The popular film, Saving Private Ryan, is critically discussed by Barbara Biesecker in her essay, Remembering World War II: The Rhetoric and Politics of National Commemoration at the Turn of the 21st Century. She begins by analyzing the opening scene of the movie, which graphically depicts the attack on Omaha Beach by the American troops. Biesecker writes, “As the Higgins landing craft, crowded with U.S. soldiers, approaches Omaha Beach, the ocean breaking over its sides, orders are issued and raw fear takes its most humble, human form…Within thirty seconds the ramp is released. Most of the GIs are cut down by merciless, rapid German gunfire before they even step of the craft. Those who manage to clamber over the sides of the vessel are plunged into a sea of streaming bullets. Some drown from the weight of their gear; others are struck down by what appears to be wandering gunshot. Blood billows. As scores of boys and men scramble to get out of the bloody surf, onto the beach and over to the seawall, bodies are blown in half, legs and arms are torn off, faces ripped away.” This description details the environment that the U.S. Army encountered as it approached Omaha Beach; from an American perspective.
Regarding this description, Biesecker argues that, “Saving Private Ryan functions rhetorically less as a medium for the demystification of the so-called Good War than as a vehicle for the production of a new national sensibility that is predicated on retooling the category of citizenship.” Through this analysis, she wishes us to consider how the concepts of WWII war, American history, and war in general are depicted to the public and how those descriptions might change over time based on contemporary culture.
The above photo shows a small section of the Vietnam War Memorial at Highland Park in Rochester, NY. The stainless steel bollards are dedicated to the 280 Rochester men who died in the Vietnam War. When walking around this memorial site, there is a lot of information and are a lot of sights to take in. It is all presented in a way that suggests that it is not just the individuals that have been memorialized, but the war in its entirety. In addition to the 280 stainless steel bollards, there is a running timeline along the walkway that details events during the period leading up to and after the Vietnam War, there are numerous flags; including the American flag and POW/MIA flag, there is a granite sculpture of a soldier walking into a wall, and there is an area set up to provide information about the war.
This memorial emphasizes the importance of this war and places a community value on its remembrance. For example, the materials used to construct the memorial imply that the Vietnam war and its impact on history are to be remembered. The societal impact of the Vietnam War was much different than all of the past wars of the time, mainly due to the presence of the media. I feel this is why there is much value placed on the remembrance of a this war that was seen as more violent than many past wars and deemed unnecessary by much of the public. Because the Vietnam War had such an impact on the public during that time, this is likely why this memorial has a high value to that generation and the following generation.
All of the elements included in this memorial are from an American perspective. The names of local soldiers that had fought in the war, the movement of troops across Vietnam, the American casualties compared with casualties from other wars, what events had been going on in the United States of America before, during, and after the war, and words and symbols that represent American values. However, taking a perspective similar to Biesecker’s, there are some elements missing that would make Biesecker suspicious of the intent of the memorial. There is no Vietnamese perspective, the number of draft dodgers is untouched, and the controversy surrounding the war is not present. Younger generations may not place as high of a value on this memorial because they will see it as history and can’t truly connect with it. Though this discontinuity is filled by U.S. history classes, through the older generations, and by the timeline and the information panels in the park.