tv Creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial CSPAN August 6, 2018 7:08pm-8:03pm EDT
public-policy events in washington, d.c., and around the country. c-span is provided you days provided to you by your cable or satellite provider. >> next, other james reston junior and vietnam veterans memorial founder discuss the memorials creation. a book was written about the effort. >> i haven't intended to speak for about 40 minutes. i will see if i can compress what i had in mind to about four. i am arguing that there two vietnam wars. there is one that was fought between 1959 and 1975. and that
ended. then the second war began in 1979 and is still going on. that is on the question of how this war, the first lost war in american national history and very divisive to the core, how that is to be remembered and how it is to be memorialized. i have been preoccupied in my entire literary life with the lot of my own generation, and the moral dilemma that it faced during the vietnam period, the decision as to whether to serve in the military or not, to avoid it. all my friends avoided service. after my three years in the army , 1965 to 1968, i became very deeply involved in the whole reconciliation movement,
especially with the question of amnesty for vietnam war resisters. i wrote two books relating to that. one called the amnesty of john david herndon and the other called sherman's march and vietnam. this overarching theme of reconciliation after a divisive war, i believe is an eternal question and one that we will face, perhaps today in relation to iraq and afghanistan and in the future, forever. i remember the choice my generation was faced with, to be involved or not in the ill- conceived, arguably immoral war, to protest and avoid or to serve. i was personally and deeply
involved in trying to decide that in my own personal life and, therefore, very interested in how that extended to other of my contemporaries. this book is not about the vietnam war that was fought but the memory of that war. how it should be remembered -- that first phase had its most intense time with the fight over the vietnam -- a vietnam memorial, as to whether there would be one at all and if there was to be one what should it be. that period is totally forgotten now. the intensity of the fight between 1979 and 1984, but i believe it is instructive to go
back to that period and to that fight. i think with the ken burns documentary, we are going to get this fight all over again with intensity. the book has two emotional ties for me. one is that i have one friend on the wall who was killed in january of 1968 when the north vietnamese came through. i trained with him and knew him well. he was a good friend of mine. it is the brilliance of the vietnam wall that it is by virtue of its black granite, a reflective surface. so i believe that almost instinctively, almost by
accident, the reflective quality of the black granite to those who have survived is a magical accident that maya lin came upon. the second emotional tie is the sculptor of the soldiers at the vietnam memorial was a friend of mine, and i was not sure when i started to focus on this question as to whether this book would work. i had done dual biographies before, pete rose, a baseball book, saladin versus richard the lionheart, a medieval book. the form of dual biography interested me greatly. whether i could conceptualize a
book that would be a dual biography or a collision between maya lin and frederick hart was a question in my mind. i was interested in the artistic process that both of those artists went through. what should the place be for a lost war, a divisive war? what shape should it take, what went through artist's minds to try to figure out what would be appropriate. what would be the right mood to go for? what i quickly understood from searching the library of congress was this enormous effusion of creativity that this commission brought into existence with 1421 submissions
-- all of those designs are in the library of congress -- and it is a fascinating range that goes from very kitschy to quite interesting, and maya lin had very significant competition in that. there is a very rich historical record at the library of congress of the materials that come out of the vietnam veterans memorial. this memorial began as a veterans memorial about one war and the veterans who fought in it. the absolute magic of it as the decades have proceeded is that memorial has become universalized. it is not only about veterans,
but about the entire vietnam generation and its dilemma. it is not only about the vietnam war, but it is about all wars. it is not a place only for warriors, but equally for pacifists. even draft dodgers or deserters can go and have a place of reflection and contemplation about a choice that was foisted on an american generation that should never happen again. the story itself has six phases, i think. it begins with one veteran's vision, a veteran who was wounded and then returned to duty, then witnessed a terrible
