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Battlefield Surgery Guide Released

Battlefield Surgery Guide Out, Afghanistan Tours Extended

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?


Join The Conversation
Jillness Jillness 8 years
I would think that if the military thought it was classified or sensitive information, they would categorize it as that. I think it sounds horrific to see, but I do agree that there could be some benefit to having it available. Not to be ominous, but if (heaven forbid) bombings start becoming something that Americans have to worry about, this book would be very helpful to medical professionals, I would think. I think for medical education, this sounds like a very unique source.
stephley stephley 8 years
It's possible with some enemies - an actual army, but there's no evidence that Al Qaeda is that sophisticated. Mean perhaps, but not sophisticated.
stiletta stiletta 8 years
I don't know, Stephley. Say, for instance, they know how we are treating our soldiers in the field, won't that assist them in making their attacks more devastating? Also, if Al Qaeda is aware that we can treat soldiers for certain kinds of wounds effectively, perhaps they will use more force in other areas. I don't have a lot of details, but my instincts tell me that any information on what your military is doing should be kept secret.
stephley stephley 8 years
Most of our enemies could only watch that aspect with envy.
stiletta stiletta 8 years
If our enemies see how we're treating our patients, isn't that sensitive material?
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
Its the reality of war, and people should be able to see that.
mondaymoos mondaymoos 8 years
I wish I could say that the majority of people would look at it that way, stephley. But I don't think that's the case. I think beyond a few "EWWWW! NO WAY!"s and comparisons to video games, it would be dropped as irrelevant. Like the post said, it's not that it's UNAVAILABLE, just hard to come by. Just like I can google all my old tech manuals, but the average person would have no idea what they were even looking for/at.
stephley stephley 8 years
I'm with Raci, we have to know exactly what we're asking other people to risk.
True-Song True-Song 8 years
>To be honest, I don't see why the public wants to see this book anyway. Well, I don't want to see it in the same way I want to read this week's issue of Us Weekly, but I don't think we should make anything off limits (unless of course it would risk national security).
raciccarone raciccarone 8 years
I think in a real democracy the people who send their fellow citizens to war should have to see what they face. As a society we all need to bear the burden of our conflicts.
mondaymoos mondaymoos 8 years
To be honest, I don't see why the public wants to see this book anyway. It's just like seeing a gruesome car wreck. Maybe they're keeping it to themselves out of respect for the people photographed in the pictures. The book is for field surgeons who may be shocked by the extent of the injuries. It's war, not a circus side show.
True-Song True-Song 8 years
I think pictures like this should be available to the public. If the government won't release them, soldiers are still free to share their personal photos with the public, right?
em1282 em1282 8 years
Oops, instead of "allow" it should be "gave permission for". Not enough caffeine yet...
em1282 em1282 8 years
If anything, allowing it to be made available to citizens will let them know what these soldiers really have to go through and what can happen in an instant. Also, if the soldiers allow their photographs/stories to be used, then other people should be able to read/see them. My friend got back from Iraq on crutches thanks to an IED explosion and had to get married on those crutches, but thankfully he's made a pretty decent recovery (and has a little thing called the Medal of Honor to boot). Wish the same thing could be said about other soldiers with similar injuries.
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