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Review of Medicine and Victory by Mark Harrison

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Harrison, Mark. Medicine and Victory: British Military Medicine in the

Second War. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2004. Pp. xii, 283.

Allied victory during the Second World War owed much to the advancement

of medicine. Mark Harrison argues that the importance of British military

medicine has largely been ignored in scholarly works. He says, "the

invisibility of medicine in the historical record belies its true

significance and masks some of the Army's greatest achievements." (1) Due to

the enormous losses incurred during World War One, a new doctrine emerged.

This doctrine aimed to "substitute technology for manpower". (3) Medical

provisions aimed to maximize scarce human and material resources. An

emphasis on the individual in public health or 'decentralization of hygienic

management' emerged. Propaganda made it clear that the citizen solider had

certain rights and responsibilities, the right to decent medical care and the

responsibility to keep 'fighting fit'. Harrison states that in British

society, health care was seen as a kind of social wage, it could be earned by

military service.

Socialized medical ideologies sought to relate the individual to

society. Proponents of socialized medicine attempted to bridge the gap

between medical specialties and to treat the patient as a 'whole'.

Advancements such as the Blood Transfusion Service (BTS) allowed citizens to

contribute to the war effort. Harrison argues that the BTS is significant

because the British were the first to have such a unit. This was a major

success on their part and for medicine as a whole. Advancements in the field

of Psychiatry sought to cater to the solider as a whole, his physical well-

being and his mental well-being. Harrison states that the war did much to

advance the medical profession and to promote educational initiatives aimed

at highlighting the importance of individual and societal health and hygiene.


Disease generally spreads from one person to another, therefore it is

important to educate the masses on how to protect themselves. The opinion of

many proponents was that a healthy society is more productive, a healthy army

is more successful. Many hoped that basic hygiene and medical knowledge would

carry over into soldier's civilian lives, thus creating a more health

conscious society. Harrison argues that medicine was a key component in

Allied success and that the war was crucial in the advancement of the medical

profession. He asserts that the British were the most medically prepared due

largely to the failures they had experienced during World War One.

Harrison organizes the book thematically. First he surveys the state

of military medicine leading up to the war and explores the medical

inadequacies in previous battles in order to show how the British government,

the British Medical Society, and the Army Medical Services worked together to

cure the defects they had experienced in the past. Next he analyzes medicine

in retreat. He shows how medical units dealt with evacuation and how they

moved vast supplies, patients, and staff in the face of defeat and retreat.

The advancement of mobile medical units, the creation of movable hospitals,

and the how the medical units operated on the front lines and in places like

POW camps is also discussed. Harrison states that the professionalism shown

by soldiers and medical staff in times of strain and uncertainty was

extraordinary. Medicine and Victory analyzes why the medical profession was

portrayed as lowly in the military thus making it difficult to recruit new

officers into medical units.



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