accident of friends blown apart, and openly declares now that he suffered, then and perhaps now from ptsd. his sacrifice and his service were something he felt should be memorialized personally and for all who served under these difficult circumstances. his determination to follow this through is an amazing thing. he felt strongly that if there was a memorial, it was not to be stuck away in some hidden place in washington, as if this was a shameful thing. it should be on the national mall in a prominent place, almost in your face in american
history. the second phase was beyond the raising of money for this was an artistic competition. it was presided over by a handsome, prickly professional who gathered a panel of distinguished artists and architects to figure out how to choose between these 1421 submissions. what would be the best. there were several rules that were laid down for all those who submitted. one was at the insistence of the veteran founder that all the names of the dead be on the sculpture or whatever it was to be. secondly, that it must be
nonpolitical. the memorial must not state that the war was right or wrong. what happened there after was this remarkable scene in a hangar in andrews air force base where these 1421 submissions were put on display, and the seven or eight judges had to go through and winnow it down to a couple hundred and then 30 and then down to three and then to choose a winner. all of those submissions had to be anonymous. there were major architectural firms and major artists who put
forward submissions to this. phase three was the result with this 21-year-old yale undergraduate. her design was a simple chevron in black granite, below ground. all of which were inflammatory in the subsequent phases. the actual drawing of that submission was almost high schoolish. it was a black chevron that many people might have done. what won her the competition, and this appeals to the writer in me, was not the simple design of the chevron, but her description of what she wanted the memorial to be.
it was walking through this park-like area the memorial appears as a rift in the earth, a long polished black stone wall emerging from and receding from the earth, and it goes on in a very poetic way. it was also part of the rules that that description had to be in their hand writing and there could be no print. i hope i have this all right so far. then came the next phase. this was the blowback. it has been described and i believe accurately as the art war. black granite was the color of shame, that by it being
belowground was shameful. only the dead were on the wall and not anything about the survivors, and this was unfair. it was of its nature depressing. there was no glory in it, no honor, no heroism. there had been no vietnam veterans on the panel of judges that chose the final result. this blowback was led by a powerful character by the name of jim webb, subsequently senator from virginia and a very failed presidential campaign. a powerful individual, indeed. very well-connected in washington who gathered congressmen and senators behind
him, who wrote beautifully written op-ed pieces in opposition, who went around and spoke all over the country against this. it was a powerful effort to undermine the maya lin design and it nearly succeeded. the fifth phase was the compromise where a superb figurative artist, frederick hart, was brought in and he was commissioned to do three soldiers, a three soldier sculpture and this was to satisfy veterans who hated the gash of shame as it was called. to hart's credit, he rejected the pressure to create a
glorified sculpture which would glorify the experience of the vietnam veteran, or for it to be a heroic statue the way you might find at a place like quantico. when this started to gain legs, there evolved an interesting debate between the detractors of maya lin and the architectural community who felt there was a strong principle here of the integrity of an artistic work that had been chosen in the most professional and fair way. nevertheless, it became a washington story in which the white house became involved and congress became involved and ultimately, it fell to this
agency in washington called the u.s. commission on fine arts to decide what to do about this. ultimately, they agreed that the statue would be added, but it would be added as an entrance experience, so as you entered from the lincoln memorial to the wall, you went past the three soldiers. it was, therefore, meant to not be two memorials, as was argued by the purists, but it was one integrated experience. frederick hart was very much -- bought into this notion of his
respect for the winning design and he, too, won the day at the u.s. commission of fine arts by what he wrote with what he was doing with his statues in relation to the wall. he wrote, the gesture and expression of the figures are directed to the wall, affecting an interplay between image and metaphor. the tension between the two elements creates a resonance that echoes from one to the other. i see the wall as a kind of ocean, a sea of sacrifice that is overwhelming and incomprehensible in its sweep of names. i place these figures upon the shore of that sea, gazing on it, standing vigil before it, reflecting the human face of it, the human heart.
