Dunant's Dream: War, Switzerland and The History of the Red Cross

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9780002551410: Dunant's Dream: War, Switzerland and The History of the Red Cross

The only authoritative and comprehensive history of the Red Cross. Caroline Moorehead is the first writer to be given unlimited access to the extensive archives in Geneva.

The International Red Cross was the inspiration – the dream – of Henri Dunant, a thirty-one-year-old Swiss businessman appalled by the butchery and lack of medical care for injured soldiers during the battle of Solferino in 1859. With Gustave Moynier, another Swiss, Dunant set out to create an international organization which was not only to alter, irrevocably, the fate of all those wounded in every war, but which moved rapidly into international humanitarian law, refugee work, prison conditions and the tracking of people parted by warfare. To this day, the International Committee of the Red Cross remains the custodian of the Geneva Conventions, which are among the most important international instruments of humanitarian law ever formulated.

Today the Red Cross has 137 national societies and 250 million members. Yet it remains an inscrutable institution – very much the same animal today as in the 1870s – governed by the Swiss alone, but highly dependent for its diplomats and staff on foreigners – all of whom are required to sign a pledge of secrecy.

Caroline Moorehead is the first writer to be granted unrestricted access to the extensive archives in Geneva, which have been closed for over 100 years. They provide a unique study of the politics of conflict. Her book traces the origins of the Red Cross, its main areas of work including some of its most difficult and contentious interventions, and its work with refugees. She investigates the extraordinary secretive paranoia of the headquarters and uncovers some startling truths about the Red Cross and its relationship with some of the most horrific and barbaric political regimes of the twentieth century. She also examines the concept of neutrality – central to the Red Cross – and its feasibility in the modern world.

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From the Back Cover:

The Red Cross was the inspiration – the dream – of Henri Dunant, a thirty-one-year-old business man appalled by the butchery and lack of medical care for injured soldiers he came across, almost by chance, during the battle of Solferino in 1859. With Gustave Moynier, another Swiss, Dunant set out to create an international organization which would not only alter the fate of all those wounded in war, but which moved rapidly to establish international humanitarian law, begin refugee work, improve prison conditions and track down those parted by warfare. It is the most durable international organization of them all and to this day it International Committee remains the custodian of the Geneva Conventions, which it drafted, and which are still, with the Hague Conventions, the most important international instruments of humanitarian law ever formulated.

Today the Red Cross has 137 national societies and 250 million members. Yet the international committee which governs it remains an inscrutable institution, very much the same now as it was in the 1870s – private, independent, discreet, accountable to no outside body and governed by twenty-five Swiss citizens. Caroline Moorehead is the first writer to be granted unparalleled access to the Red Cross archives in Geneva which have been closed for over a hundred years. Her book traces the origins of the Red Cross, its work during the wars of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, its response to natural disasters, including its most contentious and political interventions, and describes the men and women delegates who became the historians and monitors of war. She investigates the long-lasting secrecy and paranoia of the organization and the true history of the relationship between the International Committee and some of the most murderous political regimes of the twentieth century. She also examines the concept of neutrality – central to the Red Cross – and its practicality in the modern world.

This is the only authoritative book on its subject by a writer of real distinction and of wide experience in the field of human rights. It will have a significant impact on the way the Red Cross is viewed all over the world and on our ideas of what international organizations can achieve.

About the Author:

Caroline Moorehead is a biographer, book reviewer, writer and broadcaster on human rights. She worked on the staff of The Times, specialising in profiles and interviews, before joining the Independent in 1989 to write a weekly column on human rights – which was subsequently turned into a television series for the BBC, which she continues to write and co-produce. She is the associate producer of a TV series on the Red Cross which will be presented by John Simpson and will accompany this book. She lives in London.

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