A Multimedia Look At The Vietnam War
BY JIM BELSHAW
In November 2001, Brian
McKinsey, a Vietnam veteran and former Marine, visited the
National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. He'd heard
about it and was curious; he left overwhelmed. McKinsey spoke
of the museum only in superlatives: "impressed,'' "amazed,"
"bowled over.'' He spent three hours there. It felt to him as
if he'd gone to a national memorial.
"That's where the seed was planted," he said.
Back home in Albuquerque, the memory of the museum turned to
action. This fall at the University of New Mexico it will
culminate in a three-month symposium, "Vietnam Voices and
VisionsUnfiltered." McKinsey calls it a "public history."
Originally, McKinsey sought only to bring the art exhibit to
Albuquerque, but even before that, he had a more personal
decision to make. He returned home after the museum visit and
looked at his own history. He read letters he had written when
he was a young Marine in Vietnam, examining a life which he'd
not looked at in a long time. A convergence of circumstances
seemed to push him in a new direction.
At some point in the art museum, the 56-year-old McKinsey
said, for the first time since the war, he "became" a veteran.
"All of a sudden, I did a 180-degree reversal," he said. "I
started telling people I was a Vietnam veteran. I started
wearing Marine gear, as opposed to the denial all those years.
Had it happened a year earlier, none of this would have
followed. I still wasn't a vet then. But it happened just when
you might say I was ripe. I had just started to talk to a few
vets about Vietnam."
McKinsey had just sold a successful business and was looking
for something to do after returning from Chicago in the fall
of 2001. Concluding that he needed to do more than simply
bring the art exhibit to the Southwest, he decided to expand
upon his original idea. He wrote a symposium grant proposal to
the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities, which was awarded
in March 2002, and McKinsey began working on pulling the
Sponsored by the VVA New Mexico State Council and the New
Mexico Veterans Service Commission, the symposium will stretch
over three months, from October 15 to January 16, 2005. More
information may be found at
"I've always been the kind of person
who jumps into the middle of things," McKinsey said. "In the
course of all this, a few people have suggested that I'd bitten
off more than I could handle and that I couldn't do all of it. Of
course, that sort of attitude and talk has always worked well for
me my whole life. I love it when somebody says, 'You can't do it.'
You want to motivate me? Tell me I can't do something."
The symposium components include:
- An art exhibit from the National
Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, the only museum in the
world with a permanent collection focused on the Vietnam War.
- "Another Vietnam: Pictures of
the War from the Other Side,'' an exhibit from the National
Geographic Society's Explorer Hall Museum. It features 113
by North Vietnamese combat photographers who documented the
French and the American wars.
- Letters written home by New
- The Wall That Heals, an outdoor,
half-scale replica of the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on
display November 19-22.
- A series of author talks and
book signings at the University of New Mexico Bookstore, along
with an exhibit that will be maintained throughout the
- A series of films presented by
the Southwest Film Center Theater on the university campus.
Immersed in the project for two
and a half years, McKinsey said he'd learned more about the
Vietnam War by cracking open books and reading the letters he
had written home.
"In the beginning with the art exhibit and a few components, I
thought veterans would enjoy it, and the public would understand
the war better,'' McKinsey said. "As I worked on it more, I came
to look at it as an educational thing, a public history. It's
not a Vietnam veteran project. That's only one part. It's a
symposium on the Vietnam War. It's not just about veterans. I
want to throw a lot of stuff out there from many perspectives.
I'm starting to feel better as it gets closer. I'm starting to
see that snowball hold snow and grow more and more.''