City Journal Winter 2016

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Allan Greenberg
The Power of a Name « Back to Story

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The names are inscribed into the face.You can feel the names. It is important part of the memory of these men
Those who served faced a lifetime of discrimination whatever their subsequent accomplishements. The press painted a portrait of drug addicted murderous misfits, a lie but it served the left. Meanwhile, business refused to hire veterans, government too when it could. On top of this came affirmative action whereby race and sex counted, being a veteran did not. The laws promoting veteran hiring were ignored, and still is, even by the government and its DoD component. Today, those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are being tarred with the same brush.
No matter the virtues of failures of Lin's design, it is in no way a model for what we have done at the WTC site; the "National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center." As it was used and cited by the jury that chose the final design, including Lin. Lin's design was not at the site of the war; the WTC is the site of the event. It was not about the war, but about loss and grief; the WTC memorial, by remaking the site so it is not about the attacks, but about loss and grief, denies 9/11; it betrays the innocents who perished there and it betrays America.
Twice I have walked from the Lincoln Memorial to the Vietnam Wall to see my younger brother's name, and to walk from the one to the other is to go from the sublimnity and sacred awe of Lincoln's building to the embarassment that is the half-buried monument to the shame of a president who ordered men to fight and die in vain.
The Sanity Inspector September 14, 2012 at 5:51 PM
Mr. Carhart's points are well taken, but in truth the controversy is over. The Vietnam Wall has found its place in the nation's heart. We've all seen photos of veterans and others weeping at the Wall. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's seen people weeping at the traveling Wall, the replica made out of metal panels which tours the country. I once took photos of the traveling wall, along with the mementos left there, and showed them to a tough-as-a-boot Korean War vet. He teared up right there in his place of work. Clearly, the design is evocative of the sorrow the war inflicted on us, and in that measure must be counted a success.
The Sanity Inspector September 14, 2012 at 5:32 PM
Excellent article, thanks so much!
The Vietnam memorial is a fitting monument for a lost war - you would never see anything remotely similar if the war had been won.

As the years go by what most of us see as its meaning may change, leaving only a bitter reminder of defeat.
I have just finished Allan Greenberg's fine piece on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Therein he mentions my name as having protested against the design selected for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, saying that I had asked for a memorial to commemorate not only the sacrifices of the dead but also those of the millions of other Vietnam veterans who came home alive.

Fair enough, I did say that. But Greenberg is then critical of me for failing to recognize that war memorials traditionally honor only the dead.

Whether or not that is true, he also said the Fine Arts Commission should have told me that "honoring veterans who survived the war wasn’t part of the memorial committee’s competition requirements."

Ah, but indeed it was.

The specific license to build a memorial on the Mall granted by Congress to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF)specified that it was to be "in honor and recognition of the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States who served in the Vietnam War". Those words are important, for, as Greenberg notes, they are repeated in an inscription on the top of the first panel. This was done by VVMF against Maya Lin's wishes and apparently as evidence that this design is in accord with their license from Congress. But if the design selected had been some giant garbage can, say, and the names of the dead from the Vietnam War had been thereon listed, posting a prefatory inscription that "this memorial honors all Vietnam veterans" could not change the public perception of the memorial's design at all: mere words cannot overcome a blunt statement made by the physical design of any memorial.

A visitor who does not read that inscription can only see the memorial's design as the exact opposite (black and going underground) of those chosen for memorials to America's two greatest heroes (white and soaring for Washington and Lincoln), to both of which it is attached by its architectural lines. To that visitor, then, what does the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design say about the Vietnam veterans it is supposed to "honor and recognize"?

The Congressional license says nothing about listing the names of the dead, which was Jan Scruggs' idea. And while I do not object to such a listing per se, my main point of protest is that the design leaves out the living who returned, thus violating the Congressional license. To my eye, this design "honors and recognizes" no one, but rather, in a very morose and somber setting, simply acknowledges the names of the dead by listing them on an underground black wall.

As I said to the Fine Arts Commission, I believe the final design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to be a black ditch of shame and sorrow. This is not the way I would like to see America remember the selfless services of their sons and daughters in a politically divisive and unpopular war.

This is all the more important because political controversy over the Vietnam War was never really resolved but eventually evolved into a very public fight among veterans and others over the design selected by VVMF. This refocus of national attention thus allowed us to neatly defuse and bypass the horrendous political decisions made in the White House and on Capitol Hill that cost us 58,000 lives of dutiful young Americans. And so,ignoring the political lessons we should have learned from the Vietnam War, we have, once again, engaged in political wars of opportunity in Iraq and Afghanistan -- wars that fatten the wallets of the wealthy while driving our country to the very edge of bankruptcy and true national tragedy.

Tom Carhart

I hold a B.S. from West Point, 2 P.H.s from Vietnam, a J.D. from the U. of Michigan law school and a Ph.D. in American and military history from Princeton. I am the author of seven commercially published military history books, the latest of which is SACRED TIES (Berkley Books, 2010, paperback 2011). I live in New England and am working on my next book.
"One wonders why the scale leans so heavy towards Vietnam."

Bogiewheel, the scale leans so heavy and unfairly because there was no television and because there was as yet no youth subculture in America (the two are likely related).

Also the world outside America was different: Stalin still lived, Mao was his junior partner, and the U.S. strategy in Korea still had some semblance of reality. We need to remember that the Cold War was the overreaching central event of those years, and people saw correctly that Korea and Vietnam were theaters of a larger conflict.

