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Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Repairing the damage of war

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 18 February 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b631
  1. Jonathan Kaplan, war zone surgeon and writer, London
  1. jkaplan{at}

    As we invent ever nastier methods to kill people, a new book chronicles how medicine has tried to keep pace with the results

    Rating: ***

    Every warring nation seeks to inflict the maximum damage on its enemy. As methods of conflict have become more ruthless, and the means of waging it more global, the targets have widened: not just military industry but social infrastructure; not only armies but the health of the opposing population. Total war has required total mobilisation, and that includes the instruments of healing as well as of death. Good medical services can get the soldier back to duty quicker, reduce the attrition by disease, and counter food shortages on the home front. Any study of this very broad subject requires a compendious, meticulously structured approach.

    In this, Kevin Brown’s impressive book largely succeeds. A chronology of war related medical developments through the last century, it commences with the Boer war of 1899. The subject’s complexity is soon apparent. The Boer war began as a conventional conflict between two armies that turned into an irregular guerrilla war. Interned in concentration camps, a …

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