that won the compromise and i would think won the day for frederick hart. it was still a shotgun marriage. the last phase is where we are at now. with this remarkable embrace of this work, and this place, it is the most successful monument in the district of columbia. 5 million visitors every year visit it. it is copied all over the world. interestingly to me, when i was in north vietnam in december, it is also copied in the memorial to the north vietnamese dead in vietnam. the black granite with the names of those who were killed. it is a place for all of the vietnam generation, and it is a
place for all generations to come. if you go there, it is a fine place to take a child. with this ken burns thing we are going to relive the vietnam war and get ready to see the fight start all over again. the rift of the generation is going to be on display, but at least now we have a place of contemplation for what is the ultimate cost of war. the brilliance of the black granite to reflect the experience of the survivors, but beyond that, to celebrate the key players, that modest vietnam veteran whose vision and determination made this
happen, that white-haired manager of the historic competition, but also the artists who are not here today, maya lin and frederick hart. thank you. [applause] >> can everyone hear me? i'm the founder of the vietnam veterans memorial, jan scruggs. actually born in the nation's capital and i grew up in bowie, maryland. ended up in the vietnam war at age 18, it seemed like a good enough idea to me to serve for two years. i didn't want to go for three. got the draft out of the way. at american university i did research and i did become an authority on posttraumatic
stress disorder. to become an authority all you have to do is write an article for the washington post and appear in front of a senate committee. i figured that out quickly. i had some credibility when i came up with the idea for this memorial, which flowed from the idea of survivor conflicts. a lot of work has been done on survivor conflicts, people who have survived the holocaust in world war ii, tortured people, why did i survive and my children not? people who survive wars, their life is different, even car crashes and so forth. i became interested in thinking of carl jung who was a student of sigmund freud who had this idea of the unconscious mind.
he talked about these historical archetypes. one is the hero. who is the hero to jung? the hero is the man or woman who faces the dragon. he fights the dragon with a sword. he wins or he dies, but he is the hero for facing danger. flowing from this archetype came the idea of a memorial with names, names of the fallen from vietnam. the memorial would honor all. the trick i came up with was to separate the war from the warrior. that became a mantra. the vietnam war is one issue. service to your country is a separate issue. we tried to keep the vietnam war out of the vietnam veterans memorial which is not possible, but held off the lions at the gate for a while. in order to get this memorial
built by the way, i was very lucky. some graduates of the u.s. military academy at west point, who also went to the harvard business school, descended on this project early on and made the vietnam veterans memorial into a harvard business school problem. i owe a lot to the harvard business school, i owe a lot to west point for getting this done. this book is fantastic. it should be the official history of the vietnam veterans memorial. it is also a history of art and architecture in washington, d.c. this is not the first time people have disagreed over a structure. i wonder if you could tell us about the fdr memorial. many of us have been to it, but we do not know about the one that was not built and it started in 1955. >> you are putting me on the spot about details. the overarching point here is
for something like the vietnam memorial or the vietnam war, which lasted for 13 years, the number of dead were a lot less than world war i or world war ii. and the memorials for fdr and for george washington -- and we know that the general eisenhower thing continues on with terrific contention between the family and the powers that be here in washington. for this memorial of yours to become a reality in five years is absolutely amazing. even something like the george washington memorial, the design itself was totally different
initially than what was built. there is a connection between the washington monument and the vietnam memorial in the sense that they are both simple and indeed quite scaled down. it's one of the surprising things -- surprising to me in all of this was going into the way in which maya lin's vision developed for this thing, it was originally a very deeply anti-war design where it was not just the chevron she presented in her yale class, but it was the chevron were there were a series of stones coming down to that chevron with all the dead on it. and the stones going down are
meant to be the dominoes of the vietnam war, as if those who died, all 58,000 surfed down the stones of the domino theory to their depth. it became clear to me that talking with her professor from yale that in the consideration of her design they said the chevron is great, but what are these stones with the men surfing down to their death? get rid of that. the memorial was a scaling down. putting a memorial in washington, much less on the national mall, and much less than five years is an extraordinary accomplishment. >> some people are very good at writing. there were important far-
