Search results

Sarah Wagner

A half-century since its conclusion, the Vietnam War’s ‘work of remembrance’ in the United States continues to generate, even innovate, forms of homecoming and claims of belonging among the state, its military and veterans, surviving families and the wider public. Such commemoration often centres on objects that materialise, physically or symbolically, absence and longed-for recovery or reunion – from wartime artefacts-turned-mementos to the identified remains of missing war dead. In exploring the war’s proliferating memory work, this article examines the small-scale but persistent practice of leaving or scattering cremains at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC, against the backdrop of the US military’s efforts to account for service members missing in action (MIA). Seen together, the illicit and sanctioned efforts to return remains (or artefacts closely associated with them) to places of social recognition and fellowship shed light on the powerful role the dead have in mediating war’s meaning and the debts it incurs.

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