Modern War – its Medical, Social and Ethical Implications

Socialist Health Association

” Fascism does not believe in the possibility or utility of perpetual peace. War alone sets the seal of nobility.” Mussolini.

” Mankind will only perish through eternal peace . . . Might alone makes right …” Hitler.

” The United States must take the offensive against Russia. It would win for us a popular title ; we would become the first aggressors for peace . . .” Francis Matthews, U.S. Navy Secretary. August 1950,


May  1952. 4d.

NOTE.—In February 1952 a special delegate Conference was called in Leeds by the Leeds and District Branch of the S.M.A. This pamphlet contains some of .the material presented to this Conference and is published in response to numerous requests from delegates. For further copies please apply to the Hon. Secretary, Mr. M. N. Tempest, F.R.C.S., Pendragon, Lister Lane, Bradford, Yorkshire.


In former centuries it was possible to regard war as heroic and manly, since comparatively few individuals were involved, and the main stream of life was left untroubled. The last two world wars, and wars already in progress in Malaya, Indo-China and Korea, involve whole communities, without discrimination between soldier and civilian. Before dealing with other aspects of modern war it is well to recall briefly some casualty lists of the last world war.

  • U.S.A.     –     1.04 million killed, wounded and missing, including civilians.
  • U.K.        –    0.57 million killed, wounded and missing.
  • Germany-    9.5 million killed, wounded and missing.
  • U.S.S.R. –    13.5 million: over 7 million Soviet soldiers killed.
  • France    –    160,000 military  and 160,000 civilian deaths; 300,000 deaths of prisoners and compulsory workers  in Germany.
  • Poland    –    600,000  killed by direct  war action ; 3,900,000 lives lost by execution and liquidation of the ghetto ;   1,400,000 lives lost in  concentration camps and enforced work.
  • Jugoslavia 1,660,000, including 1,380,000 civilians (i.e., 10.5 per cent of the pre-war population).

The high proportion of civilian casualties is significant. Recent developments have made bombardments of the last war seem child’s play. For instance, the UNITED NATIONS Communique of October 13th, 1950: “Firing at the rate of 15,000 pounds a minute, the U.S. battleship “Missouri” yesterday poured out in less than an hour more than 800,000 pounds of death and destruction on enemy military targets in the city of Chongjin, 35 miles south of the Manchurian border.  . .”

NAPALM BOMBS. This weapon spreads solidified petrol over a huge area, and in a second can transform a town or wood into a mass of flame. Its extensive use in Korea is confirmed in the following official communiques :

“On the Naktong front our airmen have dropped two hundred thousand gallons of napalm on the enemy. . . .” U.N. Communique, September 15th, 1950.

” Planes from U.S. carriers yesterday napalmed out of existence a whole Korean town a few miles west of Panmunjon. . . .” U.S. Navy H.Q., February 22nd, 1952.

FLAME THROWERS. The American National Research Council in Washington (November 1950) devoted a whole session to flame throwers and the mode of death in animals exposed to such weapons. “Deaths for the most part occurred within minutes . . . due primarily to heat, but decrease in oxygen tension and increase in carbon monoxide also important . . . Temperatures may go up to 1,000 degrees Centigrade. . . .”

POISON GAS WARFARE. During the last war new gases were discovered that could act as paralysants of the central and peripheral nervous systems.


A great deal of research was carried out in many countries during the last war. Pilot experiments were carried out on prisoners of war by the Japanese in Manchuria.

Why this interest in biological warfare? The answer may be found in the following statement: “The atom bomb is a poor weapon because it destroys too much property. Although it sounds cold-blooded, the type of weapon we should have is one that will kill people only. Such a weapon would make it unnecessary in a future war to rehabilitate land and property on such a vast scale. . . .” P. B. Harwood (Milyaukee Conference, August 1947).

Most of the available published material is found in the publications of Dr. Theodore Rosebury and his colleagues in the United States. Dr. Rosebury himself is under no illusion about the perversion of medical science involved in this work: “If you want to study biological warfare you must figura­tively stand on your head. It is an upside-down science. Normally we study disease in order to prevent or cure it … but biological warfare sets out to produce disease. It is not natural or normal, but abnormal, and artificial. . . .”

The most “promising” method seems the use of smokes containing toxins and organisms of anthrax, botulism and diphtheria, especially if these organisms are cultured so as to make them resistant to any known therapeutic agent or antibiotic drug. Typhoid, typhus, plague and cholera can be used against primitive communities, though prophylactic immunisation would combat most of these diseases effectively.

The use of such viruses as poliomyelitis, virulent influenza and psittacosis is limited by ignorance of methods to spread these diseases.

Another line of attack is among the diseases of cultivated plants, e.g., the use of Colorado beetles amongst potato crops. Chemical poisons can also be used to damage crops. This weapon has been used by the British Government in Malaya. “Small bombs containing chemical poisons proved themselves particularly effective in destroying crops used to feed rebels in parts of the Malayan jungle. . . .” R.A.F. Spokesman at Kuala Lumpur, April 8th, 1952.

