Shades of Memory: Reflections on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Vitus Ozoke

Not much attention has been paid to the effect of the Vietnam War on America’s national memory. American public are as divided over the rationale for and the conduct of the Vietnam War, as they are on the proper mode of honor and commemoration for the over fifty-thousand American soldiers who lost their lives in the war. The Vietnam War Memorial has elicited as much embrace as it has drawn flak. There is a split in the literature over the form that memorials should take. There are those who view memorial as a mourning tool and those who see it as a form of nation building. While individuals who are directly impacted by the war view memorials as a form of mourning, the state treats it as an opportunity for nationalistic glory. There is official co-option of the bodies of the fallen soldiers into national cemeteries and narratives. The immense depth of the emotion triggered by the Vietnam War has led to an alternative narrative pushed in opposition to the official narrative of collective memory. This alternative narrative has yielded to a reimagining of the Vietnam War Memorial and the reconstruction of its history. It is a reimagining that recognizes the existence of different shades of memory. …I didn’t want a monument, not even one as sober as that vast black wall of broken lives. I didn’t want a postage stamp. I didn’t want a road beside the Delaware River with a sign proclaiming: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway. What I wanted was a simple recognition of the limits of our power as a nation to inflict our will on others. What I wanted was an understanding that the world is neither black-and-white nor ours. What I wanted was an end to monuments. (Culled from Hixson, 2000, p. 81) We erect monuments so that we shall always remember, and build memorials so that we shall never forget (Arthur C. Danto, 1985, p. 152; as cited in Hixson, 2000, p. 66).

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