War: what is it good for?BMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2783 (Published 03 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2783
- Colin Martin, independent consultant in healthcare communication, London
“As mankind’s capacity to maim and kill has increased, our desire to repair and heal has always struggled hard to keep pace,” say those responsible for an exhibition surveying war and medicine over the past 150 years. Jointly curated by the Wellcome Collection in London and the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum in Dresden, it shows the pity of war for fighters and medical staff in conflicts from the Crimea to present day Afghanistan and Iraq.
Killing and curing are ethically incompatible bedfellows. The priority of military doctors and nurses is to maintain the fighting capabilities of the armed forces, saving the lives of wounded soldiers, sailors, and air crew so that they can fight another day. Military healthcare professionals are seldom able to observe or participate in the long term physical and mental rehabilitation of their patients, as is usual in conventional civilian health care. Like the battle victims they treat, the armed services’ doctors and nurses operate in a military microcosm.
Ethics aside, the exhibition …