17 February, 2013

The Red Cross

At a time of upheaval all over Europe, the battle of Solferino stands out. It was fought in northern Italy, near Lake Garda, between an alliance of Piedmont-Sardinia and France, and the Austrians. It was the last battle where all participating forces were commanded by their monarchs: Victor Emmanuel II and Napoleon III on the one side and Franz Joseph on the other. Two years later Italy declared its independence.

Out of some 300,000 troops taking part, more than 5,000 were killed and 23,000 wounded. Jean-Henri Dunant, a Swiss from Geneva,  witnessed the aftermath of the battle. What struck him was that there was no one to take care of the wounded: they were left to lie on the battlefield. He organised local people to treat them, paying for some of the medicines himself. Two years later his ideas led to the Geneva Convention and to the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose 150th anniversary is today.

Dunant died in 1910, penniless and schizophrenic but his creation lives on. It is said his last words were 'Where has humanity gone?' 

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