JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004 Page: 274
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negatively, on the meaning of the architect's identity once it became
known and public: "Isn't it ironic," Lin was asked, "that the war in
Vietnam was in Asia and you are of Asian descent?" Lin in turn asked the
veterans if her race mattered. "It was then that I realized that people were
having problems with the fact that a 'gook' had designed the memorial."
Lin concludes her essay about the making of the wall with a meditation
on identity: For some people, she writes, "I am not allowed to be from
here; to some I am not really an American. And I think that feeling of
being other has profoundly shaped my way of looking at the world-as
if from a distance-a third-person observer" (5:06). It is perhaps the
outsider in the form of a woman who comes from elsewhere-artist and
translator between cultures-who is destined to be the ultimate custodian
of wounded but also reparative memory.
"So many people die in Vietnam and America," Kim Phuc exclaims
in the film, reading the names of the dead Americans engraved on the
wall, "Why they have to suffer like that?" she asks, tears in her voice.
Once the silent image begins to speak and offer personal testimony that
blurs the distinction between perpetrator and victim, American and
"gook," national political accountability becomes transmuted by Chris-
tian forgiveness, and horror becomes domesticated. We are invited
instead to consider not the political decisions that created the war, but the
words of a woman who has survived because God chose her to do his
work, the work of peace.
The wall designed by Maya Lin and the act of memorialization it
performs frame Kim's journey. The narrative in fact builds to a climax
once Kim arrives at the wall and delivers her address to the veterans; this
is the cathartic experience Lin says she imagines the veterans will have
at the wall (and that viewers are meant to have, too). Months from
becoming a Canadian citizen, Kim travels to the place where America
remembers its dead from the Vietnam War and expresses thankfulness to
God for her life. The memory inscribed on her back and alive in her head
is a trauma both private and public, national and international, lived in the
body and captured on film. The memory of the war is footage in her head
and ours, though ours is not attached to our bodies. We too can remember
through the photograph-but for how long? How does the photograph
perform its work of testimony compared to the wall, site of commemora-
tion and remembrance?
Maya Lin draws the contrast herself, somewhat differently, compar-
ing the name on the wall to a photograph, defending her design against the
accusation of "abstraction," and arguing that the name can represent a
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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/m1/20/: accessed March 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .