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vietnam ashes

Not allowed alongside fallen comrades…

Scattering Ashes at Battlefields: A Case from Vietnam

Vietnam has turned down a request to scatter the ashes of General Marcel Bigeard, a highly decorated French war veteran, at the site of a pivotal battle that contributed to the end of French colonial rule. General Bigeard, who passed away last month, had expressed a desire to be reunited with his fallen comrades at Dien Bien Phu.

However, a Vietnamese official stated that permitting such an act would “create a precedent.” This decision is thought to be influenced by concerns that similar requests might arise from American soldiers who fought during the Vietnam War.

General Bigeard played a crucial role during the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, where French forces were encircled and defeated by the Viet Minh, the communist-led resistance movement in Vietnam.

Before his death in France at the age of 94, General Bigeard had wished for his ashes to be brought back to Dien Bien Phu. His aide revealed that he wanted to “rejoin his comrades who fell in battle.” However, both the Vietnamese foreign and defence ministries rejected this request as Hervé Morin, the first French defence minister to visit Vietnam since Dien Bien Phu, was visiting the country. An official explained to AFP news agency, “We do not wish to create a precedent. One never knows if one day another former foreign soldier would want to do the same thing elsewhere in the country. That would be sensitive and complicated.”

Mr Morin described his trip as “highly symbolic” and mentioned that he did not discuss the matter of General Bigeard’s ashes.

General Bigeard had a distinguished military career, serving as a commanding officer during both the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and the Battle of Algiers. He began his career as an enlisted man and retired as State Secretary for Defence in 1976. He was one of France’s most decorated soldiers, having received numerous medals from both France and Britain for his service during wartime.

Vietnamese Cultural Context

In Vietnam, the scattering of ashes, particularly of foreign soldiers, on its historical sites can be seen as a sensitive issue. The country has a rich cultural heritage and a complex history of conflicts involving various foreign powers. Honouring the fallen, both domestic and foreign, requires navigating these sensitivities. Vietnam’s refusal to allow General Bigeard’s ashes to be scattered at Dien Bien Phu reflects a broader caution against setting precedents that might lead to numerous similar requests, which could complicate the management of its historical sites and national memory.

By understanding these cultural and historical contexts, we can appreciate the delicate balance Vietnam maintains in preserving the sanctity of its war memorials and historical battlegrounds, ensuring that they remain places of respectful remembrance for all.

Tricky, but I feel this is the correct decision, I understand the old soldiers sentiments, but it just doesn’t sit well with me.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-10781290

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