Life and Limb

I told the story of Second Lieutenant Melissa Stockwell who lost her leg in Iraq because her Humvee had no doors. US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld was yesterday subjected to unexpected and critical questioning on a visit to US soldiers in Kuwait. One key point was that US servicepeople are having to scrounge for scrap metal to render their armoured vehicles secure.

The rate of amputations among US personnel serving in Iraq has been twice that of previous conflicts:

New data on war wounds are the grisly flip side of improvements in battlefield medicine that have saved many combatants who would have died in the past: only one in 10 US troops injured in Iraq has died, the lowest rate of any war in US history. But those who survive have much more grievous wounds. Bulletproof Kevlar vests protect soldiers’ bodies, but not their limbs, as insurgent snipers and makeshift bombs tear off arms and legs and rip into faces and necks. More than half of those injured are wounded so badly that they cannot return to duty, according to Pentagon statistics.

One unintended result of the invasion appears to be fast-tracking prosthetic research projects that may benefit future amputees.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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2024 years ago

writing as an above-knee amputee myself, I can only welcome more research into prosthetics, though not obviously what has inspired it. the best prosthetic for young, active amputees is the C-Leg, a computer controlled leg. the downside is the cost – around 45K US. a lot of health insurers in the states refuse to fund them as they aren’t ‘medically necessary’.

more here-

I hope that the US military is more sensitive to people’s needs for good prosthetics than US insurers.

2024 years ago

That’s the thing that really gets me about how conflict is reported. All the coverage and public concern is about the dead.
Screw the dead. Their problems are over.
It’s the injured that you have to worry about because they are still here.
Not many armies have a great way of dealing with the wounded – and you can understand why: dealing with the wounded is a hell of a lot harder than dealing with the dead.
When someone dies they have a military funeral, talk about sacrifice, hand out a flag to the relatives and give the family a pension for their loss. The family can move on.
The wounded however are quite frequently stuffed for life.
I posit that the badly wounded (including PTSD – type “Falklands veteran” and “suicide” into google) sacrifice more than the dead. The dead have given their lives sure, but the wounded have given their lives as well as still having to live it.
I reckon the wounded should be venerated more than the dead. A general rule of thumb from previous conflicts was take the number of dead, multiply it by four, and that will give you the number of wounded ie 3 times as many wounded.
Mark’s figure above of 9 wounded for every death makes the idea of taking care of the wounded that much more important.

I read Rumsfeld’s answers to the open floor session and he certainly gets my vote for having a grenade rolled under his tent flap.

A regular feature of 1980s movies set in major US cities were wounded Vietnam vets begging in train stations. Don’t see them much on film any more do you?

David Tiley
2024 years ago

Read as well.

“Homeless Iraq vets showing up at shelters”.

2024 years ago

This is, in fact, very good news. All western forces have worked very hard to improve 1st, 2nd and 3rd line medical care for wounded. To see such a survival rate is fantastic, especially when the weaponry available to the francs tireurs is so sophisticated. When the very low combatant casualty rate is combined with the extraordinary synergies of major weapon accuracy and effective tactical implementation of LOAC, the result is now minimal civilian loss of both life, property, and cultural heritage.

That is not intended to be a ‘troll’ comment. DO not treat it as such, please. For the old-fashioned way of doing business, study the Russian seizure of Grozny (first, get the artillery regiments lined up, then do an area bombardment, then assault with a motor-rifle division) with study of the simply astonishing seizure of Fallujah; the first real time database attack in history. If you research this without preconception, you will learn many lessons about modern warfare guided by LOAC, proportional use of violence against a suicidally brave opponent, effective intelligence preparation of the battlespace, and efficient database use. The Allied victory at Fallujah was a tour-de-force in many ways.

I am also noting a serious shift in military HRM. The ADF, for example, has a number of leg amputees in service (one a helicopter pilot). I know from contacts that the USN also has no bar to maimed personnel continuing their careers, provided they can achieve the usual fitness standards etc. The ADF is the same.

FYI, my understanding is that the C-leg is the standard prosthetic used by the US military. They use the best available, end of story.

The investments being made now in prosthetic research (especially the nerve-machine interface) promise very well for the future.


Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2024 years ago

Your comments are welcome, MarkL. My worry about all this is more that I don’t see the Iraq War as having been necessary, and that to me at least makes the loss of life and limb even more tragic, if that’s possible.