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Armistice Lecture: Medical care and medical pacifism

Join Dr Fiona Reid for this year’s annual Armistice lecture to unveil the history of medical pacifism during and after the Great War. 

The First World War was a machine war which lasted for over four years. Approximately 8 million soldiers died while about 20 million were wounded, and many millions were either disabled or debilitated for the rest of their lives. During the war, men and women responded to these casualty rates by working with military-medical services or with voluntary organisations such as the Red Cross or the Friends Ambulance Unit. They were motivated by the firm belief that ‘Our duty is to save’ and that ‘binding the wounds of war’ was a humanitarian act. Yet others interpreted military-medical service differently, and saw wartime medical work as somehow complicit with militarism.

After the war, a small but vocal medical pacifist movement emerged to argue that all medics should refuse completely to co-operate with military-medical services on any level. Interwar medical pacifism did not succeed in preventing future wars and few now support the idea of a ‘medical strike’ but their debates raised questions which remain pertinent now: What should medics do during wartime? To what extent does their work alleviate the pain of war and to what extent does it prolong war?

About the speaker

Dr Fiona Reid is an historian of the social and cultural history of war and has written widely about the First World War in Europe and about refugees and displaced people in the Second World War. She is particularly interested in the consequences of war trauma and in the coping mechanisms of combat troops, medical personnel and civilians both during war and afterwards.


9 November 2023
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
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Edith Morley, Room G27