reaching questions that hovered over this contest. what segment of the population would ultimately control the memory of vietnam? would it be the veterans, would it be the artists who were looking for a stylistic statement? would it be war resisters who sought validation? would it be the politicians who simply wanted to allay the political pressures on them and put vietnam to rest? maya lin at the time was at yale. she was among 1421 individuals and teams who competed in the largest architectural design competition held in u.s. or europe or maybe the history of western civilization, later eclipsed by the memorial in world war ii -- in new york to 9/11. tell us about professor andrew burr. he became infamous for giving a
b to maya lin. for those who have not seen what she turned in -- when people say why was this controversial? it's such a beautiful design -- the good news is in this book you can see what she did turn in. this is what she turned in. this won the largest architectural design competition in history. it's water color. it's difficult to imagine unless you have extraordinary skills and you're an engineer perhaps. our jury were brilliant people. tell us about andrew burr. >> before i do so my rather bad joke about the gentleman, his name is paul -- he deserves a tremendous amount of credit for
managing those 1421 submissions with fairness and professionalism. andrew burr's this very jolly young professor at yale in 1980 who goes to france in the summer and looks at world war ii memorials in france where hundreds, tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands were killed and are memorialized. he was very interested in that. he came back to yale and put to the dean of the architecture school, a famous architect in america now, a notion of having
a course in -- memorializing the dead. the course had eight students, including this young asian- american girl who was a really rather bad student, prickly and difficult, and was not doing all of her homework. when it came to the announcement of this vietnam memorial competition, he changed his program and asked his students to go ahead and imagine what they would like to build to memorialize the vietnam war. this student came down with a couple of friends to look at the landscape of what is known as constitution gardens as part
of the national mall. and very much took on board the rolling quality of the landscape and how that memorial should fit in and not compete with the landscape itself. she went back and famously, as legend has it, had her initial design done in a plate of mashed potatoes. she then presented this design with the chevron and the steps going down to it and he brought in three judges to replicate a normal architectural competition, and it was in those three judges that they came back and said the idea of a granite chevron that is below
ground is very appropriate, but what on earth were the steps going down and to get rid of those. that is what she did. ultimately she got a fairly good grade for that project but there was other work that was outstanding in the whole thing and so when it came to the final grade, he gave her an incomplete. she came in in tears and in anger and said if i get an incomplete in this course, i'll never get in the harvard architectural school as a graduate student. and was so powerful in all of this that burr ultimately acquiesced and gave her this famous b plus.
it is the most famous undergraduate grade in the history of higher education. >> she was a very persuasive and tough woman. there was someone else tough and extraordinary, who referred to her as an ingenue. for the uninitiated that's a young woman who is the archetype of everyone comes to save her. this fellow is frederick hart, and it was up to him to come up with a statue. why don't you tell us about frederick hart and then we're going to open up for questions and discussion. >> when two artists get together on two competing projects you can be sure there will be blood in the water. and there really was where maya lin and frederick hart went after one another. maya lin referred to this notion of a statue being added to her design as a mustache on
the mono lisa. and behind that is an important principle of the integrity of a piece of art from the artist's standpoint. hart was no shrinking violet. he was a very good infighter as an artist, and he was also very good with words. they went after one another in an article that i have milked for all it's worth in the book, of them detracting one another's work. frederick hart had a great booster in tom wolfe. but maya lin had a tremendous
cadre of boosters who felt strongly that her work of art should not be violated by this intrusion. >> it was red state versus blue state. ladies and gentlemen, i'm sure someone would like to add something to our discussion. you're first. there is a microphone. gentleman right there in the white shirt. >> john mcauliffe. i'm with an ngo called the fund for reconciliation and development. congratulations, what you did is phenomenal. i'm also with a group called the vietnam peace commemoration committee, which is anti-war folks trying to lift up the
memory of the anti-war movement. there is a comment or question about what is not in the memorial, and it is no way negative about it but it has come up in discussions. those 58,000 were not the last of the american casualties. there are the people who then died from ptsd-related psychological issues, suicides, agent orange, that ultimately led to their deaths. there's also the americans who protested the war, the kids at kent state or at jackson state or a lot of others whose names we don't know that are not recognized in that memorial, or at least explicitly. we are doing a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the pentagon march on october 21.
what we are going to do after a day of chat, chat, chat, is walk to the vietnam memorial to honor, respect, to mourn, but to point out that if the memorial included 3 million cambodians who died, the wings of it would stretch for miles. it's not to say the american memorial should do that anymore than a vietnamese does it for american soldiers, but i don't think it diminishes what you accomplished and the value of the memorial to point out how much is not memorialized. >> made some good points and i'm going to let it stand right there, you are next. >> bob hathaway here at the center. congratulations on yet another
extraordinary book, and a very rich, entertaining presentation. i would make two very quick comments. jim started out by describing the vietnam war in a way that no one in this room at least visibly took exception to it, but it used to be a controversial statement. jim described this as the first lost war in american history. i don't know any historians who would disagree with the adjective lost, but i think many of us remember that for a long time you couldn't get away with describing it in that way. strikes me as a step toward enlightenment. the other brief comment i wanted to make was, jim, you referred to this basic template being copied around the world,
and you specifically mention in vietnam. i remember how struck i was when i visited okinawa years ago. there is a monument there that lists the name of not only the japanese defenders and the american invaders and all the civilians. it is on a scale, the number of names is on a scale, which dwarfs the vietnam memorial here. i found it a very moving memorial. but it also invoked memories of this memorial. my question is i recall the fact that maya lin was young, the fact that she was a woman,
the fact that she was asian were all points of controversy and given his reasons why this was the wrong selection, my recollection is that this was a very scarring experience for her, notwithstanding the great honor. can you bring us up to date on what has happened to her since? where is she today? how has she flourished in the decades since. >> that is an interesting thing. i had a literary question for myself in writing this book as to whether i wanted to develop a rather deep relationship with her, to tap her memory of the thing. i decided i did not want that.
that what i wanted to do was capture the passion at the time that had brought her into international fame, which she basks in to this day. she has done subsequent to that memorial some wonderful work. most people remember her memorial in montgomery to the civil rights era. she did a very interesting women's table at yale outside the sterling library. she has done an enormous range of artistic works since that you can see in books that have been done about her. she will always be defined by this amazing thing that happened to her when she was 21
or 22. i got a sense in facing this literary question in the beginning that i didn't really want to push her. it was clear to me that despite the importance of this to her international fame, it is a very unpleasant experience for her to remember. she did write to me that she was happy to talk about the design itself, but she did not want to talk about the controversy that surrounded the design. that's my experience with her. >> yes. the woman. we haven't had a woman speak yet. >> i'm very eager to read all of this and i think it is genuinely important for younger people to understand it if only
we can get it across to them. but question is for jan because i vividly remember you and your compatriots in fatigues at the wooden kiosk on constitution avenue and i would love to hear from you about whether you feel your goals at that time for your daily 24-hour presence, whether you accomplished your goals and what kind of reactions other veterans have had who were involved. >> i am a simple man who had very simple goals. my goal was to build a national memorial for the military veterans of the vietnam war. i accomplished that. it's become a major international tourist attraction and internationally respected piece of american architecture. you're not going to do any better than that. i was never with any of these kiosks and the guys with the fatigues and all that. because of the vietnam veterans
memorial, and this is why i'm so unpopular among the establishment in washington, we had something called the korean war veterans memorial in 1993. a few years later the world war ii memorial. and now with any luck next year there will be a world war i memorial near pershing plaza. i created this need for national memorials. i didn't mean to do it. i think they're absolutely fantastic. one thing we did have to face is the allegation that there was communist involvement with the memorial design. they got us. one of our design team had taught a course in landscape architecture at the california labor school. maybe there was a communist running around the california labor school. that was how bad this got.
this was very tough. these guys were after us. they were unforgiving. they were brilliant. they ran political campaigns. they had access to senators. even the day the groundbreaking permit was issued, 25 members of congress called secretary watt and said do not give them the permit, we have to stop this in its tracks. a fellow who was working for james baker, former secretary of state, he was very helpful to us, on behalf of the secretary, you will issue that permit, mr. watt, because you have problems with the beach boys and other difficulties. you're going to issue it and you're going to issue it now. he bluffed his way into it and
got the permit. i got a bunch of construction equipment and i said make this place look like a bunch of b- 52s came through with bombs. make holes everywhere. that's what he did. who has a question? paul. one of the greatest men of all times in terms of architecture design competitions. he wrote the book which may be the only book, but it is certainly the best book on architectural design competitions. >> thank you very much for acknowledging me earlier. i want to make one point and then ask you one question. the point i'd make is we look at this whole process as one of great controversy. if it hadn't been for the full cooperation of the fine arts commission, the national capitol planning commission, and the park service, and a number of other federal
agencies, that memorial would never have happened. normally we look at federal agencies as obstructionists. in this case they protected the integrity of the design all the way through. and i think carter brown is the principal hero. this discussion what 35 years after the memorial and all of the issues that it arouses, i think is a token of what a touchstone it was. jan, you had for some years the idea of building a visitor center, wherethese ideas could be further discussed. i know there has been some difficulty getting that done. i'd like to ask how is that coming? >> i retired from the vietnam
veterans memorial fund. i don't know much about how the visitor center is coming along. i'm not really in contact with them. i am now the principal advisor to the global war on terrorism memorial. we are going to build a national memorial for the people who are serving today and they are getting shot at by snipers in syria who have been fighting for the past 15 years. that's what i'm doing now. i wish the best to the vietnam veterans memorial fund. i've moved on. you have a beard in the back which means you must be above- average intelligence. >> chris davenport, former fellow here at the center. one of the things you wrote about, the iraq war in an op- ed, is that we all own that war. it didn't matter if you said i'm against it or i didn't vote for george bush. there's a similar theme in the wall, it had to be in a
prominent place, in your face. one of the things that strikes me about the wall, and you see it in the reflection of people looking at it, and in that sense it's interactive. it's not just a memorial and a tribute to the names, but it forces the viewers to shift their gaze and see themselves as if you were looking into a body of water. i was curious if that was part of the design from the beginning and what designers thought about that. >> yes, it was absolutely a part of that from the beginning. it was always to be black granite in her case. whether she understood in conceptualizing it that way, the reflective quality of it and she certainly couldn't have imagined what the blowback
would be about the color of black being a color of shame in all of that. the interesting point here is that the detractors that jan is talking about here -- when they started to realize that they couldn't undermine this entirely, they made some demands and one of the principal demands was that it not be black but that it be white. and if it was a white memorial, it would not have that reflection to it. you get no reflection from white granite. that is an extraordinarily important point in all of this.
to have one of my neighbors stand up. he's a navy pilot. >> the war in vietnam lasted for 17 years starting in 1955. but in 1958, the north vietnamese and the viet kong launched the tet offensive. the south vietnamese responded. over the next several hours, american history tv is going to talk about that transforming year of 1968 and how 1968 changed u.s. politics and public opinion, which led to ending the war. followed by a film about the tet offensive made by south
vietnames. we're able to show it to you why congress is on its august break. >> our nine-part cspan series 1968 america in turmoil continues throughout the week on cspan 3. we focus on a different aspect of the state of the u.s. 50 years ago. tuesday, the 1968 presidential election as former vice president richard nixon faced democratic nominee, the incumbent vice president hubert humphrey. wednesday, it's civil rights and race relations. on thursday, the riots of liberal politics with a special look at the democratic convention in chicago. friday, conservative politics and richard nixon's rise in the republican party.
all are available on spotify or watch any time on cspan.org on our 1968 page. >> cspan, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, cspan was created as a public service by america's cable television companies. today, we continue to bring you unfilter coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events in washington, d.c. and around the country. cspan is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. 1968 is considered a turning point in the vietnam war. cspan produced a detailed look into 1968, america in turmoil covering the major military, political, and diplomatic developments in the war that year. our guests are vietnam veteran and former navy secretary jim