Facing Death: Mortuary Affairs in Joint Operations

06.29.06 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In a somewhat gruesome but unblinking new publication (pdf) prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. military prescribes doctrine for the recovery, identification, handling and burial of deceased soldiers, enemy combatants and civilian detainees.

The violent, horrible death of combatants and non-combatants is of course a defining characteristic of war. And the strange efforts by the Bush Administration to prevent the media from photographing flag-draped coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq (until a lawsuit overturned the policy last year) did nothing to change this reality.

The new doctrinal publication anticipates that the casualties of war may be mutilated or dismembered. They may be dangerously contaminated with chemical or biological agents or radioactive materials. Mass casualties may overwhelm existing facilities, forcing improvised solutions such as mass interment.

The publication stresses the dignified treatment of the dead, and includes summary accounts of the rituals associated with Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim religious traditions. (“Other than common respect, Buddhists do not have any particular requirements concerning the handling of human remains following death.”)

See “Mortuary Affairs in Joint Operations,” Joint Publication 4-06, June 2006 (195 pages, 2.5 MB).

See all publications
Nuclear Weapons
New Voices on Nuclear Weapons Fellowship: Creative Perspectives on Rethinking Nuclear Deterrence 

To empower new voices to start their career in nuclear weapons studies, the Federation of American Scientists launched the New Voices on Nuclear Weapons Fellowship. Here’s what our inaugural cohort accomplished.

11.28.23 | 3 min read
read more
Science Policy
Expected Utility Forecasting for Science Funding

Common frameworks for evaluating proposals leave this utility function implicit, often evaluating aspects of risk, uncertainty, and potential value independently and qualitatively.

11.20.23 | 11 min read
read more
Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear Notebook: Nuclear Weapons Sharing, 2023

The FAS Nuclear Notebook is one of the most widely sourced reference materials worldwide for reliable information about the status of nuclear weapons and has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by the staff of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project: Director Hans […]

11.17.23 | 1 min read
read more
Social Innovation
Community School Approach Reaches High of 60%, Reports Latest Pulse Panel

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ August 2023 pulse panel, 60% of public schools were utilizing a “community school” or “wraparound services model” at the start of this school year—up from 45% last year.

11.17.23 | 4 min read
read more