The Remains of War

Bodies, Politics, and the Search for American Soldiers Unaccounted For in Southeast Asia

The Remains of War

Politics, History, and Culture

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Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 1 figure Published: July 2005

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Politics > Political Theory

The ongoing effort of the United States to account for its missing Vietnam War soldiers is unique. The United States requires the repatriation and positive identification of soldiers’ bodies to remove their names from the list of the missing. This quest for certainty in the form of the material, identified body marks a dramatic change from previous wars, in which circumstantial evidence often sufficed to account for missing casualties. In The Remains of War, Thomas M. Hawley considers why the body of the missing soldier came to assume such significance in the wake of the Vietnam War. Illuminating the relationship between the effort to account for missing troops and the political and cultural forces of the post-Vietnam era, Hawley argues that the body became the repository of the ambiguities and anxieties surrounding the U.S. involvement and defeat in Southeast Asia.

Hawley combines the theoretical insights of Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, and Emmanuel Levinas with detailed research into the history of the movement to recover the remains of soldiers missing in Vietnam. He examines the practices that constitute the Defense Department’s accounting protocol: the archival research, archaeological excavation, and forensic identification of recovered remains. He considers the role of the American public and the families of missing soldiers in demanding the release of pows and encouraging the recovery of the missing; the place of the body of the Vietnam veteran within the war’s legacy; and the ways that memorials link individual bodies to the body politic. Highlighting the contradictions inherent in the recovery effort, Hawley reflects on the ethical implications of the massive endeavor of the American government and many officials in Vietnam to account for the remains of American soldiers.


The Remains of War deserves an important place on the Vietnam War shelf of any library. It is probably the definitive empirical work on the accounting of America’s Vietnam POWs and MIAs. It also offers some provocative insights on the role of this issue in our culture and on the continued irresolution about what has been the great agony of the Baby Boom generation: the Vietnam War.” — Timothy J. Lomperis, Perspectives on Politics

The Remains of War is a valuable addition to the growing literature on the American accounting effort. Its conclusions will influence related scholarship for the foreseeable future.” — Bradley Lynn Coleman, Journal of Military History

“Hawley’s astringent analysis of a strange collective obsession is not only fascinating in its own terms but also clarifies American disorders that continue to disturb the body politic today.” — Joan Cocks, Political Theory

“Hawley's study is provocative, yet raises important concerns. . . . To show the complexity and difficulty of resolving these issues, Hawley presents recent repatriation cases and legislative attempts. His study does much to explain how impressions-whether or not well grounded in fact-when mixed with emotion, cultural practices and power politics, can become hardened policy.” — Deborah Kidwell, Vietnam

Hawley’s use of bodies to bring meaning to the Vietnam War is interesting and thorough. . . . The Remains of War . . . succeeds in forcing the reader to think hard about the Vietnam War and its impact on our society.” — Leonard Wong, Armed Forces and Society

“As someone who has read numerous books on the Vietnam War, I found much new and helpful information in The Remains of War. What is most helpful, however, is not simply the information Thomas M. Hawley presents but his theoretical framework for thinking through the mechanisms by which the very idea of an ‘unaccounted-for body’ comes into being. Hawley makes a first-rate argument that will reshape the ways in which we talk about bodies in the Vietnam War.” — Susan Jeffords, author of The Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War

“Thomas M. Hawley combines theoretical dexterity and voluminous research in a first-rate book on America’s tortured Vietnam legacy. By cataloguing the manifold practices that keep the bodies of the absent dead alive, he enables us to understand the nation’s obsession with a political and cultural war it continually invents and reinvents at home and abroad.” — Steven Johnston, author of Encountering Tragedy: Rousseau and the Project of Democratic Order


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Thomas M. Hawley is Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. Body Trouble 1

2. From Unrecoverable to Unaccounted For 39

3. The Body of the Accounted-For Soldier 81

4. "Our Stateside MIAs": The Body of the Vietnam Veteran 115

5. Practices of Memorialization: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Tomb of the Vietnam War Unknown Soldier, and the POW/MIA Flag 158

6. The Ethics of Accounting 211

Epilogue. Same as It Ever Was 242

Notes 253

Bibliography 261

Index 277
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3538-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3526-9
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