The Wall vs. “Three Soldiers”

“If you wish to save the last of your dignity, do not call your best actions a ‘sacrifice’: that term brands you as immoral… If a man dies fighting for his own freedom, it is not a sacrifice….”

Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrugged”, p. 1029 (HC)

We who fought in Vietnam were there for any number of reasons, not many thinking that he was fighting for his own freedom. My own reason for it was the adventure of the thing. Whatever the motivations may have been, it is true that there was a sacrifice—and that brand lies with the politicians and intelligentsia that landed America in Vietnam, not with the individual warrior.

The Wall

“The black gash of shame and sorrow.”

I see a lot of Vietnam Vets at Facebook, blogs et cetera posting things glorifying the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (“The Wall”).  I cannot do that. I didn’t like it in 1982 when it was built. And I do not like it now. It is a memorial to sacrifice.

“If you wish to save the last of your dignity, do not call your best actions a ‘sacrifice’: that term brands you as immoral… If a man dies fighting for his own freedom, it is not a sacrifice….”

Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrugged”, p. 1029 (HC)

This wall is a memorial to sacrifice. The “purpose” of that wall, wrote the New Republic, is “to impress upon the visitor the sheer human waste, the utter meaninglessness of it all…To treat the Vietnam dead like some monstrous traffic accident is more than a disservice to history; it is a disservice to the memory of the 57,000 [killed in Vietnam].”

“….a V-shaped wall, period, a wall of polished black granite inscribed only with the names; no mention of honor, courage or gratitude; not even a flag. Absolutely skillproof, it was. Many veterans were furious. They regarded [Maya Ying Lin's] wall as a gigantic pitiless tombstone that said, ”Your so-called service was an absolutely pointless disaster.” They made so much noise that a compromise was struck. An American flag and statue would be added to the site. Hart was chosen to do the statue.

Naturally enough, Lin was miffed at the intrusion, and so a make-peace get-together was arranged in Plainview, N.Y., where the foundry had just completed casting the soldiers. Doing her best to play the part, Lin asked Hart — as Hart recounted it — if the young men used as models for the three soldiers had complained of any pain when the plaster casts were removed from their faces and arms. Hart couldn’t imagine what she was talking about. Then it dawned on him. She assumed that he had followed the lead of the ingenious art worldling George Segal, who had contrived a way of sculpturing the human figure without any skill whatsoever: by covering the model’s body in wet plaster and removing it when it began to harden. No artist of her generation (she was 21) could even conceive of a sculptor starting out solely with a picture in his head, a stylus, a brick of moist clay and some armature wire. No artist of her generation dared even speculate about . . . skill.”

The Lives They Lived: Frederick Hart, b. 1943; The Artist the Art World Couldn’t See

by Tom Wolfe

Reprinted from The New York Times Magazine, January 2, 2000

Hart with clay model

Hart with models

"Three Soldiers"

“Three Soldiers”
Frederick Hart
Bronze Sculpture

Heroes Against The Wall

Vietnam Veteran James Webb Jr., a Marine Platoon leader awarded the Navy Cross, resigned from the National Sponsoring Committee of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, to protest the memorial design.  He said “I never in my wildest dreams imagined such a nihilistic slab of stone.”

Tom Carhart, a veteran and outspoken opponent of the minimilistic design referred to it as “the black gash of shame and sorrow”. it commemorates the war “as some ugly, dirty experience of which we were all ashamed.”  Cahart, a West Point graduate who led an infantry platoon of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, and received two Purple Hearts was in 1981 a civilian lawyer at the Pentagon.

Adm. James Stockdale, a prisoner of war awarded the Medal of Honor, also resigned.

The Marine Corps League withdrew its support for the memorial as insulting and denigrating those who came home from Vietnam and those who did not.

“Three Soldiers” by Frederick Hart

” A trio of tired soldiers…of warriors larger than life.”

(Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe, 09/23/1982)

“Mr. Hart is a sculptor in the ‘neo-traditional’ mode, which means you can tell what the sculpture is about merely by looking at it.  The three soldiers look like three soldiers, tired and heroic.”

(Ben Wattenberg, The Washington Times, 08/12/1999)

“Hart captured in stone something vivid, urgent, and alive.”

(David C. Adams, The Free Radical Online)

“…there is about them the physical contact and sense of unity that speaks of bonds of love….

And yet each one is alone.  Their true heroism lies in these bonds of loyalty, in their aloneness, and in their vulnerability.”  (Frederick Hart)

Marine Corps Graphics

I’ve made hundreds of these graphics starting around 2000 through 2005. I learned a lot in Photoshop with these. The “Three Soldiers” graphics were done from photos taken for me by an old friend, Gonzalo E. Mon, who knew that the sculpture by Frederick Hart is one of my favorite sculptures. (See my page The Wall vs Three Soldiers.) The Eagle, Globe and Anchor variations were done with a single photograph I took of a wooden plaque and scanned.

“Thank You for Your Service”: Who Needs It

“One of the methods used by statists to destroy capitalism, consists in establishing controls that tie a given industry hand and foot, making it unable to solve its problems, then declaring that freedom has failed and stronger controls are necessary. A similar frame-up is now being perpetrated against America’s military power.”

—Ayn Rand, The Ayn Rand Letter Vol. III, No. 24 August 26, 1974 The Lessons Of Vietnam.

A similar frame-up is now being perpetrated against America via America’s military.

