Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Bullets come first

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 29 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3074
  1. Gerry Shaper, emeritus professor of clinical epidemiology, University College Medical School, London
  1. agshaper{at}

    Can a medical history of the Anglo-Boer war teach us anything about today’s conflicts, asks Gerry Shaper

    “You want pills, I want bullets, and bullets come first”

    Lord Kitchener

    Think of a war being fought by small, highly mobile, semi-autonomous units in difficult terrain with problems of heat, dust storms, and water supplies and with considerable limitations in external sources of manpower and equipment. In the event of wounds, accident, or illness the combatants rely heavily on their fellow fighters, friends, and relatives in the immediate vicinity. Add to this the civilian casualties (who may well be your family), the problem of your opponents identifying who is and who is not a combatant, the handling of prisoners of war, and transgressions of the Geneva Convention and you may well think of Afghanistan before you think of Boer commandos. Every war has been fought before, if we would only remember it.

    The Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) was predicted to be a “little war,” fought in a remote corner of the British Empire; but the United Kingdom eventually deployed …

    View Full Text

    Log in

    Log in through your institution


    * For online subscription