JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004 Page: 271
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Nancy K. Miller
of warning, of reminder, of instruction, is also the meaning of the word
monument." Like the memorial itself, Kim Phuc's testimony points to the
desire to connect the remembrance of past suffering with the process of
working for future peace culture. "We cannot change history." Kim says.
But the fixity of trauma captured in the photograph and its material,
bodily, legacy can't help returning in the compulsion to turn trauma to
good account by turning it into story. Never again means always still.
The speech at the wall, of course, is especially freighted because of
the controversy over the war that was relived in responses to the memorial
itself. The design had been criticized on several accounts, the most radical
of which was that it represented only the American side of the war. In the
documentary, Kim's physical presence at the wall emphasized that
absence in a palpable way. More generally, however, the resistance to the
memorial was expressed in the violence powering the language of those
who objected to the monument's design (and in particular around certain
design features). The V produced by the cut in the earth, for instance, was
famously read by some as a "black gash of shame"-black as the color of
dishonor, the V as the triumph of the peace movement. Others, self-
consciously or not, through the very idea ofthe gash and the V as the mark
of the female body-combined with the feminine typically associated
with Asia-seemed to experience the design with a visceral revulsion
(Hess 268-69; Sturken 51-53).19
In many ways, as I've been suggesting, it is possible to make a fruitful
connection between the resistance to Maya Lin's memorial design with
discomfort produced by the iconic photograph of Kim Phuc in dealing
with the trauma of a controversial war, first and foremost on the level of
female bodiliness. The original photograph caused anxiety because the
girl was naked and because it was impossible not to see the mark of
gender. "It almost didn't run," senior photo editor, Horst Fass says in the
film: "An Associated Press staffer thought newspaper editors would find
the girl's nakedness offensive." Fass explains that New York had rules
about exhibiting "frontal nudity" and airbrushed out the shadow in the
photograph that suggested the existence of pubic hair on the nine-year-old
girl. The combination of female embodiment and Asianness also made it
easy for some to dismiss the image just as the design for the monument
was rebuffed-on racist grounds. The most egregious case was the
infamous quip, trivializing the horror of burning flesh and eliminating
American responsibility for the dropping of the bombs: "This Pulitzer
prizewinner was called a fake by General William Westmoreland, who
suggested the girl in the picture was burned "in a hibachi accident" (Time
Here’s what’s next.
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Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition (U.S.). JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004, periodical, 2004; (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28644/m1/17/: accessed June 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .