One of my friends just posted a birthday note about Maya Lin, an architect who as a student designed the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, DC.
It's hard for someone outside the design field to appreciate just how amazing her achievement with the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial was. Winning the competition was the easy part - it was by far the best submission. What was harder was what she had to endure to see it built - criticism of everything from the design itself (which architecture students endure every day) to her patriotism and her ethnicity.
The Vietnam Veterans' Memorial has become the standard against which all modern memorials will be judged. I've visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania last year; it's not complete yet, but enough of it is complete that the scheme is apparent, as is its connection to the VVM. The use of earthwork and landscape, combined with hardscape and little to no formal statuary, strong geometry inspired by the event, a feeling of solitude.
In comparison, the WWII Memorial, though it's thirty years newer, feels dated (though it does have some very strong elements in it). But then, maybe it's appropriate that the WWII Memorial would choose to tell a more straightforward story in a traditional way. WWII was, in most ways, the last straightforward war we ever fought. Since then, we've had "conflicts" and "police actions" and a "war on terror" - whatever the hell that is.
To be clear - this says NOTHING about the men and women who fought these battles on our behalf, whether we (or even THEY!) agreed with them or not. To the warrior, it doesn't matter what the fight is called. It's war.
Our warriors deserve their memorials, but they also deserve memorials that inspire and question as well as memorialize.
Ms. Lin has raised the bar for us all.