Henry Dunant

From the tragedy of the wars the inspiration that led to the birth of the Red Cross

The bloody battle of Solferino, during the second Italian war of independence, has recently ceased: it is the evening of 24 June 1859 when, on the field, between Austrians on one side and Franco-Piedmontese on the other, 9000 dead and over 40,000 wounded remain . This terrifying scene is assisted, almost by chance, by a Swiss businessman and humanist. His name is Henry Dunant. He immediately understood the idea and intention that we need to help everyone, without making distinctions, without looking at the uniform, over every flag and nationality. Dunant sets to work and in doing so drags hundreds of willing people from the surrounding villages, setting up temporary shelters often located in churches and schools. His basic principle is that the wounded of war must also be treated by enemies. There is no doubt that he moved inspired by his family formation, centered on philanthropy and Christian values, but also by the experience lived on that battlefield where he is particularly struck by the abandonment of the wounded and the dying, and where he has way to appreciate the women of Castiglione delle Stiviere, who, bravely, improvise the first cares for the soldiers. It is in this scenario that the Swiss entrepreneur matures the idea of ​​going further, of structuring the system of relief as it would later materialize in the Red Cross, established following the Geneva conference of 1863. The Geneva document is countersigned in 1864 from sixteen states. The first element sanctioned is the neutrality of the personnel and of the structures dedicated to rescue. From now on, international humanitarian law finds solid foundations on which to lean. But paradoxically Dunant pays his dedication to the humanitarian cause in first person: he abandons all his entrepreneurial interests and this will push him to borrow heavily. He is even expelled from his creature, the Red Cross. Then for about twenty years it “disappears” from the world; he lives in a pension in Heiden and will be a Swiss reporter to find him and bring his story back into fashion. Thus he is rightly recognized his merits and also some subsidies, which he refuses. He survives initially thanks to the help of a wealthy widow, Madame Kastner, and after her death thanks to a small income arranged by Maria Feodorowna, empress of Russia.
In 1901 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which devotes almost entirely to charity. He died nine years later, in that small hotel room, and in poverty. In the meantime his creature has grown enormously: in the current global organizational set-up there are in fact one hundred and ninety national societies registered, forming part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The headquarters is always Geneva. The grandeur achieved by this humanitarian galaxy leads us to conclude and to reflect on the fact that the sowing of Henry Dunant has certainly produced good fruits and left an important gap in humanitarianism.