After the Massacre
Commemoration and Consolation in Ha My and My Lai
Publication Year: 2006
Based on a detailed study of local history and moral practices, After the Massacre focuses on the particular context of domestic life in which the Vietnamese villagers interact with their ancestors on one hand and the ghosts of tragic death on the other. Heonik Kwon explains what intimate ritual actions can tell us about the history of mass violence and the global bipolar politics that caused it. He highlights the aesthetics of Vietnamese commemorative rituals and the morality of their practical actions to liberate the spirits from their grievous history of death. The author brings these important practices into a critical dialogue with dominant sociological theories of death and symbolic transformation.
Published by: University of California Press
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Title Page, Series Page, Copyright
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Preface and Acknowledgments
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This book grew out of my general interest in the social and intellectualhistories of the Vietnam War, which I have been slowly exploring since1993, when I completed my doctoral work on an indigenous huntingsociety in eastern Siberia and began teaching. Initially, I was primarilyinterested in how the experience of a large-scale human conflict can...
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To whom do the dead belong? And how must they be claimed? War pro-duces unnatural death, deaths that occur out of place—away from homeand kin—and deaths that occur out of time, to the young and strong.Modern war kills more noncombatants than soldiers; death strikes out-side the rules meant to contain and rationalize the violence of war. The...
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On the twenty-fourth day of the first lunar month of 1968, the Year ofthe Monkey, Ha My suffered the shattering tragedy of surrendering anentire village population to a crime of war. On this fateful day, three pla-toons of foreign soldiers closed in on the small coastal settlement southof Da Nang from three directions and assembled the villagers at three dif-...
1. The Bipolarity of Death
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Dead people, in popular Vietnamese culture, can be powerfully sentientand salient beings who entertain emotions, intentions, and historicalawareness. The ethnological literature about their mortuary customs andreligious imaginations confirms this. Remembering ancestors means, inVietnam, according to Le Van Dinh, relating to them “as if they were...
2. Massacres in the Year of the Monkey, 1968
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...“Pump out the water and catch the fish” was one of the informal instruc-tions to some foreign combat troops deployed to Vietnam. The instruc-tion was a clever, cynical distortion of a slogan used for the Vietnameseresistance wars: “People are the water, and our army the fish.”1Party and the party’s radical theoretician, employed the fishpond...
3. A Generation Afterward
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In Vietnam, household death-commemoration rites are a rich store ofhistorical evidence. Numerous incidents from past wars are faithfullyrecorded in these rites, even though the archives and monuments maycarry no trace of these incidents. On several occasions, including in thelate 1980s and again in the late 1990s, village administrations in the...
4. Ancestors in the Street
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My Lai villagers vividly recalled the periodic lamentations of the villageghosts that they said echoed from the killing sites. A number of residentsin Khe Thuan subhamlet claimed that they had seen old women ghostslicking and sucking the arms and legs of small child ghosts, and theyinterpreted the scene as an effort by the elderly victims to ease the pain of...
5. Heroes and Ancestors
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Ancestors and ghosts are not the only categories of death found in Viet-namese domestic ritual space. In traditional times, these two categoriesmight have been sufficient for conceptually organizing the cosmologicalmirror of the living world. The rise of the modern nation-state, however,has added a novel category of death to the traditional cosmology of...
6. Grievous Death
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...“The bodies are all naked and they are all wounded,” a woman in MyLai said of the mass grave near her house. She meant to draw attention tothe fact that the victims of the massacre had been buried without coffinsor funeral clothing, and that the broken pieces of individual bodies hadnot been put together before burial. Other relatives of victims in My Lai...
7. The Stone of Fury
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The moral identity of mass village war death was ambivalent. It shiftedbetween tragic and heroic, as illustrated by the Ha Gia mass reburial de-scribed in the previous chapter. Finding a place for the identity of an indi-vidual victim was also uncertain: some believed it should be in the ances-tral memorial, whereas some chose its structural opposite. In preparing...
8. The Decomposition of the Cold War
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Heroes, ancestors, and ghosts coexist in the village environment. Whilerevolutionary politics and traditional religious heritage separate them,the three social classes in afterlife associate in popular ritual practices.Although they constitute a hierarchy, the hierarchy that structures theirrelative values varies at different sites of memory. Their status changes...
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If we consider the history of the Cold War “from above” and reduce it tothe doctrine of deterrence, of imagining war in order to prevent war—which has been a dominant paradigm in international history—it ap-pears that political history and the morality of death have no meaningfulrelationship. If we consider it “from below” instead and include in it the...
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Page Count: 231
Publication Year: 2006
Series Title: Asia: Local Studies / Global Themes