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PUBLISHED: 4:21 PM on Wednesday, July 11, 2007
The Red Cross prophet
I have often thought about all the different ways the American Red Cross impacts individual lives within our communities by continuing the vision of those people who allowed for compassion and neutrality to pave the way to where we stand today.

Henry Dunant was the principle visionary behind the Red Cross movement. As a young businessman in 1859, Dunant traveled to northern Italy where his objective was to claim the support of the emperor of France for a business opportunity in Algeria.

Dunant was not deterred by the fact that the emperor was leading his army against the Austrians and remained enthusiastic for his mission. However a meeting with the emperor would be denied, what was not denied was the carnage that the Battle of Solferino, where the French victory left 40,000 dead and wounded on the battlefield would impact the young Dunants life and would lead to the establishment of the International Red Cross.

On the day of battle Dunant arrived in Castiglione where he immediately joined in the relief efforts, used his resources to bring supplies and wrote to his friends in Switzerland for aid. Dunant worked for three days and then returned home to Switzerland, not as the young businessman who had hoped to meet with the emperor but as one who was forever changed by the tragedy of war.

Dunant could have merely helped the wounded and returned home to continue in his life but he chose to write an appeal against the inhumanity he had witnessed in hopes that he might move people to reduce the suffering of soldiers.

In 1862 "A Memory of Solferino" was published by Dunant and sent to influential people throughout Europe. Although Dunant was not present at the battle itself, he was able to collect information that allowed him to write an accurate description of the battle itself. He also included his eyewitness descriptions of the make shift hospitals in Castiglione and the deserted battlefield. He included a great emphasis on the need for volunteers and the need for international cooperation.

One phrase provided throughout Dunant text and would be repeated again and again as an expression of the Red Cross was " Tutti Fratelli " which means, " All are brothers".

Dunant said of the work to be done, " The whole problem lies in serious preparation for work of this kind, and in the actual formation of the proposed societies."

In February of 1863, Gustav Moynier, Chairman for the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, placed Dunants proposals before his society and became a guiding force of that which would shape Dunants vision into an organization.

A committee of five men was appointed to work on Dunants material and was chaired bu General Dufour; the secretary was Dunant himself. Other members included Moynier and two physicians, DR Appia and DR. Maunoir. This committee of five laid the groundwork for the Geneva

Convention, international humanitarian agreement and those systems of society now known as the Red Cross Societies.

Delegates favorable of the committee's proposals attended the international conference of 1863. 36 people attended with represenitives from 14 European countries. Two important things were realized from the conference; it increased the influence of the organizing committee and send that it produced resolutions to be considered by governments with possible approval by diplomatic conference.

At the conference conclusion it was declared, " that Monsieur Henry Dunant and the Geneva Public Welfare Society have deserved well of humanity and earned universal thanks."

In Geneva Switzerland in 1864 the Diplomatic Conference met with 24 delegates from 16 governments. The United States sent observers to the conference and greatly influenced those in attendance through informal talks in favor of the proposed treaty.

The conference agreed to the terms of the first Geneva Convention and also agreed that the symbol of this movement would be a red cross on a white background.

Dunant had spent his strength, time and money on the promotion of his humane ideals and in 1867 was bankrupt and had resigned from the committee. Dunant left Geneva and wondered from city to city. He had no regular employment and only regular income came from a family allowance.

In 1895 Dunant was rediscovered by a young Swiss journalist in a Heiden rest home and gained permission to interview Dunant. Upon the conclusion and circulation of the journalist article, Dunant began to receive letters that granted him respect and honor. In 1901 Dunant was one of two recipients of the first Nobel Peace Prize.

Henry Dunant died in 1910 but his realization of a great vision has survived. Dunant's compassion and moral obligation made him the Red Cross prophet; his deep understanding to bring relief to humanity in pain influenced the world.


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