The history of the Red Cross is an interesting and powerful story of people who wouldn’t accept the status quo and who had the courage and the will to change things for the better.
It all started with a businessman from Swiss, Jean-Henri Dunant, who went about his business interests when in 1859 he witnessed the horrific Battle of Solferino after which thousands and thousands of soldiers were left to suffer and die without any medical aid or the most basic of help. After seeing that Dunant forgot his business and concentrated all his energy on making sure things changed and the world found a way to be humane even in war.
In 1863, Gustave Moynier, who was a lawyer from Geneva and the president of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare read a copy of Dunant’s work The Memories of Solferino and decided to support his ideas. Soon the two were joined by physicians Louis Appia, Théodore Maunoir and Swiss Army general Guillaume-Henri Dufour to form the “International Committee for Relief to the Wounded” which was to gather together for the first time the representatives of the major European powers at an international conference in Geneva the same year to work on improving the medical treatment on the battlefields. The Conference took place again in 1864. on an official state level and then was constituted the historic First Geneva Convention.
In 1876, the committee adopted the name “International Committee of the Red Cross” (ICRC).
A lot of memorable things happened in the following decades but we should emphasize here the role of The Red Cross in the First World War from 1914. to 1918. The great idea that was conceived in the nineteenth century has been shown in The Great War to be fruitful because the level of organization helped nurses from all over the world come and volunteer in the European countries that were at war. The convention the Red Cross championed made it possible for there to be finally ways of helping POW’s in occupied territories. The usage of forbidden weapons was also closely monitored and reported by the Red Cross.
In World War Two the ICRC sadly could not prevent the Holocaust and the fact that the totalitarian countries of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan refused to cooperate had shown that nothing can be done if major world powers don’t want to help the people of the world ease suffering in war. Even so, the IRC managed to help a lot of POWs once again and also individual efforts of IRC delegates saved many Jewish and other prosecuted lives.
Until the end of WWII, the IRC received several Nobel Prizes for its work and after the war, it continued to expand its activities in smaller scale conflicts all over the world, and larger ones like the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the conflicts in the Middle East. But one very important aspect of the history after WWII is the help The Red Cross provided to newly formed countries in the process of decolonization. These societies were coming out of centuries of exploitation and poverty and were the greatest battlefield for human dignity and making lives better and healthcare accessible.
The history continues, we should all contribute!