An update from Jenny, a senior CCPA and sociology major:
Is it a memorial to honor those fallen soldiers or a memorial to display the tragic outcome of war? For years people have assembled in D.C. to view the Vietnam Memorial and debate its purpose. Whether it is an anti-war symbol or a pro-war symbol is discussed among many individuals. Everyone seems to have an opinion about the context of the statue. It isn’t until you walk on that sidewalk and see all the names that all of those petty debates slip out of your mind.
All of those names on the reflecting walls hold a power greater than all of us. While the memorial helps us remember the war, I believe its primary focus is to constantly remind us that all of those soldiers who died were real humans. People with brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, wives and children. The memorial doesn’t focus on the actual war, in terms of whether we won or lost. In fact, that topic is irrelevant. The Vietnam Memorial strives to challenge people to think about the true consequences of war, the loss of life.
We also saw the WWII Memorial today, which is an extremely different kind of memorial and serves a completely different purpose. The WWII Memorial does focus on the actual acts of war. This is illustrated by the quotes carved into the pillars. The messages portrayed are of military success, fear, honor and democracy. Instead of honoring those individuals from WWII, the monument honors the impact and importance of WWII.
While both of these monuments honor something, they perform that in opposite ways. So many people just walk through the Mall, witnessing each individual monument in individual terms. What we don’t realize is that all of the memorials on the Mall are there for a collective reason and function as a unit of our history. Looking at the memorials as a collection rather than separate entities delivers a more holistic understanding of America’s military history.