It was the autumn of our messed-upndiscontent, those days in Novembern1982, blurred as always by the arch-nAmerican ability to be right and wrongnin the same breath, to embrace fervendynboth sides of the coin. The Vietnam Veterans’nMemorial went up and was dedicated,nreleasing feelings of unexpectednhues, convolutedness, magnitude, andnenigma. Those who liked the materializationnof anti-Vietnam War sentimentngreeted it with mantras of articulatelynrabid appreciation. Those who knewnhow it really was there, those who hadntheir own ideas about what now shouldnbe said in marble about them, strugglednto articulate their rage. They felt theynhad been shortchanged—once again—nyet they could not find strikingly precisenwords to repel the antiwar sham and cantnthat have been so powerfully entrenchednfor almost two decades in mental andncultural pressures. And actually, theynwere once again hoodwinked by thensame peculiarly American mix of idealismnand self-righteous ignorance. Vapidnjudgments stemming from the flat, evening-newsnversion of the world againnjoined forces with the secular piety ofnthose who have turned man’s conscienceninto a political gadget to forge a new faithn—one that announces America’s defeatnas humanity’s salvation.nYet, the opening had come and subsequentndays brought strange things andnmoods, the TV screens all over Americanwere suddenly filled with crying people.nThe intensity of the emotional outburstnseems to have astonished both sides.nPeople came from all across the countrynand stared at the bleak polished marblenas if seeing in their own reflectionnsomething they had never known aboutnthemselves before—they wept inconsolably,nmaking tears run down the face ofnthe nation. Before that black wall—nwhose very erection may be perceived asnan insult to transcendental fairness,nwhich robs the listed dead of their dignitynin order to rub their no-longerexistingnnoses in the futility of their sacrifice—peoplenforgot outrage and redressednthe wrong through purifyingn50inChronicles of Culturengrief. For the first time in their lives, thenslick TV network smarties showed a modicumnof tactfulness: they generally refrainednfrom comment. Besides, whatnwas there to say? The veterans seeminglynmourned their comrades who hit the dirtnwith them but never got up. However,nunderneath the sobbing of big, ruggednmen in their prime, in the capital of ancountry at peace, there was somethingnmore, hidden and weighty, too risky forncomment. Mothers’, fathers’, and relatives’nsorrow—that could be grasped; itnIM-Av^n^OUXUnV/fH^’vA.N^nwas the inexpressible and oppressive lamentnof pals which stunned the land andnproduced the giant lump in the collectiventhroat and moistened so many eyes.nCan this belated outpouring of griefnbe credited to the correct touch of thenconceptualists of the Memorial? I tend tonbelieve it can, though for rather perversenreasons. The idea of the monument is annartistic formulation of somber and tragicnwaste, thus a reverent but unmistakablenvision of the war’s opponents. But somethingnunintended happened: the Memorialncame to parallel Archie Bunker’snimage in the popular consciousness. Thencharacter of Bunker was conceived as ancaricature to discredit the perennialnAmerican redneck, to prove his ignoblencomicality, and to suffuse Americannsociety with revulsion padded with hilarity.nHe eluded the designs of his creators,nhowever, and entered the folklore pantheonnas the low-level symbol of an ordinarynAmerican’s inchoate but correctnfears, frustrations, and alienations. Asnsuch, he turned into an unintentional affirmationnof the very attitudes his con­nnnceptualists were battling.nThe same fate seems to have alreadynbefallen the Vietnam monument. Itsndesign originated in the persuasion thatnthe Vietnam War was so wrong that thenbest metaphor for it would be a representationnof the nullity of the highest offeringnthat results from patriotic feelings, ansense of anticommunist mission, a necessitynto stand up to totalitarian evil. Thenidea that one should serve with honornwhen called upon had to be dismissed,nbut not crudely: the more dignified andnevenhanded is the projection of allegednmilitary defeat, the more successful willnbe the erosion of the will to defendnWestern ideals against Eastern tyranny.nThis is why the antiwar publicists aroundnthe country prefer to see the tears flowingndown the cheeks of former soldiers asntheir ultimate recognition of the barrennessnof their bloody tribute.nI read it differently. To my mind,nthose tears have fertilized a new sense ofnpatriotic commitment; they were the liquidnof a final ablution, cleansing thenveterans from the base, undeservednhumiliations of the postwar years. Thosentears signify the veterans’ liberation fromnthe demons of obloquy and self-doubt—nwhich were skillfully injected into Americannhearts and minds by all the forces ofnthe American left—from all the years ofnmulling over the hoUowness of sufferingnin the name of inherited duty. Thosentears may prove to be the forerunners ofnnew moods, or of fresh thinking aboutnhow seriously an American should takenhis obligations toward America. FranknBarnett, no mean connoisseur of thensoldier’s soul, maintains that an Americannmay fight for an idea, for his feelingsnabout home, for the image of manhoodn—but, first and foremost, he fights fornhis buddy, the one next to him, the onenwho embarked on this whole dirty, smellynadventure with him. If that is true, thenVietnam Veterans Memorial—inadvertently—didnmore to animate the fightingnspirit in America than an entirengeneration of the most convincing anti-nSoviet politicians and orators could havendone. Thus, although the lustrous mar-n