The ’80s Culture Wars and The Battle Over War Memorials – Moving Reminders or Monumental Failures?

Posted: April 18, 2019 in Uncategorized

Mia Lin
Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial
(1982)

Frederick Hart
Three Soldiers Monument
(1984)

The years that saw the memorial’s proposal, design, and construction—1980 to 1982—coincided with a momentous shift in the topography of American political culture: the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the ensuing negotiation of a new federal agenda. This development was shaped by the theories of economic neoliberals on the one hand and by the values of their socially conservative allies on the other. Far from being a fait accompli, amassing the public will to support this new agenda took real work. In large part, this was accomplished through a series of conflicts waged at the level of culture. The earliest of these battles was the controversy over Lin’s design. Revisiting the terms of this conflict not only provides insight into how and why visual art came to be so politicized in the 1980s, but also sheds light on the debates of our present historical moment, which, in many ways, parallel the debates of that period regarding the social purpose of art.

Culture Wars: A riveting account of how Christian fundamentalists, Orthodox Jews, and conservative Catholics have joined forces in a battle against their progressive counterparts for control of American secular culture.

Comments
  1. Parker Law says:

    I agree with what you talked about I’m class today. I have been to both memorials, and the wall memorial is much more moving than the statue one. I actually saw them both twice, and the first time they were both very emotional for me because I had a teacher that was involved in the Vietnam War, but the second time I went was interesting. The wall moved me just as much, if not more, than the first time I saw it. I spent more time at it the second time and it was very powerful to physically go down into the memorial and see all the individual names inscribed on the stone. When I saw the statues for the second time, i did not have nearly as strong of an emotional connection. It just seemed like any other generic statue. I remember hearing all of the negative reactions to the wall and being in utter disbelief because I just could not understand why somebody would so strongly prefer the statue to the wall. Both memorials have great intent and send a message, but the wall’s uniqueness and the sheer number of names on it make it a very powerful piece.

    • The statue ‘Three Soldiers’ was e
      erected as a concession to persons who were unable to understand any aesthetic values beyond those of ‘nationalist realism’, if I may coin a phrase. I don’t hold it against these persons, as their thoughts and sensibilities were formed by a society and educational system which has not empowered them to understand or value anything more sophisticated than government-sponsored kitsch. And so they continue to admire a factitious trio of life-sized G.I. Joe action figures and contemn one of the most intelligent, sensitive, and successful public artworks of modern times.

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