vietnam memorial; ghost

I was at the Vietnam Memorial a couple weeks ago. If you haven’t been, or don’t remember what it is like, it is a series of giant slabs of shiny black marble with the names of all of the American soldiers who died in that particular war etched into the stone.

It is sort of like a large reflecting pool, standing on its side. I love reflection pictures, and the memorial gave plenty of opportunities. It was spooky, though, seeing them in person, and now seeing them in pictures.

vietnam memorial; manIt is like looking at ghosts. Ghosts of the people who died. The Vietnamese people, the American soldiers, the people who maybe never were, but could have been if that war hadn’t happened.

We grow up with a biased history taught to us, and we somehow aren’t given the analytical tools to examine our own history to actually see that bias. I don’t recall actual words telling me, but I do recall a bone-deep understanding, that history was without bias. Looking back, it is obvious how ludicrous that is.

It is impossible to tell a story without bias. Reporters are biased, judges are biased, historians are biased. Even scientists are often biased. What is truth? Truth is many things, but never absolute.

So looking at the black reflecting pool, reflecting the memory of lives cut short, lives forever changed, and lives that never were, I thought about this memorial, and what it must be like to visit it when you are a person from Vietnam. What do you think, as you examine a monument to the American version of history? What do you think, looking at the thousands of American names, of American deaths, glorified and iconified, knowing all the while that the number of Vietnamese people killed were so many more. I don’t even have a clue what that number would be – in American schools it is never discussed.

That’s the thing about war, the thing that is never admitted. There are never any winners in wars (unless you count weapon manufacturers and the companies who make a killing on the rebuilding), only losers. Death. Destruction. There is no glory. There is only people killing people.

vietnam memorial; flowers