The controversy over the Vietnam memorial wall and the compromises that had to be reached for it to be approved for construction struck me as the most interesting part of the readings. Our public monuments are a testament, not necessarily to the war or the event itself commemorates, but to the public’s shared understanding of that event, and how much that event mattered in the consciousness of the public at large. It was suddenly easy to understand how the same country could create a striking monument to the Vietnam War—a war that still inspires great political controversy today—could also create an almost gothic commemoration of the Second World War, a conflict that is known almost as “a good war.”
Events that the public wish to commemorate, and people the public wish to remember, for example George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, get large and well-tended monuments. However events that the public are still divided about, such as Vietnam or Korea, get more introspective monuments. Our monument for World War Two serves to place the U.S. war effort on a pedestal, so to speak. Conversely, the monument for the First World War (by the way, did you know that there is a monument for the First World War?), a war that no one in the United States wished to recall after 1918, lies just off the National Mall, overgrown and untended. I found this dichotomy in the ways that different people and different wars are commemorated very interesting.