situation in America, the so-called Vietnam Syndrome appeared when people were disappointed by the foreign policy of the USA and were sure that America shouldn’t interfere in any wars if only it does not concern American national safety.
However, we can change nothing and it is our duty to render homage to those who fell in that war and to pass memory about them to the next generations. In both countries, the USA and Vietnam, people erect monuments and memorials, in honor of veterans of the war and of those who were killed or missing in Vietnam.
In America, in Washington, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall, which is raised near the Reflecting Pool, is one of the most significant monuments for Americans. Despite the criticism of the war and the disappointment of people, the necessity of such monument was obvious not only as the tribute to the heroes of the war but also as the memory for the families of the victims and for those veterans who were lucky to come back home. After the war American nation was wounded and split, people needed an embodiment of their grief and honor. The idea of constructing of the memorial belongs to the President of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Fund, Jan Scruggs, who together with other veterans decided to create a symbol of eternal glory to those who fought in Vietnam. “No one remembered the name of the people killed in the war. I wanted a memorial engraved with all the names. The nation would see the names and would remember the men and women who went to Vietnam, and who died there.” (Strait, 258) In order to incarnate their idea, veterans held a contest for the best project of the memorial that was won by Maya Ying Lin, an architect student. Her idea consisted in the creation of a park inside of a park. It is a complex, comprising several elements. The black granite Wall, with 58,249 names written on it, serves as an eternal reminder of the terrible price of war and as the proof that no one who fell in the Vietnam War can be forgotten. The statue and the flagpole were added to the primary idea of the monument after numerous disputes caused by the design. Many veterans did not consider the monument to render completely the idea of the tragedy of the war. The V-shaped black memorial wall caused mush controversy among veterans and the Three Servicemen Statue was a compromise that added to the memorial the traditional appearance and reconciled contradictory views. A bit later the memorial was supplemented by the Vietnam Women’s memorial that was designed by Glenna Goodacre. It is dedicated to all women who served during the war and also experienced all its horrors. Their feats were different from the men’s; surrounded by death they had to maintain their composure and calm the soldiers. Thus, very often they were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The monument represents three nurses, carrying a soldier, and hoping for help. The final element that crowned the memorial was In Memory Plaque that commemorated names of those veterans who died after the war in America but from wounds received during the war.
Thus, the memorial complex completely conveys the feelings of patriotism and pays honor to all the people who fought for their country in that war. The monument does not leave anybody indifferent, various people express their emotions, writing poems, songs or books. It is essential to convey these feelings to the rising generation. That is why it is especially useful when professors are involved in this process. Thus, Marita Sturken, Professor of the Department of Culture and Communication in New York University, investigated the importance of this monument perfectly well in her book “Tangled Memories”. There she analyzed the consequences of Vietnam War on the American nation and on its cultural memory. She expresses her opinion that the monument, serving primarily as a sort of common “screen memory” and at the same time the monument highlights the casualties of Americans, not paying attention to the losses of Vietnamese and other nations, participating in the war. According to Sturken, thus America contributes to the formation of nationalism that is dangerous for people. (Sturken, 169)
Taking into account Marita Sturken’s opinion, it is necessary to pay attention to other devoted to the victims of the Vietnam War memorials that unite former enemies, American and Vietnamese nations, and proclaim peace. A bright example of such memorial can be the Vietnamese-American Peace Park that was created due to the initiative of two Vietnam veterans: the American Mike Boehm and the Vietnamese Nguyen Ngoc Hung. Their idea to create such a park in Vietnam started up after visiting Dove Mound, a dove shape mound serving to keep the memory of the victims of the Vietnam War, in Wisconsin. The park was founded in 1995 not far from Hanoi and became a symbol of reconciliation of former enemies. “Most countries around the world continue to teach the younger generations about war by building war monuments. We are changing that tradition by building a monument to peace.” (Bleakney, 59)
The park is indeed a very original and, due to it, striking project. It was the war that drew after it the necessity of creation of such a memorial, but unlike many other war monuments, this place is devoted to peace and calls to mutual understanding and support. You cannot meet any reminder of the war there because the main lesson taken from the past is that war is evil and the humanity does not need it.
