The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is coming to Superior July 20-23rd. The 250 foot, half scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has more than 58,000 names of those American service members who were killed in Vietnam. The display includes a portable education center with information about the war. The display will be at Barker’s Island in Superior. The event is free to the public, open 24 hours a day, and closes Sunday, July 23rd at 3:00pm. 

It is being billed as “The Wall That Heals.”  The wall in Washington, D.C. is one of the most visited monuments in the capitol. For many visitors the physical act of touching the name of a loved one, relative, or a buddy served with, helps heal the sorrow, guilt, PTSD, and memories of the war. 

But is the wall about “healing?” Or is it another effort to justify the war? Our government is engaged in a campaign to refurbish the image of the Vietnam War. They would like to expunge the real history of the war. The Department of Defense is spending $65 million to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war and to “honor” the troops. As President Obama stated, 

“We pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women… fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans. Through more than a decade of combat, over air, land, and sea, these proud Americans upheld the highest traditions of our Armed Forces.”

It seems strange to commemorate a war that we lost. The My Lai Massacre, the burning of villages, Agent Orange, the invasions of Cambodia and Laos, or the legacy of unexploded ordinance (which is still killing people) hardly reflect “fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans.”  

The Vietnam War was not a noble cause in the defense of freedom. An honest remembrance of what actually happened in Vietnam would acknowledge that millions of Vietnamese civilians were killed, maimed, poisoned, and traumatized for no good reason. Opposition to communism was not a good reason as is shown by the fact that we now import t-shirts and shoes from communist Vietnam. We could have had normal relations with Vietnam but we chose to back the French in re-establishing their colony in Indochina. Our leaders made terrible mistakes about that local civil war. They lied to the American public. They covered up atrocities. Our soldiers were thrown into a “war of choice” that did not need to be fought. 

Many of my fellow veterans may disagree with these statements.  Accepting the truth about Vietnam is too bitter a pill to swallow. They need to believe that their sacrifice was for a good cause. I do not denigrate the sacrifice of combat veterans or the service of all veterans. But it is more accurate to say our troops HAVE BEEN sacrificed BY their country, rather than sacrificed FOR their country. 

We need to understand that our troops and their families are victims of war in the same way as are the “enemy” soldiers and the many civilian casualties we call “collateral damage.” They were victims of the mistakes, misjudgments, and ideological blindness of our political leaders. They were sacrificed for the failures of those leaders to find solutions to conflicts without going to war. 

Thanking veterans for their service is not enough. Building memorials is not enough. We should apologize for sending them into unnecessary quagmires like Vietnam. The “Wall” should motivate us to say, as Joel Mabus says in his song “Touch a Name on the Wall,  “never again.” 

Every time I come here I wear my fatigues, to honor
the men that I knew.
I touch every name that came from my outfit, and I
read them out loud when I do.
Now some people say that they all died for nothing,
but I don’t completely agree -
‘Cause this brother here didn’t die for no country - He
died for me.


Now, usually walls are made for division
- to separate me from you.
But God bless the wall that brings us together,
and reminds us of what we’ve been through.
And God damn the liars and the tin-plated heroes who
trade on the blood of such men.
God give us the strength to stand up and tell them -
Never again!

I would suggest healing can begin when we honestly face “what we have been through” and turn that into positive action. If we want healing, the memory of the 58,307 names on the wall will motivate us to work for peace. It should motivate us to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to speak out against new wars in Syria and Korea. It should motivate us to help all the victims of war on both sides. 

We can heal by supporting organizations trying to stop our government from using violence as a tool of foreign policy. Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, U.S. Labor Against War, United for Peace and Justice, and World Beyond War are just a few of many good organizations. 

We can heal by supporting efforts to help the victims of war. Organized in Duluth, Minnesota Veterans for Progress is working to help Vietnamese children attend school, villages to get clean water, and women to get employment training. From Mosinee Wisconsin, We Help War Victims works each year in Laos removing unexploded ordinance which is still creating victims from the Vietnam War. Again, there are many other good organizations that need donations and volunteers. If the above doesn’t fit you, consider the Disabled American Veterans, or the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans which operates transitional housing for homeless veterans in Duluth. 

Healing begins when we mourn the fallen, help heal the wounded, and work for peace in the future. Touch a name on the wall and pledge to do more for a peaceful world.