This Veterans Day: Maya Lin & Her Strong Clear Vision

This Veterans Day, many of us will be taking time to thank our family and friends who’ve served in the military, as well as reflecting on the purpose and costs of war. Personally, I dislike the whole mess of war and imperialism and the toll it takes on our soldiers, their families, and of course civilians all over the world. But I also value the lives of troops who are on the front lines of our country’s political and foreign agenda, whether I agree with it or not.  I’m also privileged in that I’ve never been drafted, have had the opportunity to choose a non-military career, and have never lived through the horrors of battle then tried to re-integrate back into the community with limited support from government or society.

Some statements on war transcend politics and focus on the sanctity of human life, and lives lost — like that by the artist Maya Lin, who designed the iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC.

At age 21, Lin won a blind design competition for the memorial, and was catapulted into national spotlight and controversy. She was attacked and harassed partly for her unconventional design, but mostly for her Asian ethnicity, leading her to defend her design before the US Congress.

Lin persevered, and in October 1982 completed a black cut-stone masonry wall with the names of 58,261 fallen soldiers carved into its face.

Lin’s commitment to the memorial is documented in the Academy Award-winning film Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (available on Netflix!). Maya has also designed other significant structures, like the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama — which records the history and names of individuals who died in struggle for equality — from MLK Jr. to the recently departed Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.

Whatever our views on current and past US wars, we all have a need commemorate the human impact of combat and honor our loved ones. Plenty will say that Maya Lin did it justice.

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