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 they were serving some "higher cause". "Emotionally, an American has no concept of service (or of servitude) to anyone....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." Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It, "Don't Let It Go", p. 253 (HC)   My own purpose for enlisting in the Marine Corps at that time, when I was just 18, was in pursuit of the adventure of it all, the pursuit of my own happiness, if you will. Whatever the individual soldier's motivation may have been, it is true that a sacrifice was committed—and that  brand, that yellow token of disgrace, remains a blight on the politicians and intelligentsia that landed America in Vietnam, and then made it impossible for us to win.  It was some in the media and a legion of university professsors and their indocrinated student activists and all of that rotten ilk, who, at the end of that war "...erupted in 'an explosion of gloating over America's 'defeat,' of proclaiming America's 'weakness,' of denouncing America's 'guilt,' of glorifying and glamorizing the enemy, of pelting America with insults, accusations, humiliations—like an orgy of spitting at their own country's face." Ayn Rand, The Voice of Reason, "The Lessons of Vietnam" p. 141 She goes on to say, "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." p. 143

The Wall 

"The black gash of shame and sorrow."

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 Model 

Hart at clay model with posers
Click image for large view.


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)


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Compiled by Robert Tracy.  June 1, 2011.