Research in biological warfare continues in America at Camp Detrick in Maryland, and in this country at the Micro­biological warfare Research Station at Porton, near Salisbury, a building described by Chapman Pincher as “the biggest science building in Britain.” (‘Discovery’, December 1950). Military leaders are quite serious about the possibilities of biological warfare. General Alden H. Waitt, when Chief of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, declared:

“I believe it to be a practical form of warfare which has great potentialities … It is neither consistent nor intelligent to talk about the horrors of gas and biological warfare and then condone atomic warfare. I am entirely out of sympathy with talk about the inhumanity of the weapon.” (June 1946).

“Clostridium botulinum is the most poisonous thing known to man. and under ideal conditions, one ounce could probably kill 150 million people. . . .” (March 1949).

General A. C. Macauliff, Chief of US. Army Chemical Corps, said in Detroit (April 18th, 1950): “The Corps is spending more than 4,280,000 dollars annually on research in biological, radiological and chemical warfare. . . .”

Apart from dissemination of disease by bombs, biological warfare can take the form of deliberate withholding medical supplies, either by blockade, or by refusal to give information on new processes, as was the case with the supply of Podbielniak extractors for production of penicillin. Admiral Forrest P. Sherman (U.S. Chief of Naval Staff) before the Senate Armed Services Committee, insisted on economic blockade of China; “Since the Chinese are very susceptible to plagues and contagious diseases, the stoppage of medicines would curtail the mobility of the Chinese Armies. . . .” (” New York Times,” May 31st, 1951). But plagues do not distinguish between soldiers and civilians! They also attack helpless women and children.

Similarly, withholding supplies of insecticides for stock­piling purposes can have disastrous effects. Thus, Prof. M. J. Ferreira (Brazilian delegate World Health Organisation) pointed out: “We are holding down the fire of malaria with D.D.T. If it is withdrawn, the fire will blaze more fiercely than before.”    Millions can die without a single shot being fired.


The atom bomb is primarily a weapon of mass destruction. The theory of mass-murder is outlined in an article in the “Washington Times Herald” (quoted by Prof. Burhop in ‘The Challenge of Atomic Energy’): “The object of war to-day is to kill the enemy nation, remove its seat of power and wipe it off the face of the earth as a threat for ever. We do not put armies of young men out to gut one another. We send planes over at forty thousand feet loaded with atom bombs, fire bombs, germ bombs and trinitrotoluol to slaughter babes in the cradle, grandmothers at their prayers and working men at their jobs. , . -”

At Hiroshima, 60,000 people were killed outright, and 70,000 casualties survived. At Nagasaki, 39,000 people were killed, and 25,000 casualties survived. Of these casualties it was found that

(1)  70 per cent were caused by blast and the effects of the shock-wave.

(2) 65  to 90  per  cent  were  burned.  Everything combustible within 2—3 miles caught fire.    This instantaneous fire effect over wide areas is one of the most frightening features of the bomb.

(3) 30 per cent  suffered   from   radiation. Those within half a mile of the explosion received a fatal dose of radiation.

Short term effects involve mainly the various blood-form­ing tissues in the bone marrow, and the lining of the intestines. Destruction of blood platelets interferes with the normal process of blood clotting and may lead to severe bleeding. Damage to the white blood cells may seriously diminish resistance to infection. Interference with formation of new red blood cells leads to a severe type of anaemia. After a period of some six weeks, those patients who have not received a fatal dose of radiation may recover if they have not died in the meantime from blood loss, infection, burns or other injuries.

Long-term radiation effects may take many years to show themselves. In Japan, certain effects on reproduction have been observed. According to the British Mission to Japan : ” Two months after the explosion, miscarriages, abortions and premature births throughout Hiroshima were nearly five times as frequent as in normal times and formed more than a quarter of all deliveries. . . .” From experiments with mice, radiation is known to produce mutations in the germ cells of the parents. A marked increase in the proportion of monsters and abnormal children can be expected in generations yet unborn. Skin cancer may develop after many years as a result of exposure to gamma radiation, and ingested radio-active materials are very potent in producing cancer of the internal organs.


It is estimated that one bomb of the Hiroshima pattern (already obsolete) would cause 50,000 casualties if dropped without warning on the average British city. (Throughout the last war, air-raids on Great Britain killed 60,595 and wounded 86,182 civilians). To deal with the effects of one atomic bomb would need a rescue force of some 200,000 trained people, or two-thirds the population of a city the size of Bradford, and would involve elementary training for the whole population and a high level of technical training for some thousands in each town. It will only be possible to rescue a small proportion of the casualties. Indeed, some authorities (cf. “Lancet,” February llth, 1950) hold that it will only be possible to rescue those outside a two-mile radius from the bomb centre.

