Controversies Surrounding the Vietnam Memorial
There are several reasons that people have voiced criticism to the Vietnam War Memorial in the past…
No war in American history was more controversial than the Vietnam War. It is therefore unsurprising the monument dedicated to it in Washington is perhaps the most controversial major national monument in the country. Since before it opened in 1982, many different groups have condemned it. How could anyone object to a war memorial to honor fallen soldiers? There are several reasons why people have criticized the memorial in the past…
The Architect Maya Lin
A few have criticized the architect chosen for the memorial. Maya Lin originally designed the memorial not for the monument competition, but for a class she was attending at Yale University. Thus, the memorial was not designed with the goal of honoring the veterans of the Vietnam War. In fact, Maya Lin did not even know much about the war when she developed her design. Others have criticized the choice of an Asian American artist for that particular memorial. May Lin herself has said that she believes her design would not have been chosen if the design competition had not required blind judging.
The Design of the Monument
The biggest criticism the memorial has faced has been over its design. It is not a traditional war memorial. It is conspicuously lacking in glorified images of war and patriotic inscriptions. Instead, it leads visitors down a gentle slope that descends into the earth where visitors see the names of the dead inscribed upon what appears to be an enormous tombstone. Many, have said it looks like a scar on the land and many have seen this as a commentary on the Vietnam War itself. Others object to the way visitors literally descend below the surface of the earth when visiting the memorial. They believe that is a commentary as well. While many see this unusual architecture as inspired, enough people were outraged by it that a second, more traditional statue was built close by.
Lack of Political Support
The memorial caused so much controversy before it was unveiled that many politicians chose to not associated themselves with it. Therefore, the highest ranking member of the executive government in attendance at the 1982 dedication ceremony was the deputy secretary of the interior. President Reagan did not show up, nor did former presidents Nixon or Ford. Reagan’s unwillingness to visit the memorial for its dedication ceremony was itself a source of controversy, but it was not until the next year that he visited it. When he did go, he stayed for only seven minutes. This gave some the impression that he had rejected Vietnam veterans. Others believed that he simply did not want to be associated with anything that might be considered derogatory to Vietnam veterans. He did, however, attend the dedication of the more traditional memorial the following year.