Matériel Culture: The Archaeology of 20th Century Conflict

By John Schofield; William Gray Johnson et al. | Go to book overview

18

A many-faced heritage: the wars of Indochina

P. BION GRIFFIN

The MIA team had uncovered a vast family of forgotten members of their regiment, dead under the mantle of the warm jungle. The fallen soldiers shared one destiny; no longer were there honorable or disgraced soldiers, heroic or cowardly, worthy or worthless. Now they were merely names and remains.

Those who survived continue to live. But that will has gone, that burning will which was once Vietnam's salvation. Where is the reward of enlightenment due to us for attaining our sacred war goals?

Bao Ninh (1993:25, 47)

Call it La Sale Guerre, the Vietnam War, the American War, the First and Second Indochina Conflicts, as you will. 1 The wars in question in that part of Southeast Asia still most easily called Indochina, or Indochine, ran their violent courses from the final days of the Second World War through to 1975. Of course, the whole region has been at war for some 2000 years of record. Conflicts have continued from 1975 through AD 2000, first with the victorious armies of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam flowing with unexpected ease to Phnom Penh and beyond, and most recently with the ever-vigorous Hmong of northern Laos resisting the alleged exploitation by the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

Clearly, when thinking of the archaeological and cultural landscapes of Indochina and of the heritage of war, we have many points of view to consider. And, unlike the legacy of the First and Second World Wars, there are few battlefields of the traditional sort. Post-Second World War Indochina was a war of rice paddies, jungle hillsides, peasants' hamlets and occasionally urban streets. Remnants of the wars include tunnel systems and physical sites of conflict now denuded of most material culture, as well as abandoned and then commandeered airfields, port facilities and administrative buildings. The battlefields, or battlegrounds most visible and most remembered, are few and are those in which the foreigners either suffered devastating defeat or got out by the grace of God and overwhelming technology. Indeed, the marking of heritage has largely gone to the victors, and their cultural and touristic views are as interesting and important as is a focus on the return of the non-native.

-208-

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