Tuesday, November 6, 2007

November 6, 2007

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is twenty-five years old this week. That's hard to imagine. The war itself ended in 1975. The Memorial opened seven years later and thousands of people came to the ceremony. I remember walking among the crowd with CBS cameraman Mike Marriott, looking for the perfect face to show at the moment of the dedication. He found it--a young man with shoulder length hair, in fatigues, with tears streaming down his face. The story I wrote that day began, "This was a day when it was absolutely okay for grown men to cry." After it aired Mike, who like me had covered the war, went home and cried. So did I.

The Memorial wasn't popular with everyone at first. Not heroic enough, some said, just a black wall with all those names--58,256 service members who died in the war. People will be reading those names out loud at The Wall this anniversary week, reading them on Wednesday and on Thursday and on Friday and on Saturday. So many names. A generation of Americans have visited, wept, made rubbings of the names they knew, left mementos of the ones they lost--a locket, an old snapshot, maybe a ring.

The Memorial isn't controversial anymore. And the war? I don't know. The country was bitterly divided back then--hawks and doves yelling at each other in the street, returning soldiers sometimes jeered. We've learned better than that now; no one blames the warriors for the mess in Iraq.

Vietnam was supposed to be about containing Communism. According to the domino theory, which the hawks believed, if Vietnam went Communist so would the other countries in the region--Thailand, Malaysia and so on. Vietnam did go Communist, of course. None of the other countries followed. And we have diplomatic relations with Vietnam now. While they still talk Marxism, the last time I was there they were hotly pursuing joint ventures - projects with some capitalist country or company. And the Cold War ended because the Soviet Union imploded, one more proof that Marxism is terrible economics.

Did we learn anything? Maybe, but looking at Iraq, maybe not. The Memorial isn't for that anyway. The Wall, Maya Lin who designed it wrote, is "for those who have died, and for us to remember them." I go once a year or so. It works.

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