The Vietnam Wall ControversyHistory on Trial Main Page

AboutRound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4Round 5Resources

How should we remember a war that we "lost"? You may have been tear-choked as you touched or watched others touch "the Wall" at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the most visited war memorial in our nation's capital. Yet, this seemingly god-given shrine wears political feet of clay, and behind it lies a fierce controversy that re-opened the wounds of the war the memorial was designed to heal. Experience the evolution of the Vietnam Wall controversy by reading through a chronological list of documents divided into five rounds:

1: Making the Case, 1967-1980

Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs initiates a hard-fought battle to build a Vietnam War Memorial, finally convincing Congress to appropriate land for a memorial that would be built with public funds.

2: Choosing the Design, 7/1980-6/1981

The location secured, the seemingly uncontroversial process of articulating goals for a memorial and staging a competition draws over 1100 entries – then the largest such design competition in the United States – and the winner is Maya Lin's "Wall."

3: The Political Controversy, 5/1981 - 3/1982

The construction process hits a snag when relentless and powerful critics, led by Tom Carhart, find an unsavory political message in the supposedly apolitical winning design -- ultimately forcing a compromise, the addition of a flag and a statue with three soldiers to the Wall.

4: The Artistic Controversy, 3/1982-11/1985 >>>>> 1988

But Lin doesn't like anybody "drawing mustaches" on her design and, with the support of many in the Art world, pressures the Commission of Fine Arts to scuttle the compromise and hatch a new one. Which Secretary of the Interior James Watt then threatens to scuttle!

5: The Gender Controversy, 1983-1993

The women soldiers – the nurses – suffered too. By the time the compromise statue is dedicated, a move for the addition of a women's memorial is already underway. But, say those opposed, the men represent the women, the men represent all soldiers . . . . Oooo, not any more, not any more.