Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Founding of the Red Cross

From History Today:
The Battle of Solferino, fought in northern Italy in 1859, was a decisive episode in the struggle for Italian independence, in the birth of the Red Cross movement and in the creation of the Geneva Conventions. The bloody battle between the Austrians and a French-Italian alliance lasted for hours before the Austrians were driven into retreat. The casualties have been estimated at anything from 30,000 to 40,000 men. Thousands of wounded were left on the battlefield, far too many for the victors’ small medical teams to cope with. It happened that a 31-year-old Swiss businessman named Henri Dunant was travelling through the area and was utterly horrified by the battle (which he afterwards said compelled young men to be murderers) and by its aftermath. He helped to organise people from the nearby villages to bring water, food and aid to the wounded, regardless of their nationality. He persuaded the French to release a few captured Austrian doctors to help and he paid for the hasty creation of makeshift hospitals.

In 1862 Dunant wrote an account of what he had seen in which he suggested that national armies should have efficiently trained non-combatant volunteers to give help to the wounded of both sides. He also wanted international treaties to guarantee the protection of those involved. He sent copies to important figures all over Europe and he made a strong impression. (Read more.)

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