When I wear my hat embroidered with USMC and Vietnam ’68 and ’70 I’ll hear “Thank you for your service”.  I know it’s a well-meaning sentiment, but often it comes from a social metaphysics.  I.e., they say it because they’ve heard it said and think it’s supposed to be said.  I usually answer, “Well, it was an adventure.”

But think what it means.

It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.
—Ayn Rand, “The Soul of a Collectivist,” For the New Intellectual, p.73

When President Ford took us out of Vietnam he said the lessons of Vietnam had been learned.  They hadn’t and haven’t yet been learned.

     “What—and who—got us into that war? Why? For what reason and purpose? How did a war advocated and begun by the liberals (mainly by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson) become the conservatives’ war? Isn’t a moral obscenity such as a “no win” war unconstitutional—as a violation of the soldiers’ right to life—since it turns soldiers into cannon fodder?

“These are just a few of the questions to which the country has no clear answers.

“Shouldn’t there be an investigation of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam…?  The purpose?  To discover the causes in order to avoid the recurrence (or the continuation) of the policies that led to Vietnam.

“Who would be able to ask the right questions, and integrate the answers, and point out the contradictions, and hammer at the evasions, and bring out the fundamental issues?  Obviously, this is not a task for politicians, it is a task for theoretical thinkers, for intellectuals, for philosophers. But today they are the men who were responsible for the kind of thinking that was responsible for our involvement in Vietnam.

“This is the reason why no such investigation can or will be held today. And this is the all-inclusive lesson to be learned from Vietnam.”
The Voice of Reason, Essays In Objectivist Thought by Ayn Rand, “The Lessons of Vietnam”, p.148 (SC)

And this is why America has not “avoide[d] the recurrence…of the policies that led to Vietnam”.  This is why the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven to be another Vietnam.

It’s not good enough to hear today “thank you for your service”, just because Vietnam Veterans did not hear that—on the contrary Vietnam Vets were ostracized.  No matter.  We vets, as individuals, got on with our lives.  If “thank you for your service” were good enough, how then to account for this shocking statistic:

“An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.”

The New York Times, Sunday Review

Now the question is, who benefits from this “thank you for your service” frame-up?

“There is no doubt that America’s entire involvement in Vietnam is a failure unworthy of a great power. It is a moral failure, a diplomatic failure, a political failure, a philosophical failure—the failure of American politicians and of their intellectual advisers.  But to regard it as a military failure is worse than outrageous, when you consider the heroic performance of Americans in a war they should never have had to fight. If there are men or groups with a vested interest in creating an impression of America’s military weakness, use your own judgment as to their nature and goals.”
The Voice of Reason, Essays In Objectivist Thought by Ayn Rand, “The Lessons of Vietnam”, p.143 (SC)

And the answer is the same, with an emphasis on American politicians.  What is their nature and what are their goals?

The one with most at stake in this is the current president.  What is his nature?  God, who knows?  What are his goals?  Look around.  He’s the man who speaks to you of sacrifice and of service.  On the repeal last year of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that prohibited gays from serving openly in the military, Obama said this: “We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot … a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal.” (emphasis mine)  What can he mean by “welcomes the service of every patriot” but that if you do not serve someone or something in some capacity then you’re not a patriot? Worse, “that all men and women are created equal” must mean that the nation he envisions is one of equal servitude of all men and women, his final solution.

Here’s a well-made video on the theme of “thank you for your service”.  It’s poignant, but I doubt it would appeal to many other than Vietnam Veterans, their loved ones and today’s retuning warriors.  The video shows the new warrior as a fully integrated “server”, happy in his serving role and eager to dispense the favor as a practical means of “giving back”.

But I don’t care.  I always feel a touch of sadness for the one wishing that on me, as if he’s staking a claim on my “experience”.  He doesn’t know what he’s saying; he’s articulating what he’s picked up around him, not able to identify it as social subjectivism geared toward service—an idea now brought to life as a relevant slogan: “thank you for your service”.  Ayn Rand’s statement on military service applies not to society, or any collective, but to the individual:

“Even if he enlists in the Army and hears it called “service to his country,” his feeling is that of a generous aristocrat who chose to do a dangerous task. A European soldier feels that he is doing his duty.
—Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It, “Don’t Let It Go”, p. 253

And the full context:

“The emotional keynote of most Europeans is the feeling that man belongs to the State, as a property to be used and disposed of, in compliance with his natural, metaphysically determined fate. A typical European may disapprove of a given State and may rebel, seeking to establish what he regards as a better one, like a slave who might seek a better master to serve—but the idea that he is the sovereign and the government is his servant, has no emotional reality in his consciousness.” (ibid.)

“The American attitude is best expressed by a line from a poem: ‘The world began when I was born and the world is mine to win.’” (“The Westerner” by Badger Clark.) (ibid. p. 255)

Defiance, not obedience, is the American’s answer to overbearing authority. The nation that ran an underground railroad to help human beings escape from slavery, or began drinking on principle in the face of Prohibition, will not say “Yes, sir,” to the enforcers of ration coupons and cereal prices. Not yet. (ibid., p. 260)

In the video “A Moment of Truth” you see—in the salute by the active duty soldier, one of the new breed of American pragmatists—that “Yes, sir” has arrived in America.  Although not obviously intended by the makers of the video, the “thank you for your service” doesn’t work on the Vietnam Veteran, who turns back to his coffee after his acerbic reply: “thank you for your support”.  For what does he need support?  In the lifting up of his cup of coffee?  He was doing that before the “thank you for your service”.  And he doesn’t say “thank you for your service” to the only legitimate servant in the video—the waitress.