CARRIED TO THE WALL by Kristin Ann Hass

CARRIED TO THE WALL

American Memory and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
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KIRKUS REVIEW

paper 0-520-21317-3 A dissertation-like examination of why people leave many and varied objects at the Veterans Memorial in Washington. Hass (American Culture/Univ. of Michigan) sees several reasons behind the outpouring of objects--what she calls a “strong, multivocal, contradictory, unsolicited public response”--that have been left at the wall since it was dedicated on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1982. Some of the reasons are obvious: the emotional need to remember the dead; the patriotic and nationalist impulses to honor their service; the reaction by Vietnam veterans against the national cold shoulder given to them after they came home from America’s most controversial overseas war. Others are less obvious: the fact that the memorial’s simple design “tacitly asked people to respond” with “their own interpretations,” and the grave-decorating traditions of African- Americans, Mexican-Americans, Italian-Americans, and some American Indians. In her chapter on American military memorializing history, Hass places great import on the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, when for the first time “common American soldiers were buried individually in graves marked with their names.” Hass ties these varied themes together well. Her writing, for the most part, is clean and clear. Only occasionally does she slip into turgid academes. Hass seems to have done a thorough job of researching this multidisciplinary topic. There is, however, one glaring error. Hass repeats the myth that more Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than were killed in the war. In an otherwise profusely documented book, she offers only an ambiguous citation for this assertion. But the truth is that the suicide statement has no basis in fact. Hass proves much better at examining and explaining the reasons behind the myth that Vietnam kept American POWs after the war. A sometimes illuminating look at a unique national phenomenon. (16 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-520-20413-1
Page count: 179pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1998