About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory, and the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial"

Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m glad you could be with us today, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through YouTube.

Before we get to today’s discussion, I’d like to let you know about two other programs coming up soon.

On Thursday, February 1, at 7 p.m., we will partner with the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress for a program called “Meet the Better Half: Congressional Partners, Spouses, and Families.”

And on Tuesday, February 6, at noon, Catherine Kerrison will be here to talk about her new book, Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America, which looks into the lives of Martha and Maria Jefferson and Harriet Hemings.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our Calendar of Events online at Archives.gov. You can also sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

Tonight’s program is part of a series of discussions, films, lectures, and other programs that tie into our current special exhibit, “Remembering Vietnam,” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery upstairs.


Now I ask all Vietnam veterans or any United States veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time during the period of November 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975, to stand and be recognized.

Veterans, as you exit the McGowan Theater after today’s program, National Archives staff and volunteers will present each of you with the Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin. On the back of the pin is embossed:   “A Grateful Nation Thanks and Honors You.”

The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration is a national initiative, and the lapel pin is the nation’s lasting memento of thanks.


The exhibit I just mentioned, “Remembering Vietnam,” is a fascinating collection of newly discovered and iconic original documents, images, film footage, and artifacts that illuminate 12 critical episodes in the war that divided the peoples of both the United States and Vietnam.

After the final episode is a section called “Legacy.” The first cases in this area display design sketches for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and personal items left at the Wall over the years. Today the memorial wall is a fixture on the National Mall, where even those who never knew any of the veterans honored there come to see the thousands of names and reflect on their sacrifice.

The long wait for a memorial to be built and the acrimonious debates over its design are chronicled in A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory, and the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial, by today’s speaker, James Reston.

In a New York Times review of A Rift in the Earth, Michael J. Lewis wrote that the memorial’s “design and construction sparked what may have been the first, and arguably the angriest, of America’s ‘art wars’ — even including today’s bitter disputes over Confederate war memorials. Curiously, it was also the only one to leave a more united country in its wake. Such are the lessons of ‘A Rift in the Earth,’ James Reston Jr.’s definitive history of the memorial.”

James Reston, Jr., was an assistant to Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall before serving in the U.S. Army from 1965 to 1968. He is the bestselling author of 18 books—including The Conviction of Richard Nixon: The Untold Story of the Frost/Nixon Interviews, which helped inspire the film Frost/Nixon — three plays, and numerous articles in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and the New York Times Magazine. He has been a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, a fellow at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome James Reston.