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.
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.
What Remains is a book to have on your shelf and one to return to time and again. The stories Wagner tells should make all of us think about how we choose to remember and honor those who die in wars on foreign soil.
Situated at the intersection of forensic science, dogged determination, grief, remembrance, and, of course, politics, What Remains is a profound and moving book.
Powerful, poetic, and haunting, this brilliant book tells the story of the extraordinary search for traces of American soldiers missing in action in the Vietnam War. Moving from families living for decades with uncertainty about the fate of their loved ones to scientists using every tool in their kit bag to find the truth about what happened to these men, Wagner offers us a profound meditation on the aftermath of war.
Wagner brilliantly weaves together the fascinating story of DNA recovery and identification with that of the haunting of American politics through the legacy of the Vietnam War. Totally absorbing, excellently researched and told: a must-read!
An expert account of a little-known but massive forensic program.
A thoughtful study of the ways in which forensic science has changed public and private rituals for commemorating America’s fallen soldiers…Written with poignancy and academic rigor.
Fascinating and revealing…This unique and valuable book mixes a solid explanation of the science involved in identifying American military MIAs who went missing many decades ago in Southeast Asia with a history of the Pentagon’s many-faceted and sometimes controversial post-Vietnam-War MIA work.
Excellent…An important and well-researched book on the history of America’s evolving care (recovery, identification and burial) of its ‘honored dead.’
Well crafted, extensively researched, and thought provoking…I highly recommend this poignant book to anyone interested in learning about the challenges and politics of accounting for the dead and missing in the aftermath of war and how we honor and remember our dead. American policy makers and senior- to mid-grade military officers would benefit from reading this book to remind them that the costs of going to war continue well after the battlefields are silent.
Impressive research…Wagner skillfully evokes the anguish…inflicted on families yearning for the closure offered by tangible remains they could bury at home and publicly mourn and memorialize. Her interviews put a human face on what can seem to be little more than a resentment-fueled refighting of decades-old battles…Wagner makes a persuasive case for the key role of forensic science in resolving certain ambiguities and animosities of the Vietnam War.
- 2020, Winner of the Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing
- 304 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.