Philip Kennicott is senior art and architecture critic of The Washington Post. Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial has been so successful that one almost forgets the ugly storms of racism and misogyny with which opponents of the design fought the young architect more than 35 years ago. The contest over the memorial, which ultimately triumphed with the public, has become a convenient metaphor for healing whenever Vietnam is discussed. And Lin’s success has reinforced a popular but shopworn narrative about the lonely artist with a vision fighting and prevailing over philistinism. But it’s also a trope, a reflexive rhetorical off-ramp whenever the conversation about Vietnam, and the still-treacherous cultural fault lines exposed by our wars in Southeast Asia, becomes too uncomfortable. At the end of Ken Burns’s Vietnam War television documentary, the director made the obligatory reference to Lin’s masterpiece. Of course he did. The memorial is now connected to the war rather like “bless you” is connected to sneezing. [Ceremony marks the 35th anniversary of the Vietnam Wall] James Reston Jr.’s “A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory, and the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial” recounts the bitter debate over Lin’s design and the contest between Lin and Frederick Hart, who was commissioned to make the memorial more appealing to traditionalists with the addition of a bronze statue known as “Three Soldiers.” Lin’s 1981 plan for a reticent form, in which the names of the fallen were inscribed on reflective stone panels set into a V-shaped wall, was misunderstood and mischaracterized by some veterans who felt their sacrifice should be honored with a more conventional memorial. Opportunistic political figures exploited the veterans’ grievance, vilified Lin in vile, racist terms, and called for scrapping her design, which had won first place in an open, anonymous and professionally administered public contest. In the end, supporters of Hart and traditionalism prevailed over good taste, and Hart’s statue has permanently disfigured the memorial since it was installed in 1984. This transpired during the early years of the Reagan administration, which was morning in America for