Views & Reviews Past Caring

What war is good for

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 20 April 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2416
  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}

“War—what is it good for?” asks the old protest song. Advances in surgery, if nothing else, might be the answer. The patients of the French surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510–90) certainly benefited from his long experience treating the casualties of muskets and cannons in the conflicts that ravaged Renaissance Europe.

From humble origins, Paré was apprenticed to a barber before he enrolled as a trainee surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu, Paris. After joining his first military campaign at the age of 27, he spent almost 30 years amputating limbs and excising musket balls on European battlefields, and applied the lessons he learnt to improving surgery for all. …

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