‘Objectifying’ the War. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a Secular Message Board.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. has become one of the most important cultural signifiers of the nation. Only what it signifies is far from clear. ‘A place of healing’ is a frequently applied epithet; in conjunction with partial memory loss; but ‘healing’ does not work without prior analysis of the wound. In postmodern fashion; anyone can read into it what they want. Evidence for its enduring popularity are the roughly 90 000 objects that have since its inception in 1982 been deposited at ‘the Wall’. These depositions represent an uncensored and hard to control alternative discourse on Vietnam; they are collected daily and stored at a huge warehouse. The ‘Wall’ is not only a sacred site; a locus of grief and contemplation; and a locus of re-uniting the nation; it has also become a prominent place where cultural battles are waged. Since 1995 there has been a permanent exhibition of a selected “Offerings at the Wall” at the Smithsonian Institute. They collectively represent a discourse refusing to be co-opted into a national strategy to re-interpret the Vietnam War as “in truth a noble cause” and an event in which American soldiers acted honourably.
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