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December 8, 1993

The Face of Mercy: A Photographic History of Medicine at War

JAMA. 1993;270(22):2738. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510220094045

Seventy-five years ago (one of the essays accompanying this book's dramatic photographs points out), poet Wilfred Owen—shortly before his own death in World War I—denounced "the old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."

Nor, these photos and essays make clear, is it any more sweet to be wounded or made ill by war. (The Latin phrase is attributed to another poet, Quintus Horatius Flaccus [65-8 BC]—the mellow "Horace" of Sabine Farm—who may have considered it agreeable to die for one's country because he wasn't called upon to do so while a Roman legionnaire.)

Indeed, as one of this book's contributors, Pulitzer Prize—winning author William Styron, concludes in the prologue: "Amid war's mad incomprehensibility it is perhaps best that we regard medicine, and the face of mercy that it presents, as the only saving grace."

From 25-century-old engravings to photos as recent as this fall's combat in Somalia, the