I. Great Wall of China
“WE FOUGHT SOUTH OF THE WALLS…”
Last year we made war for the Mulberry Brook’s springs,
This year we make war for the Garlic Stream’s bed,
We have washed our swords in Antioch’s waves,
We have grazed our mounts on the Pamirs’ snows,
For thousands of miles our expeditions go
Till the Three Armies’ men are worn and old,
But the Huns look on killing like tilling their fields,
White bones all they grow on their yellow sands!
House of Ch’in built the wall to keep them apart,
House of Han has to keep the beacons alight,
Beacons alight and they never go out
For these expeditions have never an end:
In the line, hand to hand, they´ll die the same,
The horses will fall, call to Heaven their pain,
The crows and the kites pick their riders’ guts
And fly to dead trees with the bits in their beaks…
Where Captains and Men paint the grasses red
Our General’s without a plan in his head:
You surely know war’s an ill-omened tool
That never was used except by a fool?
Li Bai (8th century A.D)
Translated by Arthur Cooper, Li Po and Tu Fu (Middlesex: Penguin Classics, 1973)
II. Berlin Wall
Inside myself I felt nothing but disgust and terror, which was exactly what I was supposed to feel: the Wall was perfect theatre as well as a perfect symbol of the monstrosity of ideology gone mad….
And the Wall stayed up. It was strengthened and heightened. It was protected my mine strips and earth brushed so fine you could trace a rabbit’s paw across it. Occasionally someone climbed over it or crashed through it or dug under it, or made himself a glider and flew through it. There is a whole long history of tales of derring-do and all those men and women who succeeded in escaping were heroes, perhaps because they were so few, certainly because they were so brave.
John Le Carré, Introduction to The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
III. The Wailing Wall
What transpired when the “final solution” was adopted … was a turning point in history. Even here I would suggest a logical progression, one that came to fruition in what might be called closure, because from the earliest days, from the fourth century, the sixth century, the missionaries of Christianity had said in effect to the Jews: “You may not live among us as Jews.” The secular rulers who followed them from the late Middle Ages then decided: “You may not live among us,” and the Nazis finally decreed: “You may not live.” Conversion was followed by expulsion, and the third was the territorial solution, which was of course the solution carried out in the territories under German command, excluding emigration: death.
Raul Hilberg, quoted in Claude Lanzmann, Shoah: An Oral History of the Holocaust (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.)
IV. The Vietnam Memorial
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 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.
Images and Offerings from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (New York: Collins Publishers, 1987).