From: "\"Doc\" Bruce K. Melson" <>



Proposed education center at Vietnam Wall aims to skirt controversy of war,
but critics denounce idea
The Associated Press

8/23/01 1:23 AMWASHINGTON (AP) -- It is Washington's most visited memorial,
honoring the dead of the 20th century's most divisive war. Now the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial, created two decades ago amid bitter acrimony, is becoming
the subject of dissension and controversy yet again. The veterans who helped
build the memorial want to add a structure nearby to educate visitors, not
about the war but about the memorial itself. Critics, not least among them
the National Park Service, are appalled. The black granite wedge is engraved
with the names of the 58,226 men and women killed in or still missing from
the war. Its designer, architect Maya Lin, intended it to be "a quiet place,
meant for personal reflection and reckoning." The proposed 1,200-square-foot
education center would change that intent, says the park service, which
manages the memorial in addition to those within its sight honoring George
Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. "We believe we risk
diminishing the original work by adding adjunct structures to this site,"
John Parsons, a regional park service official, told a congressional
committee last month. Lin's simple concept for the memorial, chosen from a
national design contest, roused a furor among many Americans who felt it
cheapened and demeaned the memory of those who died. Inclusion of a statue of
three combat-weary servicemen overlooking the wall was a key part of the
compromise that had the Wall built. Many now consider the monument the most
poignant of all the sites on the National Mall. The memorial's purpose, the
park service says, is "to separate the issue of the sacrifices of the
veterans from the U.S. policy in the war." A quarter-century after the last
American GIs left Vietnam, scholars agree that passions still run so strong
as to defy an objective assessment. "Objective, noncontroversial history that
everyone can agree on doesn't exist with the Vietnam War," said Ronald
Spector, chairman of the history department at George Washington University.
The National Capital Planning Commission, the government agency that reviews
federal land development proposals, also opposes the proposed center. Lin is
remaining mum for the time being, according to her spokeswoman. Nonetheless,
plans for the education center are speeding ahead, and legislation
authorizing it is before committees in both the House and Senate, where
support is overwhelming. Among the backers are Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., Max
Cleland, D-Ga., and John Kerry, D-Mass., all Vietnam veterans. Kerry, who
earned three purple hearts in the war but led demonstrations against it after
he returned home, said focusing on the veterans makes Vietnam easier to
understand. "Despite the war's confusing moral backdrop, we tried to make
sense of our mission," Kerry said. "The faults in Vietnam were those of the
war, not the warriors." Veterans groups also support the idea, saying the
project would elaborate on the lives of the men and women whose names are on
the wall and provide basic information about the war without interpreting it.
"The purpose is not to teach the long and difficult and confusing history of
the Vietnam War," said Jan Scruggs, originator of the memorial and president
of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. "The purpose is to understand why the
memorial is such a significant place." The education center, with space to
accommodate about 50 people at a time, would replace a Park Service kiosk now
at the site. Financed by private and corporate donations, its construction
would take about a year once approved by the government. Scruggs said it
would house some of more than 62,000 items such as dog tags, photographs,
bracelets and toys that have been left at the memorial since its
construction. It would also have computers where students and visitors could
read and view remembrances about the veterans whose names are on the Wall.
Ten years after completion, the center would be evaluated, and Congress would
decide if it should stay or come down. The Vietnam War inflames American
passions. It is nearly impossible to keep controversy at bay when talking
about it, scholars say. "You can't do anything about Vietnam today without
aggravating someone," said Texas Tech University history professor James
Reckner. "As long as two people are alive from the Vietnam generation, there
will be an argument." The Vietnam Memorial, which attracts 3.7 million
visitors each year, now includes the Wall, two statues and a commemorative
flagpole. In the works is a memorial plaque honoring veterans who died after
the war but as a direct result of their service in Vietnam. ------ The bills
are H.R. 510 and S. 281 On the Net: Vietnam Veterans
Memorial Fund: National Park Service:




"When the way comes to an end, then change - having changed, you pass through."

      I. Ching


 Bruce "Doc". Melson