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War remains and the politics of commemoration in the wake of the Asia-Pacific War
Beatrice Trefalt

In January 1955, an official mission departed Japan for New Guinea to collect remains of the war dead and to erect commemorative monuments to fallen soldiers. Just before its departure, a diplomatic contretemps arose about the English wording on the Japanese stones: the Japanese government considered them memorials to the dead, whereas the Australian government insisted that they be mere geographical markers noting the search for remains. This article examines how the divergent politics of commemoration in Japan and Australia created this dispute, demonstrating how the remains of soldiers functioned as important signifiers well beyond their material existence. In Japan, the search for remains spoke to the nature of national duty, the acknowledgement of mourning and the possibilities for atonement. In Australia, however, they stimulated visceral resentment, because the soldiers’ remains symbolised Japanese aggression and war crimes.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
In search of the Republic of Vietnam war dead
Alex-Thái Dinh Võ

Finding, identifying and interring the war dead are ethically and ceremonially crucial tasks for healing, repairing and legitimising. Before the end of the Vietnam War, the United States had begun to look for missing Americans in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In the wake of its victory and takeover of South Vietnam, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam went to great lengths to identify and immortalise its fallen soldiers. The same cannot be said for the war dead of the Republic of Vietnam, whose fall on 30 April 1975 made the war dead stateless; consequently they have never been legitimately acknowledged by the current Vietnamese government or their former ally, the United States. This article explores the accounting efforts by Nguyen Dạc Thành and the Vietnamese American Foundation to reveal the financial, logistical, technical and political opportunities and challenges in accounting for war dead associated with a state that no longer exists.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s policies for repatriating soldiers’ remains and accounting for the missing after the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War
Liu Zhaokun

After the Chinese Civil War (1946–49), hundreds of thousands of graves of the People’s Liberation Army soldiers dotted the country’s landscape; the ensuing Korean War caused more casualties. Honouring this immense sacrifice and mobilising the survivors for its reconstruction were indispensable for the nascent People’s Republic of China. This research probes China’s policies to repatriate soldiers’ remains and account for those missing after these wars. The dilapidating status of soldiers’ graves threatened the morale of soldiers’ families, the backbone of the country’s socialist revolution. The state acknowledged families’ wishes to retrieve soldiers’ remains and nationalised their repatriation to salvage popular support. However, the deceased were not to drain the labour and resources reserved for the revolution. This principle had effectively prevented most families from retrieving remains. Accounting for missing soldiers was to ensure that only the revolutionary martyrs’ families could receive due honour and privilege.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Fate, fortune and families of fallen soldiers in nationalist China
Linh D. Vũ

Although local authorities, communities and charities played a major role in dealing with conflict fatalities, the Republican era (1911–49) saw new government initiatives to attend to the afterlives of common soldiers. Leaders of the Nationalist Party (Guomindang) exemplified ambitions to govern the dead by implementing a policy of collecting and burying fallen soldiers. As the first public military cemetery, constructed in Nanjing in 1935, could not accommodate the millions of war dead in the decade of war that followed, the Nationalist state promulgated regulations to help bereaved families transport remains back to their home towns for burial. The Nationalist government began to plan more national military cemeteries after World War II, yet most commemorative projects in mainland China were interrupted by the Chinese Civil War. By constructing martyrs’ shrines and national cemeteries in Taiwan, the Nationalists are continuing their efforts to look after the military dead.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Actions for the missing: scientific and vernacular forms of war dead accounting
Tâm T. T. Ngô
Sarah Wagner

This special issue examines Asian experiences of war and mass death in the previous century, with case studies from China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam (North and South, among its diaspora and across multiple generations). In this introduction we highlight several of the wider analytical interventions offered by the articles: (1) the spatiopolitical dynamics of war dead accounting in which forms of vernacular forensic expertise interact with and inform internationally honed, empirically grounded practices of exhumation and identification; (2) the complex hierarchy of authority over remains that structures programmes of war dead accounting; (3) the variegated (as opposed to monolithic) nature of war dead themselves; and (4) the material ecosystems of remains, graves, cemeteries and the non-human forces of decay acting upon them. Finally, the introduction highlights the issue’s comparative potential: that is, what these different cultural, religious and ideological modes of meaning-making reveal about why and how human remains matter in the aftermath of war – and not just according to Western notions of national memory politics in which the soldier stands in for the state and collective mourning animates the national imaginary.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
The identification of an American First World War MIA
Jay E. Silverstein

In 2004, the remains of two First World War US soldiers from France were delivered to the US Government for identification and burial. One set of remains was identified and buried, and the other went into a cold-case status. In 2019, the second individual was identified using multiple lines of evidence. The possible individuals that could be associated with the remains were reduced based on material evidence recovered with the remains and the spatiotemporal historical context of the remains. The First World War personnel records then offered sufficient biometric criteria to narrow the possible individuals associated with the second recovered individual to one person, Pfc. Charles McAllister. A family reference DNA sample from a direct matrilineal descendant of the individual added statistical weight to the identification, although the mtDNA was not a decisive or necessary factor in the identification. Due to bureaucratic reasons, the legal identification of Pfc. Charles McAllister is still pending.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Funeral workers’ experience with ‘contagious corpses’
Silvia Romio

The extremely high death rates in northern Italy during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic called for exceptional rules and suspension of funeral practices and burial rites. Additionally, forms of collective burial, typical of a wartime scenario, and mechanical methods and timing were reintroduced into the handling of corpses. Although several academic studies have highlighted how the absence of funeral ceremonies and ‘dignified burials’ has caused prolonged and deep suffering for the mourners and for many of the caregivers and health workers, few have so far focused on funeral workers. This article focuses on the intimate, emotional and ethical experiences of a group of funeral workers in northern Italy who handled COVID corpses and had to take the place of the mourners at the time of burial. Through an anthropological analysis of their oral memories, this work attempts to analyse their expressions of discomfort, frustration, fear and suffering.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Caroline Fournet
Élisabeth Anstett
, and
Jean-Marc Dreyfus
Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Écorchés, moulages and anatomical preparations – the cadaver in the teaching of artistic anatomy at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera
Greta Plaitano

Since the sixteenth century, artistic anatomy – a branch of medical science subordinated to the Fine Arts – has understood itself as a comparative investigation halfway between forensic dissection and the analysis of classical art and live bodies. Its teaching was first instituted in Italy by the 1802 curriculum of the national Fine Arts academies, but underwent a drastic transformation at the turn of the century, as the rise of photography brought about both a new aesthetics of vision and an increase in the precision of iconographic documentation. In this article I will attempt to provide a history of the teaching of this discipline at the close of the nineteenth century within the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, with a focus on its ties to contemporary French practices. Drawing on archival materials including lesson plans, letters and notes from the classes of the three medical doctors who subsequently held the chair (Gaetano Strambio, Alessandro Lanzillotti-Buonsanti and Carlo Biaggi), I will argue that the deep connections between their teaching of the discipline and their work at the city hospital reveal a hybrid approach, with the modern drive towards live-body study unable to wholly supplant the central role still granted to corpses in the grammar of the visual arts.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal