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War and medicine


An Exhibition of Wellcome Collection, London, in Cooperation with Deutsches Hygiene-Museum


April 4- August 9, 2009


War and medicine: it’s hard to imagine more contradictory disciplines. On the one hand the destructive power and the human misery of war; on the other the medical vocation to heal people and keep them healthy. The ethical conflict of wartime medicine has yet to be fully explored. How do physicians and nurses, and for that matter soldiers and civilians, experience it? What are their experiences of injury and death, of helplessness and despair? What can we learn about their courage and willingness to help others? These very personal points of view are at the heart of the exhibition “War and Medicine”, a joint project of Wellcome Collection, London, and the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden.


Drawing on historical and contemporary exhibits, documents, photo-graphs and film, and on the works of renowned artists such as Max Beckmann, George Grosz and Conrad Felixmüller, the exhibition demonstrates the complex and often paradoxical relationship between war and medicine. The historical dimension ranges from the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq back to the humanitarian catastrophe of the Crimean War. In the mid-19th century, inadequate medical care claimed the lives of more soldiers than the battlefield. Both warfare and the role of medicine have changed drastically since then. As technology has increasingly changed the face of war, military medicine has taken on a strategic importance. While modern weapons systems have been developed to wound soldiers more terribly, medicine has tried to keep pace with more efficient treatment methods. At the same time, medicine in wartime is increasingly concerned with the civilian population, who are more severely affected, directly or indirectly, by modern warfare.


What are the ethical dilemmas facing a medical profession that saves lives and eases suffering, yet at the same time has become a crucial part of the military machine? How can we reconcile the right to military defence with the humanitarian duty to provide the victims of war with the best possible standard of medical care? Approaching this unsettling moral dilemma from the viewpoints of cultural studies and medical history, the exhibition enables visitors to undertake an informed, emotional exploration of the motives and the stories of individuals involved. In Germany today these topics have taken on a new urgency, as not only members of the armed forces, but the society as a whole must come to terms with military missions abroad.





View of the exhibition