The creators of the Peace Park wanted to give people the possibility to regain inner harmony, to have the place where they could heal their spiritual wounds. The Peace Park is a symbol of consolidation of two nations. By its founding, two veterans exhibited a bright example to others. Letting pass all political issues and one-time battles, these former enemies managed to unite in common noble impulse to commemorate missing and killed during the war. Perhaps this is the main feature that distinguishes the Vietnamese-American Peace Park in Vietnam from the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall in America. The creators of the Park did not make difference between perished heroes; they put human lives above all. Moreover, the monument united all veterans, participating in the war. Planting the trees in the park they gave hope for eternal peace.
The construction of the Vietnamese-American Peace Park entailed the foundation of another Peace Park in Vietnam in My Lai, the place known for an awful massacre of defenseless local people during the Vietnam War. For people who experienced so much grief and pain such park became an outlet for their feelings and a symbol of hope for better future. The My Lai Peace Park was founded in 2001 and perhaps these two parks started a good tradition to erect monuments devoted to peace, not to wars.
If to compare these two memorials, the purpose of their construction is obvious. The memory about those who died for the sake of our country and for our future must be eternal. Besides, the Vietnam War was a very useful lesson for us. It exhibited the inconsistence of American government at those times and showed the consequences of ill-considered steps. The Vietnam syndrome that spread in the country due to the disappointment and to the moral traumas that people got was only a part of the aftermath of the war. Only after some time people accepted the reality and the construction of such monuments contributed much to the improvement of the situation in America.
Both, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall and the Vietnamese-American Peace Park, are like particular corners of memory and honor to the heroes. Perhaps the effect that they have is quite different. The Wall is more a place, commemorating the past, a part of the times of grief and death. People come there to share their sorrow or (let it sound paradoxical) their happiness. For many people, whose relatives were missing, these memorial plaques are the only reminders of their members of families. Coming there they feel as if they meet their relatives. At the same time people know that their relatives’ feats are not forgotten and the country remembers about them.
While the Vietnamese-American Park creates absolutely another impression. It is as the light at the end of the tunnel; it gives hope and symbolizes peace on the Earth. This memorial is also devoted to the victims of the Vietnam War, but the idea is quite different. People understand that they owe veterans the peace they have now, and in remembrance of them they should guard it. It is there that they understand the value of life and perhaps the sense of human existence. The park does not cast a gloom over people but has a soothing effect on them. Moreover, the Peace Park was created in order to unite America and Vietnam and to find a compromise. It showed that the value of a human life should be above all political and national issues. The memorial in Washington, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall in particular, is a more specialized monument and is devoted only to the Americans who died or were missing during the war. Assuredly, such kind of patriotic monuments should always be in countries but, nevertheless, they should not educate nationalistic views among the contemporaries and future generations. People should regard wars from the point of view of their pernicious impact and disasters they bring, not from the perspective of their use for a concrete nation.
To make a conclusion, I am inclined to believe that any activity, directed at the cultural and historical memory, is essential for people. Unfortunately, wars are a part of our life, they carry away human lives. That is why it is our duty to remember those who died for the sake of us. The Vietnam War was not successful for America, still it gave us a good lesson for the future.
- Moyar, Mark. Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965, Cambridge University Press, 2006
- Sturken, Marita. Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering, University of California Press, 1997
- Schulzinger, Robert D. A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941–1975, Free Press, 1997.
- Strait L. Jerry, Strait S. Sandra. Vietnam War Memorials: An Illustrated Reference to Veterans’ Tributes Throughout the United States, McFarland & Company, 1988.
- Bleakney Julia. Revisiting Vietnam: Memoirs, Memorials, Museums (Literary Criticism and Cultural Theory, TF-ROUTL; 1 edition, 2006.
- Hardwick William. Down South: One Tour in Vietnam, Presidio Press, 2004.
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