Give Money, Not Memorials
By Art Hoppe
A story the other day said that a
commission created by the California legislature was having
trouble collecting funds for a memorial to the Vietnam
veterans. I can understand that. If asked, I wouldn't give.
A new patriotism is growing in (he land.
It frightens me. "All I want," a current college student is
quoted as saying, "is to kill a Communist." On the screen, of
course, Rambo is doing it. The sinister, faceless. Commie
aliens fall in bloody waves as macho males in the audience
In keeping with this new mood abroad in
the land, the hardline politicians, from the president on
down, are rewriting history. They are attempting, consciously
or not, to rehabilitate the Vietnam War. More and more often
you hear them saying that while the war may have been
mishandled (we should have bombed the enemy harder), the cause
was a worthy one, and our honored dead did not die in vain.
This is arrogant nonsense.
The Vietnam War was a lousy war, a
stupid, senseless, incredibly expensive war, a blight on our
nation's history. That war not only cost us $100 billion and
50,000 American lives, it sullied our national image, wrecked
our economy, and destroyed our children's faith in their
society, in their future and in us.
But now the politicians talk about how we
arc "standing tall" again. The pundits who supported them
write about how we are ridding ourselves of the "Vietnam
syndrome," which is some dread disease that saps the moral
fiber and not a healthy distaste for senseless combat.
I suppose the desire to "stand tall" is a
cyclic reaction to the malaise that followed the Vietnam
years. I think this desire is a good thing. But I don't think
we should lie to the new generation about the Vietnam war.
They can't really stand tall on lies. I think they should be
told the honest lessons we learned. And one of those lessons
is that our soldiers who died in Vietnam died in vain.
Saying so has become increasingly
unpatriotic and unpopular. To rehabilitate the Vietnam war, we
must rehabilitate the Vietnam veterans. We must make them
heroes. They didn't used to be. When my generation came home
victorious from World War n, we were hailed as the saviors of
the world. But when a soldier comes home from a pointless
defeat, he is an embarrassment. As such, he is avoided and
ignored. And it is understandable if his body is filled with
drugs and his mind with nightmares.
For few young men have ever been more
royally screwed by their own government than those we sent to
Vietnam. It is at least partially true that the smart kids
went to college; the principled kids went to jail; and the
poor, luckless kids went to Vietnam.
The blundering older men of that day
thought up a stupid war, and then, because they could think of
nothing else to do, they kept sending the poor luckless young
men to fight it. And now they are building monuments in honor
of those poor, luckless young men they screwed. I think that
borders on the obscene.
I would as soon contribute to a monument
in honor of rape victims or those who have been murdered by
muggers. Rather than a monument, I would much prefer to see us
give each Vietnam veteran $10,000 or $100,000 or whatever our
society can afford.
Life is unfair. But part of society's
responsibility is to make it as fair as possible. Just as
there is a growing trend to recompense crime victims for their
suffering, so should we toy to repay our Vietnam veterans for
theirs. We should do so not for what they did for us, but)
rather for what we did to them.
Art Hoppe is a columnist with the Sari
Reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle
Memorials Help Heal Us All
By Jan Scruggs
It's unfortunate to see an unbuilt and
underfunded California Vietnam veterans memorial being used as
a vehicle to reignite the divisive issues of the Vietnam War.
But Art Hoppe has done just that.
Veterans should congratulate themselves
on the many Vietnam memorials that have been built throughout
America. The memorials have had a positive impact: by
recognizing sacrifices, by bringing people together, and by
providing symbols that force people to remember that the war
is real-that people give their lives as a result of American
Hoppe contends that a Rambo-like
mentality is sweeping the nation. Hardline politicians, the
editorial says, are creating a revisionist view of the
conflict in Vietnam-describing it as an essentially "noble
cause" that was undermined by America's left.
That may be true, but only in part.
While the hardliners continue their
support of the war and blame the left for the slaughter in
Cambodia and the Soviet naval base in Cam Ranh Bay, those who
opposed the war blame its supporters for the loss of 58,000
American lives in a hopeless cause. They say to each other:
"you have blood on your hands."
Yes, Vietnam is truly a bone in our
throat, and it's a tough one to dislodge. Indeed, in our
efforts to construct the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial I
found that no matter what we did to keep the war's
divisiveness away from the project, we always landed square in
the thick of it. The best public relations advice in
Washington couldn't keep us out of the soup.
When we called for a design that would
make "no political statement on the war," we found that any
work of art could trigger the imagination of right wing
ideologues. And when we called for a memorial to stand as a
symbol of reconciliation and unity, we heard voices from the
left demanding that it be engraved with the names of those
Americans who went to Canada to avoid the draft.
Both of these extremes were looking for a
forum. The memorial became their mutual platform.
The debate got out of hand. A small group
of clever but misguided people nearly destroyed the memorial.
Had they succeeded, all the healing that has taken place since
November 1982 would have never happened. But most of the
debate, like Art Hoppe's comments, had less to do with the
idea of whether, or how, to memorialize veterans than it did
with the bone in America's throat-our common undigested
experience of Vietnam.
I think the continuing debate over the
Vietnam war is healthy. But there are proper forums for this
fussing and feuding. Attacking a memorial still on the drawing
boards in California is not the appropriate battleground for
an old debate, no matter how necessary that debate might be.
If you truly believe that the Vietnam
experience came about as the result of "blundering old men who
thought up a stupid war," then why so vociferously oppose the
California memorial? After all, it will have the names of over
5,000 of those victims from that state who were killed.
Those present and future generations who
visit the California memorial will be reminded of their
sacrifice. Children will ask their parents why the war took
place. Veterans and non- veterans alike will pause to reflect
on the experiences. The memorial will not allow present and
future generations to forget.
Hoppe makes one good point, though.
Memorials can only do so much. Appropriate benefits and
recognition go hand in hand. When veterans are unable to find
work, need answers to questions on Agent Orange, or need
public and legislative support, a memorial can help keep the
That's why we need the memorials. They
last longer than money.
Jan Scruggs has written a book. To Heal
Nation (with Joel Swerdlow), about his struggle to build the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial.