Observations from the Korean War for Modern Military Medicine

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This paper reviews developments in military medicine during the Korean War and places them in the evolution of military medical lessons from the Second World War and the subsequent development of military medicine through the Vietnam War to the present day. The analysis is structured according to the ‘10 Instruments of Military Healthcare’. Whilst there were incremental developments in military medicine in all these areas, several innovations are specifically attributed to the Korean War. The introduction of helicopters to the battlefield led to the establishment of dedicated medical evacuation helicopters crewed with medical personnel and the evolution into the DUSTOFF system during the Vietnam War. Helicopter evacuation was the primary medical evacuation system in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The establishment of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War were founded upon the US Auxiliary Surgical Groups or the UK Casualty Clearing Stations of World War 2. The requirement for resuscitation and surgical teams close to the battlefield has endured through the development of mobile hospitals of varying sizes from Field Surgical Teams to the current ‘modular’ Hospital Centre and other international equivalents. There were many innovations in the clinical care of battle casualties covering wound shock, surgical techniques, preventive medicine, and acute psychiatric care that refreshed or advanced knowledge from the Second World War. These were enabled through the establishment of medical research programs that were managed within the theatre of operations. Further advances in all these clinical topics can be observed through the Vietnam War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – all of which were underpinned by institutional directed research programs. Finally, collaboration between international military medical services and the development of Korean military medical services is a major theme of this review. This ‘military-to-military’ and ‘civil-military’ medical engagement was also a major activity during the Vietnam War and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Overall, the topics and themes in military medicine that were important during the Korean War can be considered to be part of trajectory of innovation in military medicine have been replicated in many subsequent wars. The paper also highlights some ‘lessons’ from World War 2 that had to be relearned in the Korean War, and some observations from the Korean War that had to be relearned in subsequent wars.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)787-828
Number of pages41
JournalKorean Journal of Medical History
Issue number3
Early online date31 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Dec 2023


  • Military Medicine, Public Health, Health Systems, Lessons, Trauma Care, Military Mental Health, Veterans


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