Facing It

by James Willie Brown

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The characters of "Facing It" are:

The Speaker. He is evidently an African American veteran of the Vietnam War.

The Deceased Veterans. Of the names of these 58,022 on the wall, the speaker singles out one of them, Andrew Johnson. It's not clear if he has chosen that name randomly, or if it's a man he knew. Perhaps it's mentioned simply because it's a normal, average name; or perhaps because it is coincidentally the name of a former president who presided over the country in the years after a different war.

A white veteran who has lost an arm. One can't be sure if the man is present at the Memorial or is being reimagined from the dark past of the war. His image "floats" closer to the speaker, and we're told the man has lost his arm inside the stone of the monument.

A woman also in attendance. At first the speaker imagines her attempting to "erase" names on the monument, but then realizes all she's trying to do is brush a boy's hair.

These characters themselves are both part of the wall and not part of it. Their reflections, like the speaker's, are present before him and have a dual meaning, as if they have an existence that is part of the war and one independent of it. This, one could argue, is a metaphor of the particular conditions of the home front in relation to Vietnam.

It could be argued that more than other wars in which the US had participated to that time, Vietnam was one from which the average civilian was disconnected. In Born on the Fourth of July Ron Kovic's friend Stevie Boyer tells him, after Ron has returned home in a wheelchair, that "to these people here the war's a million miles away." In "Facing It" the speaker seems to hope that the woman trying to erase names is making a symbolic gesture to cancel the deaths of the 58,000, but instead her action is simply a mundane one unrelated to the war. The speaker's reflection, however, indicates his own identity is still trapped within the war, that the memory of combat experience cannot be escaped, and that the war governs the veteran's existence in perpetuity. As in all wars and upheavals the survivor asks, "why me?" and here, his reflection, cloudy and staring back at him "like a bird of prey," is symbolic of a self-accusation and also, on one hand, a wish to join those men in death. On the other hand, this is a recognition that some part of him has already died as he sees his image juxtaposed with the names of the actual dead.

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