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What Remains

What Remains

Bringing America’s Missing Home from the Vietnam War

Sarah E. Wagner

ISBN 9780674988347

Publication date: 11/05/2019

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Winner of the 2020 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing

Nearly 1,600 Americans are still unaccounted for and presumed dead from the Vietnam War. These are the stories of those who mourn and continue to search for them.

For many families the Vietnam War remains unsettled. Nearly 1,600 Americans—and more than 300,000 Vietnamese—involved in the conflict are still unaccounted for. In What Remains, Sarah E. Wagner tells the stories of America’s missing service members and the families and communities that continue to search for them. From the scientists who work to identify the dead using bits of bone unearthed in Vietnamese jungles to the relatives who press government officials to find the remains of their loved ones, Wagner introduces us to the men and women who seek to bring the missing back home. Through their experiences she examines the ongoing toll of America’s most fraught war.

Every generation has known the uncertainties of war. Collective memorials, such as the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, testify to the many service members who never return, their fates still unresolved. But advances in forensic science have provided new and powerful tools to identify the remains of the missing, often from the merest trace—a tooth or other fragment. These new techniques have enabled military experts to recover, repatriate, identify, and return the remains of lost service members. So promising are these scientific developments that they have raised the expectations of military families hoping to locate their missing. As Wagner shows, the possibility of such homecomings compels Americans to wrestle anew with their memories, as with the weight of their loved ones’ sacrifices, and to reevaluate what it means to wage war and die on behalf of the nation.

Praise

  • Unlike many other previous books on MIA accounting that have focused on the political history of the issue during the Reagan era or that have chronicled a single individual’s efforts to recover a family member in Vietnam, Wagner seeks to understand the social context and meaning of MIA forensic accounting…Thoughtful and objective.

    —Montgomery McFate, Science

Awards

  • 2020, Winner of the Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing

Author

  • Sarah E. Wagner is Associate Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University. She has written widely on war and its devastations, focusing in particular on forensic efforts to recover and identify the victims of violence in both the United States and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is the author of two previous books, To Know Where He Lies and, with Lara J. Nettelfield, Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide. She has received a number of awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Book Details

  • 304 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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