It's not an easy read, to make the understatement of the century; the US Army has just released a book called War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq: A Series of Cases, 2003-2007. The book is the first guide for new techniques for battlefield surgeons to be released while the war included in its pages is still being fought.
The book includes 83 case descriptions from dozens of battlefield doctors, and though the descriptions are dry and clinically detached, the pictures are the 1,000 words that illustrate the grim horror of war. Most of the injured pictured are US soldiers but some Iraqis and Afghans are included as well.
The pictures may be all the more horrifying given the mixed blessing of advancing body armor combined with the fact that in modern wars, more are injured by explosions than bullets — meaning many are left alive, but badly maimed. Because of the graphic nature of the shots, it's a difficult (but not impossible) tome for civilians — even doctors — to get a hold of. To see what one of the book's authors has to say about the secrecy of the book,
One of the book's three authors says:
“I’m ashamed to say that there were folks even in the medical department who said, Over my dead body will American civilians see this. The average Joe Surgeon, civilian or military, has never seen this stuff. Yeah, they’ve seen guys shot in the chest. But the kind of ferocious blast, burn and penetrating trauma that’s part of the modern IED wound is like nothing they’ve seen, even in a Manhattan emergency room. It’s a shocking, heart-stopping, eye-opening kind of thing. And they need to see this on the plane before they get there, because there’s a learning curve to this.”
If there's to be a mildly happy ending, some of the cases feature follow up pictures of recovered patients, like one soldier who lost half his skull smiling later at a ceremonial dinner with his wife. The release of the book is all the more poignant as the news that tours in Afghanistan have just been extended for 1,200 Marines amid concerns of rising violence.
Should this military field guide be readily available to civilians — or should some stories of war stay on the battlefield?