I didn’t want a monument,
not even one as sober as that
vast black wall of broken lives.
I didn’t want a postage stamp.
I didn’t want a road beside the Delaware
River with a sign proclaiming:
"Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway."
What I wanted was a simple recognition
of the limits of our power as a nation
to inflict our will on others.
What I wanted was an understanding
that the world is neither black-and-white
What I wanted
was an end to monuments.
- W. D. Ehrhart, 1984
I’ve been watching all this stuff about the JFK assassination, and it spurred me to pull out all the Vietnam War books, poems and newspaper/magazine clippings that I’ve collected over the years. I haven’t read most of this stuff in a long time (I was really obsessed in high school), but it feels like revisiting old friends, as strange as that sounds. This era of history has always resonated so deeply for me, for reasons I can’t entirely explain. Who knows, maybe I was a soldier in a past life.
Anyway, this poem has always haunted me.
Also! One of my all-time favorite books, The Things They Carried, is available as an audiobook read by Bryan Cranston, and I’m reallyyyyy excited about it. You can listen to the first chapter here.