The Principles of the Red Cross

Courtesy Reuters

THE Red Cross, both as an idea and an institution, is passing through a period of stress and difficulty after the Second World War, as it did after the First. This is natural, for no matter how much material and spiritual aid was given under the Red Cross emblem, it was, of course, insufficient when measured by the wartime distress and suffering.

The International Committee of the Red Cross acted as an impartial intermediary between the belligerent states, and was in the thick of the fight in behalf of the victims. It won gratitude and respect for its work, but it has also been criticized. The criticism takes the shape of a demand that the Red Cross devote itself to the struggle for peace rather than to the relief of war victims; indeed, the question is raised whether considerations of humanity can, in point of fact, be upheld at all, in the conditions of modern war. And there is also a demand for a more effective form of international organization.

If the present problems are to be understood, some brief historical references must be made. In 1859, Henry Dunant, a citizen of Geneva, happened to be on the battlefield of Solferino, after the murderous fighting between the French and the Austrians. Appalled by the suffering of the 40,000 wounded who were left to die, he organized the neighboring villagers to aid them, and in 1862 published a story of the event called "Un Souvenir de Solférino," which made history in much the same way as Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." In his home town, Dunant gathered together four other men, two of them doctors, the third a lawyer, and, as chairman of the committee, one of the most venerated men in Swiss history, General Guillaume Dufour, the victorious and humane leader of the federal troops in the Civil War of 1847. This Committee of Five was the forerunner of the present International Committee of the Red Cross.

In 1863, these five men succeeded in

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