The Geneva Convention and The Red Cross


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The Red Cross

by Charles Bernard

Excerpt from The Chautauquan Voume 9 article The Red Cross by Charles Bernard published in 1889

At last the newspaper reporter invaded the battlefield. He cared nothing for glory and he saw the wounded. Then it was that people really began to understand what a fight means. It was the reporter who sent Florence Nightingale to the Crimea. The English government hospital service was totally inadequate to the care of the sick and wounded. After Florence Nightingale’s work no more was done to replace glory with a nurse, until after the battle of Solferino.

At this battle Henri Dunant, a Swiss gentleman, played the part of a reporter and pointed out to the people of Europe the truth about a battle. His paper, “A Souvenir of Solferino,” was the inspiration of a wholly new method of treating battles. It was the same in our war. The reporters told the truth, left out the glory and described the misery and suffering. The moment the people knew the facts they invented the greatest charity organization the world had then known. In these days of peace we are apt to forget what a remarkable institution our Sanitary Commission proved to be. It was a work by the people for the people’s army and it gave the greatest aid to the country that any government had ever received in time of war.

The reporter at Solferino, for M. Dunant deserves this title as he did a good reporter’s work, set all Europe to consider whether glory was not another name for barbarism, inhumanity, neglect, and cruelty. Our Sanitary Commission had done a great work and then disappeared. It was like the yellow “lion’s tooth” of the field, a plant with winged seeds; and its seeds sprang up in the minds of men in Europe beside the new thoughts inspired by the reporter at Solferino. There was in Switzerland a society of persons interested in the welfare of their country and of humanity at large, resembling our own Social Science Association. This association held its meetings at Geneva and was known as the Society of Public Utility. Three friends, M. Gustave Moynier, Dr. Louis Appia, and M. Dunant, the reporter, decided to call upon this society for aid. Could not something be done whereby the people could help the sick and wounded in time of war? The governments could not, if they would, do all that was needed. The people must help, not alone their own armies but all sick and wounded of every name and kin wherever there should be war. Humanity knows no nations but only suffering men.

The Society of Public Utility gave the idea favorable consideration, and a convention was called at Geneva of all persons who might be interested in the care of the sick and wounded in time of war. The convention was opened on the 26th of October, [1863], and was in session four days. The outcome of this meeting of the friends of humanity was a proposal for an international treaty in regard to the treatment of sick, wounded, and prisoners in war, and the formation of an international society for the care of the sick and wounded of both sides in every war and in all countries.

A treaty could only be considered by governments, and such a charitable society must have a recognized official status from the various governments or its labor would be in vain. No general would permit a society of nurses, however useful they might be, to follow his army lest they give aid and comfort to the enemy. Accordingly a call was issued for a convention of representatives from various governments and the first international treaty of mercy was read in the town hall at Geneva. It was a wholly new idea, and it is not surprising that many years passed before all the civilized governments of the world joined hands in this international agreement to admit that humanity is worth more than glory.

This first treaty, known as the Treaty of Geneva, consisted of ten articles.

Excerpt from The Chautauquan Voume 9 article The Red Cross by Charles Bernard published in 1889



Further Reading and External links

International Committee of the Red Cross – War and Law

Henry Durant