Still the 'limited war' mentality (that is, to those who were not there) of the Korean War did help facilitate the central strategic blunder of Vietnam.
You should compose an article about the Korean (Police Action) War. From my experience, it seems, most writers find it uninteresting.
As a participant of this nasty conflict I was dumbstruck at the spectacle over the years of this ongoing ritual of the "Wall". It's interesting to view the "Stats" between the two conflicts. One wonders why the scale leans so heavy towards Vietnam.
In China recently, the media reported their citizen's anger over Chinese millionaires crashing their Ferraris following high speed joy rides while simultaneously endangering the unsuspecting public. It’s almost surreal. In 1968, we were told American lives lost were justified in order to stop the spread of Mao’s and Stalin’s communism, as was then symbolized by the emerging puppet states of southeast Asia. To keep these quarter million dollar handmade automobiles off Beijing’s (and Moscow’s) freeways, America initiated its first foreign war where the lower classes fought and died while the upper classes protested and pontificated. In my working class district of a Midwestern city, Selective Service bureaucrats cynically press ganged the sons of factory workers while, only a few miles to the north, the sons of factory executives debated the relative merits of fleeing to Canada versus becoming conscientious objectors.

Our generation’s fathers fought the Germans and Japanese only to later shake their heads in amazement when German and Japanese companies bought out those American corporations which formerly employed them. Now it’s our turn to contemplate the strange irony of present day scions of the former Red Menace totaling their luxury sport cars.

To me, the memorial commemorates not only the friends who died, both too young and unappreciated, but also the loss of American innocence. We didn’t stop the Red Menace, we couldn’t make the world safe for democracy and we feel no vindication for our sacrifices. Aging and nearing retirement, some American men continue to bitterly mourn their lost comrades while other American men still defend their apparent cowardice in choosing personal safety over duty. Today few, if any, younger Americans understand what it all meant while Italian car makers do a brisk business in replacement vehicles. Meditating before the Vietnam Veterans Memorial provides no profound answers, just a sense of confusion and futility.
The whole strategy for Viet Nam was a disgrace. My opinion is based on some very personal relatioships with fairly senior officers; several were close friends. The Navy Captain and I were shipmates at one time - I was a Lt (jg) and he an Ensign. The Navy Captain commanded a destroyer when it all began, then an LSD, and finally a destroyer squadron. Another, a Coast Guard Captain commanded the riverine boats. Still another Navy Captain who flew a Crusader on the first strike and had three more combat tours. Lastly, an Air Force Colonel who wrote Thud Ridge which gave a picture of the air war. Not one of these men had anything good to say about the strategy and the command structure. They all voiced how disgracefully the White House performed. Mainly about the stupidity and misrepresentatiions shown by the LBJ White House. I'd best call LBJ's groupies - LIARS to the point of criminal behavior.
My father served 21 years in the Navy and all through WWI. I served 3 years in the Navy in WWII. My son served 2 years in the Navy in Viet Nam. His two sons each have served 8 years during the Iraq/Afghan conflict in the Navy. My most heartfelt feeling is for my son. He returned to a divided nation, a nation who gave no credit to those who served - in fact, degraded them. I have not been to the wall, but my son and his two sons have visited the wall. They feel it is a perfect symbol of Viet Nam.
Robert Morris asks "Could there ever be a more ingenious act of substituting private grief for public guilt?"

But America does feel public guilt over the Vietnam War. Morris points at "governmental culpability" but forgets that the government always did what the majority of Americans wanted. The fact that the government had lied about some details, as proved in the Pentagon Papers, does not negate this truth. And thanks to revisionism some of this guilt is misplaced.

America should feel no guilt over the beginnings and objectives of the war. Vietnam was a mere theater in the Cold War. The Communists in Vietnam were not humanists and did not deserve to win.

America should and does feel guilty over the adoption of a flawed strategy that led to defeat and much excessive death. Simplistically described as 'fighting with our hands tied behind our backs', this strategy failed to use the U.S. Army to occupy southern Laos and cut the Ho Chi Minh trail in 1965. Hanoi today admits they would have lost the war had this been done.

America should and does feel guilty over the resultant adoption of tactics that used overwhelming firepower in civilian areas within South Vietnam, in southern Laos, and later in Cambodia. When the U.S. military was denied an effective strategy it overcompensated with militarily effective but politically and morally misguided tactics that corroded our hearts.

America should and does feel guilty of not changing objectives when it became obvious that some original objectives need not be met. The Sino-Soviet split ended the threat of monolithic Communism, a major reason for the war.

America should feel guilty for its abandonment of its allies in Southeast Asia, despite the fact that as the war progressed the means of victory became reduced to almost nothing.

The baby-boom generation, will all of their self centered impulses, will need to pass away before we can fully understand the Vietnam War.
This Vietnam veteran has always thought the monument was somewhat affected, not to mention ugly, but the author's piece goes some small way towards explaining its general appeal.
Vietnam veterans who die of Agent Orange lymphoma are just as dead as a result of that war and not honored for their sacrifice.
This is a canard and has not been shown to be true: "The protesters, rioters, draft dodgers met us at the airport and spit on us, threw eggs at us." It may have happened on rare occasions, but was certainly nothing like commonplace. I was very active in the anti-Viet Nam War movement, and never observed such incidents.
Roger,thought you might find this of interest
Much can be said by saying nothing. The memorial, by quietly passing over the purpose and result of the war, leaves unsaid yet said the suggestion that perhaps the purpose was short of high and noble---some mix of misguided, delusional, and self-serving.

The context should not be forgotten, though. Communism has a dark and murderous record. In the wake of the Vietnam war, prison camps amounting to death camps were established by the victors. Cambodia, overrun by a particularly vicious strain of Communism, saw the Killing Fields, together with an utterly deranged and atrocious series of attacks by the Cambodian Communists against Vietnam. Some part of the "delusional" reasons behind the war was the ill judged and forlorn hope that, by fighting, we could avert these evils.