Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. is located just nearby the infamous Lincoln memorial and it’s reflecting pool, cutting harshly through a hill. The memorial is made entirely of black marble that cuts through a grassy hill, reminiscent of and representing a black scar, much like the war itself. The black marble is impossible to miss and viewers of the memorial can read the names of those who lost their lives fighting a war that held no real tangible purpose, especially for those who fought it. It stretches out over a fairly large patch of land at an obtuse angle, the scar getting thicker in the middle and thinning at the ends, symbolic of the beginning, middle, and end of the war.
Maya Lin was a young Chinese architecture student at Yale when her professor urged the students to all enter the contest that the committee for the memorial was holding, since it was open to anyone. Lin entered her design in the early 1980s and won the contest. While working with the committee to erect her moving memorial, the committee feared backlash and anger from the public if they didn’t include a statue of soldiers. So they did the thing that the American government knows best: hire a white man to do the job that someone of color, with perfectly good merits, already had and was doing wonderfully at. So they hired a white man to create a statue of three soldiers to commemorate the soldiers in Vietnam and then placed it right on top of Lin’s incredibly respectful, clever and emotional memorial. Thus eclipsing her hard work and glorifying a war that was literally an excuse to invade another country that the U.S. had nothing to do with to try and pathetically stop the “domino effect” during the Cold War. Lin’s memorial was centered around remembering the names and people who died on foreign soil, while the other statue glorified and basically rewrote history to paint America in a better light, but what else is new. Cough cough, Japanese internment camp, Trail of Tears, reconstruction, cough cough. Though, Lin didn’t give up the good fight and raised hell to get the statue moved farther away, into the trees surrounding her memorial, thank the lord.
To say that Maya Lin deserves more recognition and praise for her fight and hard work for her incredible memorial. She fought to honor those who died in Vietnam and their families in a respectful way, by listing their names, not by glorifying the war with a statue of three brave men. Lin herself even said, “I deliberately did not read anything about the Vietnam War because I felt the politics of the war eclipsed what happened to the veterans.” This kind of open compassion for those who underwent unknowable hardship deserves more recognition. Her story and her fight and her intentions deserve to be much more widely known. The fight that this young, Chinese student had to go through is an inspiring story that lets young people who may feel hopeless today know that they can achieve things that they never knew were possible.
As disrespectful and downright wrong the statue was, littering, loud visitors and off-topic conversations are somehow an even bigger testament to the obliviousness and ignorance of so many people. If you have the privilege of visiting this memorial, be respectful! Keep your voice at a lower sound, save conversations about tonight’s dinner plans to later and throw your trash in the trash cans. Maya Lin and the thousands that perished and have their names on that wall don’t deserve that kind of blatant disrespect. Taking pictures? Fine. Talking quietly about the memorial? Great! Feeling the names engraved? Cool! Being obnoxious and unaware of your surroundings and the meaning they hold? Do better. You wouldn’t litter or talk about unrelated topics at your loved one’s funeral, so why do it at a memorial that some people use to grieve and remember their loved ones?
That’s enough about the negatives, here’s why you should visit: it’s a wonderfully respectful and thought out piece of, well, artwork. The amount of emotional meaning and the overall tone of it is impossible to put into words. It’s an absolute wild feeling to start walking on the path right next to the memorial, and as the marble wall gets taller, you start to feel more and more solemn, emotional and something that there just isn’t a word for. It’s truly one of the most moving and emotional memorials in all of D.C. The Washington memorial is also astounding but just doesn’t hold the same emotional weight that Lin’s Vietnam War Veterans memorial holds. When you walk along the scar, families leave medals, flowers, pictures, poems, diary entries and even childhood toys underneath the names of their loved ones. Writing about and remembering the plethora of things that have been left there makes me tear up. Growing up and going to this memorial has instilled more empathy in me, as well as my near uncontrollable passion for history, and has left me speechless and teared up every single visit. Truly, if you have the means to visit this indescribable memorial, do it.