Between War Wounds and a War of Wounds: The Humanitarian Bullet Debate in Europe and Japan, 1890-1905

Soldiers' Health, Between War and Peace: 1830-1930

The history of the ‘humanitarian bullet’ enables us to shed new light on the transformations affecting military medicine and the representation of war wounds at the turn of the twentieth century. Based on a cross-perspective, in Europe and Japan, of the medical debate surrounding the changing ballistic properties of new firearms, this paper analyses the emergence and development of a group of doctors with expertise in ‘wound ballistics’. These professionals, within military formations, took part in anticipating bodily injuries and optimising the effects of firepower, with a twofold aim of curing and wounding. Thus, doctors collaborated in the horrors that, as doctors, they had to help repair. In this paper, we explore the problematic aspect of the ‘humanitarian bullet’ concept, as well as the appropriation by European and Japanese medical professionals of military systems produced in the ‘civilised world’. Lastly, we look at how these issues were brought up for public debate, around the controversies of ‘dum-dum’ bullets and the ‘war of wounds’.

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