Intended for healthcare professionals


The effects of weapons and the Solferino cycle

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 02 October 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:864

Where disciplines meet to prevent or limit the damage caused by weapons

  1. Robin M Coupland, surgeon (
  1. Unit of the Chief Medical Officer, International Committee of the Red Cross, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland

    When designers of weapons want to know if their creations are effective they observe the simulated effects of those weapons so they can modify and develop them and, in a cycle of activities, test them again. They then want to observe the real effects after the weapons have been produced, transferred into the hands of users, and used against their intended human target. Observing and documenting the real effects of weapons in the field, however, falls to health professionals rather than to weapons designers. The observation and documentation of the effects of weapons then forms an essential part of another cycle of activities. Instead of providing feedback about weapon design, this second cycle works in the interests of the victims of weapons by generating policies and laws that impose limits on the design, production, transfer, or use of weapons.

    The original turn of this second cycle was initiated by Henry Dunant, who observed the effects of munitions on soldiers at the Battle of Solferino in 1859. Until then Europe's aristocracy had seen war as glorious. Dunant's documentation of the reality in AMemory of Solferino changed this perception.1 In 1863 he and four other Genevan dignitaries created the International Committee of the Red …

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