What were the difficulties in developing the idea for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There were some fundamental difficulties in selecting an artist and design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  The most structural challenge resided with the war, itself.  The Vietnam War was one of the most complex wars in American History.  It did not result in a clear victory, infact quite the opposite.  It provoked intense social discord at the time, and America had never seen such a soldier backlash as a result.  This controversy made creating a memorial difficult.  How does one create a monument to something that means so many different things to do many different people?  Maya Ying Lin's approach mirrored this controversy because her design sought to create the idea of an "open wound" and from this wound, rising from the ground, the names of the dead emerged.  This design was not well received by traditionalists who wanted a more conventional approach to honoring soldiers.  Some called it "a black gash" and "nihilistic."  While this was probably Lin's purpose in design, it was not seen as positive at the time. Additionally, her Asian ancestry was also used as a point of contention by those who did not want to see her design selected.  The process of selecting an artist and design for the memorial was complicated and difficult because the exact aim and purpose was not clearly defined.  Yet, after Lin's design was chosen and the wall was built, it became to be seen as "something of a shrine" where healing can actually take place and, in some cases, begin.

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