“The atomic bomb destroys so quickly and completely such a large area that defence is hopeless. Leadership and organisation are gone. Key personnel are killed. With the fire station wrecked and the firemen burned, how control 1,000 fires? With the doctors dead and the hospitals smashed, how treat a quarter of a million injured?”

‘The Atom Bomb,’ published by the Atomic Scientists’ Association of Chicago.


Atomic warfare adds two enormous problems—radiation sickness and the treatment of severely burned patients. Large quantities of blood and plasma will be needed. It is estimated that cases of radiation sickness will need 1 pint of fresh blood every second day for six weeks. A single severe burn may need up to 20—30 pints of blood or plasma within the first 3—4 days. Initial grafting of a severe burn to effect early primary healing takes a fully-trained team under ideal conditions nearly an hour. Reconstruction of the damaged region may then require another 20—30 operations spread over a period of years. In Britain we have only two centres capable of dealing with large numbers of severely burned patients—one in Birmingham, one in Glasgow. There is no proper burns centre in Yorkshire. At Hiroshima, one atomic bomb caused 34,000 severe burns.

It is estimated that where the hydrogen bomb is exploded without warning everyone within a radius of 25 miles would be fatally burned. This means that with Leeds as the centre, all the inhabitants of Barnsley, Doncaster, Goole, York, Knaresborough, Skipton, Hebden Bridge would receive fatal burns. . . .


Doctors have the duties of all citizens, but also a special interest by virtue of our profession. We are bound by our ethic to preserve life and to eliminate suffering. Our duty is to mankind as a whole, irrespective of social status, religion, nationality or race.

We are in intimate contact with the public, and even if we have no special knowledge of politics and economics, we have some insight into the mental processes which lead people to hate and fight each other. Above all, we accept the principle that prevention is better than cure. No matter how-expert the surgeon, he is less effective than the peacemaker. Military preparations directly undermine everything for which the profession has worked—healthier conditions, better houses, better food, and more medical research.

This being so, we consider it our duty:

(1)       To make more widely known the results and horrors of modern war.

(2)       To study the psychological mechanisms by which people are conditioned to accept war as a necessity and something quite natural.

Thus we should expose the psychological “conditioning” which begins as soon as a child can read his weekly ‘ Comic,’ and continues well into adult life, so that he reads without alarm the following typical samples of ‘ news ‘:—

“If anybody commits aggression, we will have a real, good party and kill a lot of people. . , .” (F. M. Mont­gomery, “Daily Herald,” 23rd November, 1949). “An operation which ends with a dead Communist is called a ‘ kill’ in much the same way as one talks about ‘ runs’ on the cricket pitch. Dead terrorists are what count, and the Green Howards have been knocking up quite a score in recent days. . . .” (Military Observer, “Yorkshire Post,” 19th December, 1951).

(3)       To oppose the use of medical science for any purposes other than the prevention and relief of suffering.  Biological warfare is the clearest example of perversion of medical science. It is not without significance that certain Government Biological Warfare Centres are directed by bacteriologists who have not got medical qualifications. The results of this work are kept secret, i.e., not published in medical or scientific journals.  As Dr. Alex Comfort puts it:
” Scientists  now find themselves asked to put unlimited powers of genocide, coercion and destruction  into  the hands of limited groups   of individuals, many of whom show themselves by all their public gestures quite unfit to control a sporting gun, . . .”

(4)       To urge that the energies and money spent in preparation for war against man be directed into the fight against disease and malnutrition.



1950/1 1951/2


Per £                                                              £m.




Social Services   …..



of which :
Education   ..           £250m.
Food Subsidies        £400m.
Nat. Insurance        £400m.
Health                      £400m.
Housing, Local
Govt., etc …..           £150m.








National Debt, etc ………



Other Services :
Foreign   and   Colonial,   and








TOTALS             j   4,199


From ” Labour Research,” May 1951.


This Money would provide In Britain:

  • 6,000 Blocks of Flats to let at low rents £1,500,000,000
  • 20 Great Universities at £10 million each in our largest cities £200,000,000
  • 20 Endowments £200,000,000
  • 10 Agricultural £60,000,000
  • 200 Hospitals   £100,000,000
  • 200 New Schools  £50,000,000
  • 400 New Schools  £50,000,000

In the Colonies:

  • 5 T.V.A. Development Projects £1,000,000,000
  • 200 Medical Centres £100,000,000
  • 200 Medical Centres £200,000,000
  • 8,000 New Schools  £1,000,000,000
  • 3 Universities £30,000.000
  • 3 Endowments £30,000.000
  • 10 Agricultural £50,000.000
  • 260 Libraries  £130,000,000

Total ££4,700,000,000

From “Society of Friends ” Peace Leaflet

Excel Printing Co.. 31a. James Street, Bradford.    Tel. 23696.