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Libya has hit me hard

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 11 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2937
  1. Richard Villar, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Cambridge, and formerly regimental medical officer to the Special Air Service
  1. rnv1000{at}

I should know all about war. I have been to enough of them. Yet Libya has hit me hard. It is my birthday. Lying in the primitive intensive care unit of this hospital, deep inside an area of rebel controlled Libya, are three young men. None is over 25 years old. They look almost identical. Each has perfectly cut, military-style short hair, each is sedated, each is dripped and catheterised, each is in pain, and, yes, each is a pro-Gaddafi soldier. They are Libyan, not central African, and they are most certainly not mercenaries. Each has a mother, each has a father, and each demonstrates the futility of war.

These three casualties are the result of contact between anti-Gaddafi and pro-Gaddafi forces about 10 km east of me now. No armour was involved as NATO bombing has reduced that to almost zero, but small arms fire and inaccurate, rapid deployment missiles are the order of the day. These three soldiers have a friend, aged less than 20 years, who is now in the hospital’s morgue covered by a shroud. Four young friends fighting, one presumes, for something in which they believe. Had they known the outcome I see before me, would they have joined, would they …

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