Perspectives on Commemorating the Vietnam War

July 17, 2020

“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
The idea of “contested territories”, which we have wrestled with this week, can apply to how the war is remembered and commemorated too. My humanities moment came in a group discussion this week with Quynh, a Vietnamese professor. We were discussing the idea of the Vietnam War Memorial as a teaching tool and I asked her if there was a similar monument in Vietnam. She immediately said yes, there is: Sơn Mỹ. She showed me a picture of a monument that I assumed had the names of Vietnamese soldiers until she handed me a piece of paper with the words “Mỹ Lai Massacre”. I realized this monument contained the names of more than 500 civilians killed by U.S. soldiers in the Sơn Mỹ district in 1968. At first, in my mind, I rejected the idea that this monument could be like the Vietnam War Memorial displaying the names of all the Americans killed in the war. I didn’t want to equate a Vietnamese monument to Mỹ Lai, one of the worst events in the war, with the Wall. But I came to understand that in some ways the monuments are similar. The war made victims of both sides.