Saturday, October 18, 2008

A tale of two monuments

OK, so this isn't terribly political, but it involves Washington DC so I figure it's fair game.

I happened to be in DC this past week on business, and had some time to wander around the National Mall. It's been years since I was last able to do anything tourist-like in Washington, and therefore had not previously made it to the Vietnam memorial or the World War II memorial.

I'm not enough of an architectural critic or a monument person to offer intelligent commentary on the architecture or the symbolism or other lofty things deserving of pithy impenetrable drivel, so I won't except to say that they're both very compelling monuments.

I also thought it very touching that gifts of beer, cigarettes, and gum were left for fallen soldiers at various points along the Vietnam memorial's wall. And I think this highlights what was for me the key noteworthy difference between the memorials: the WWII memorial seems to me to be for the country, while the Vietnam memorial seems to be for Vietnam veterans and survivors. I know no Vietnam veterans or families who lost members in that conflict. As a result, by focusing so heavily on the names of the fallen, I felt no connection to it - like this monument wasn't meant for me.

I know no World War II veterans either (and certainly nobody who fell in the war), yet because this memorial focused on the group struggle - highlighting the contributions of the states and territories, the gold stars that symbolized fallen soldiers without naming them - I actually felt a much greater connection to this war which is so much further in our history. This was a memorial about the nation's sacrifice, rather than individual sacrifices.

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