NYT editorializes against new visitor center to "interpret" the Vietnam War





In 1982, the American public and the veterans of the Vietnam War were given what is perhaps the finest single memorial ever built in this country: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Maya Lin. Its eloquence and its terseness — both a product of its simplicity — have moved nearly everyone who has ever been lucky enough to visit. But why stop with perfect? The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, established to raise money for the memorial, has proposed a new visitor center to help “interpret” the memorial and the war. The center, some 25,000 square feet in size, would be built underground just north of the Lincoln Memorial. The site was approved the other day, with many restrictions.

This is an idea that makes no sense. The proposal has been shoehorned through Congress, exempting it from the restriction on new construction on the National Mall. Why the Vietnam Veterans Memorial deserves a visitor center and not, for instance, the Korean War Veterans Memorial is hard to say, as is the extent to which the fund represents the majority of Vietnam veterans. The reason for building the center underground is to keep it from impinging on the Lincoln Memorial. But, as we’ve learned in Lower Manhattan, building underground will be construed as an insult, and there will be significant pressure to build aboveground.

But the most serious objection is simply that the visitor center is not necessary. The libraries and museums of this country are filled with the tools needed to interpret Vietnam. So are the curriculums of our schools and colleges. At best, the visitor center can offer only a sanitized glimpse of that deeply controversial war. At worst, it will become a political battleground. Either way, it will damage the clarity of what Maya Lin achieved.




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