Today in AFJ History

September 2, 2013  

1899: Too dangerous for war

From the archive: September 2, 1899

Editor’s note: In May 1899, delegates to the Hague Convention voted 22-2 to ban soft-point expanding bullets from military use. This prohibition on Dum-Dums, named for the Indian arsenal where the British invented them, incensed Army and Navy Journal editor William Conant Church. He penned this editorial:

Peace Conference Hypocrites

Russia has had her big fur-coated back patted by the delicate hands of dilettante reformers because of the pious rage she manifested over the Dum Dum, and now comes an English writer who tells us that the latest pattern small-bore rifle bullet used in the Russian Army is, if anything, far more cruel, and produces a much more ragged and unhealable wound than any other at present in use. The Russian authorities’ claim for this bullet is that it makes a small hole at entry, but immediately on striking “somersaults” through the flesh, producing an outlet from 2 in. to 3 in. in diameter in its passage, pulverizing and macerating the flesh in such a manner as to render an unhealable wound if in the body, and certain amputation in the case of a limb being struck. The lead interior is entirely covered with a nickel sheath. On striking, the bullet does not crumple up, it simply “somersaults.”

Again, in an instructive and most interesting paper in the “British Medical Journal” of July 29 on “The Peace Conference and the Dum Dum Bullet,” Prof. Alex. Agstron says: “Were the assembled world to be shown the destructive effects all modern military rifles produce, the fearful rending of viscera, the cruel powdering and splintering of bones, the tearing of the flesh, and the lacerated open dead space beneath the fasciae and skin, it would, we think, be shocked to find that every one of its rifles is a most murderous weapon, and that all its bullets produce, as a rule, ghastly wounds. It is, indeed, out of place to apply the word ‘humane,’ even in a relative sense, to any of them.”

The unanimous verdict of British medical officers in regard to the Dum Dum bullet is that it is in no sense an explosive projectile. The Principal Medical Officer in India gives several instances in which wounds inflicted by Dum Dum bullets were specially examined and no explosive results were apparent. In one case the principal medical officer saw the man himself in hospital, and he also saw the bullet. There was nothing explosive about it. Five cases are recorded by Sergt. Major Whitehead as having been caused by Dum Dum bullets. Three of these wounds differed in no respect from those produced by the Lee-Metford bullet; and in two, which were severe, wounds far worse have been frequently noticed during campaigns caused by either the spherical or cylindro-conoidal projectiles other than the Dum Dum bullet…