After the Massacre

After the Massacre: Commemoration and Consolation in Ha My and My Lai

Heonik Kwon
With a Foreword by Drew Faust
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 231
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnztv
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  • Book Info
    After the Massacre
    Book Description:

    Though a generation has passed since the massacre of civilians at My Lai, the legacy of this tragedy continues to reverberate throughout Vietnam and the rest of the world. This engrossing study considers how Vietnamese villagers in My Lai and Ha My-a village where South Korean troops committed an equally appalling, though less well-known, massacre of unarmed civilians-assimilate the catastrophe of these mass deaths into their everyday ritual life. Based on a detailed study of local history and moral practices,After the Massacrefocuses 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93965-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Drew Faust

    To whom do the dead belong? And how must they be claimed? War produces unnatural death, deaths that occur out of place—away from home and kin—and deaths that occur out of time, to the young and strong. Modern war kills more noncombatants than soldiers; death strikes outside the rules meant to contain and rationalize the violence of war. The nations that are war’s agents claim the dead for political purposes and ideologies, wrenching them away from family and leaving deep wounds, turning them into instruments rather than agents of history. Religious tradition is subordinated or expropriated by state...

  5. Map of Central Vietnam
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On the twenty-fourth day of the first lunar month of 1968, the Year of the Monkey, Ha My suffered the shattering tragedy of surrendering an entire village population to a crime of war. On this fateful day, three platoons of foreign soldiers closed in on the small coastal settlement south of Da Nang from three directions and assembled the villagers at three different locations. The killing began with a hand gesture from the officer, which triggered the automatic rifles and grenade launchers. One hundred and thirty-five elders, women, and children from the village’s thirty households were massacred within two hours....

  7. CHAPTER 1 The Bipolarity of Death
    (pp. 11-27)

    Dead people, in popular Vietnamese culture, can be powerfully sentient and salient beings who entertain emotions, intentions, and historical awareness. The ethnological literature about their mortuary customs and religious imaginations confirms this. Remembering ancestors means, in Vietnam, according to Le Van Dinh, relating to them “as if they were alive.”¹ A French Jesuit missionary to Vietnam and author of classical studies on Vietnamese popular religions, Léopold Cadière, wrote that the Vietnamese perception of the world incorporates the awareness that the life of the dead is intertwined with that of the living, and that the Vietnamese idealize a harmonious relationship between...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Massacres in the Year of the Monkey, 1968
    (pp. 28-59)

    “Pump out the water and catch the fish” was one of the informal instructions to some foreign combat troops deployed to Vietnam. The instruction was a clever, cynical distortion of a slogan used for the Vietnamese resistance wars: “People are the water, and our army the fish.”¹

    Truong Chinh, one of the founders of the Indochinese Communist Party and the party’s radical theoretician, employed the fishpond metaphor to explain the meaning of the “people’s war” to the masses in a language that was graphically familiar to them.² The paradigm of the people’s war was a marriage between two conventional doctrines...

  9. CHAPTER 3 A Generation Afterward
    (pp. 60-84)

    In Vietnam, household death-commemoration rites are a rich store of historical evidence. Numerous incidents from past wars are faithfully recorded in these rites, even though the archives and monuments may carry no trace of these incidents. On several occasions, including in the late 1980s and again in the late 1990s, village administrations in the provinces of Quang Nam and Quang Ngai collaborated with researchers from the provincial Communist Party on a survey of wartime casualties. They uncovered many previously unknown incidents, but these surveys left out as many cases as they revealed. People tended to report only the incidents of...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Ancestors in the Street
    (pp. 85-102)

    My Lai villagers vividly recalled the periodic lamentations of the village ghosts that they said echoed from the killing sites. A number of residents in Khe Thuan subhamlet claimed that they had seen old women ghosts licking and sucking the arms and legs of small child ghosts, and they interpreted the scene as an effort by the elderly victims to ease the pain of the wounded children. Some in Khe Dong subhamlet also graphically described several young women ghosts, each walking with a small child held in her arms and lamenting over the child’s lifeless body. The mother ghosts were...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Heroes and Ancestors
    (pp. 103-119)

    Ancestors and ghosts are not the only categories of death found in Vietnamese domestic ritual space. In traditional times, these two categories might have been sufficient for conceptually organizing the cosmological mirror of the living world. The rise of the modern nation-state, however, has added a novel category of death to the traditional cosmology of death. Calledliet siin Vietnamese, it refers to the heroic death of fallen soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the sacred purpose of protecting the nation. Historians suggest that the institutionalized commemoration of this category constitutes the core of “modern national memory.”¹ In western...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Grievous Death
    (pp. 120-136)

    “The bodies are all naked and they are all wounded,” a woman in My Lai said of the mass grave near her house. She meant to draw attention to the fact that the victims of the massacre had been buried without coffins or funeral clothing, and that the broken pieces of individual bodies had not been put together before burial. Other relatives of victims in My Lai also spoke of the village’s mass graves in graphic terms and with forceful indignation. A survivor of the Le family told me that thinking of his relatives enduring the terrible conditions in the...

  13. CHAPTER 7 The Stone of Fury
    (pp. 137-153)

    The moral identity of mass village war death was ambivalent. It shifted between tragic and heroic, as illustrated by the Ha Gia mass reburial described in the previous chapter. Finding a place for the identity of an individual victim was also uncertain: some believed it should be in the ancestral memorial, whereas some chose its structural opposite. In preparing for a domestic ritual, people imagined that ancestors who experienced tragic death were hesitating between the ancestral shrine and the shrine for ghosts. The memory of mass civilian deaths created relationships with the domain of political hero worship as well as...

  14. CHAPTER 8 The Decomposition of the Cold War
    (pp. 154-175)

    Heroes, ancestors, and ghosts coexist in the village environment. While revolutionary 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 their relative values varies at different sites of memory. Their status changes between the state war memorial and the community temple, and the war heroes who occupy the symbolic center in the former are relegated to the margins, outside the village ancestors, in the latter. The position of ghosts also shifts in this movement of memories. The memory of tragic death is...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 176-184)

    If we consider the history of the Cold War “from above” and reduce it to the doctrine of deterrence, of imagining war in order to prevent war—which has been a dominant paradigm in international history—it appears that political history and the morality of death have no meaningful relationship. If we consider it “from below” instead and include in it the experience of violent political confrontations within local and national communities, which is what the Cold War actually meant in much of the world in the past century, the political bifurcation of the human community and a moral polarization...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 185-212)
  17. Index
    (pp. 213-217)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 218-218)