I'm trying to recall a quote I read some time ago.

The gist was that ‘Everything we've learned in/about x we learned through blood’, with the implication being that every current rule/practice in x came to be because somebody came to harm in the past and the rule came about to avoid that harm in future.

I can't remember what x was, which is stymieing my attempts to search online, but I believe it was either:

  • the military;
  • policing;
  • health & safety; or
  • healthcare.

Can anybody help me to track down this quote?

  • 1
    I’m voting to close this question because it is speculative; it is as likely to be a non-idiomatic quote as an idiom or maxim, and is a better fit on Literature.SE. Jun 17, 2020 at 18:46
  • 1
    Probably not this: "Blood alone moves the wheels of history." Martin Luther Jun 17, 2020 at 18:47
  • 1
    @Edwin Ashworth It should be migrated then.
    – Naomi
    Jun 18, 2020 at 14:27
  • @Naomi I'm glad you agree. Jun 18, 2020 at 14:41
  • @Naomi I couldn't work out which SE would be more appropriate for this, but more than happy for it to be migrated if it belongs on Literature.SE
    – 08915bfe02
    Jun 18, 2020 at 15:37

4 Answers 4


How about Lessons not learned in blood are soon forgotten. In googling this, I've found it attributed to both Abraham Lincoln and Carl von Clausewitz. I haven't been able to confirm either, but I do know that the actor Gerard Butler said it in the movie Law Abiding Citizen.

  • 1
    Lots of sayings get attributed to Lincoln for some reason.
    – Barmar
    Jun 18, 2020 at 4:58
  • @Barmar Agree. The quote above doesn't feel like Lincoln. I do love this though, from Lincoln's second inaugural: "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." [Emphasis mine.] Jun 19, 2020 at 4:01

The other day, a train driver told me that ‘our rulebook is written in blood’.

Searching for that phrasing returned several hits, such as this SE question and this LinkedIn post, which suggests that a) this is the phrase I was originally thinking of and b) that this phrase originated within the transport industry.


I found this by searching online, but it might be the closest one to your quote:

I learned in Army Special Forces that all lessons are learned in blood.


  • 2
    How about “Lessons not learned in blood are soon forgotten. Abraham Lincoln or Carl von Clausewitz (not sure, but I'm trying to track it down). Jun 17, 2020 at 19:06

In government, it's said that "all regulations are written in blood".

  • 2
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