BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 21 September 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:723


The full significance of the present crisis in army medical affairs is apt to be overlooked by the mere casual observer. Such a one may, indeed, be excused if he hastily arrives at the conclusion that present difficulties are merely the revival of old contentions, and possess only limited interest. But, while the struggle is old and has been long drawn out, its present phase has really wider and deeper issues than previous disputes, not alone to the State and the army, but to society at large.

The present deadlock means simply: Medical men decline to serve in the army in a position of military and social inferiority to other officers, especially the so-called combatant, in so far as that the inferiority depends upon army status. It is only a sign of the times, of the social revolt against mere artificial distinctions between men otherwise equal and indistinguishable. The army is about the last entrenchment held by the old feudal spirit, and it is against that the present struggle is directed.

The controversy is thus as interesting to the sociologist as it is dangerous to the efficiency of the army, and doubtless embarrassing to the statesmen who come between the disputants, and have certain responsibilities for both. It is its bearing on the well-being of the land forces of the Crown that invests it with a national importance little comprehended or even suspected by the civilian uninitiated into army affairs.

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