By Bill Fortune, American Red Cross
poster from Library of
Wars have raged throughout the centuries and each one becomes the "worst ever". The rules of engagement may have changed and our weaponry has become more sophisticated but that has only served to escalate the need for humanitarian action.
Wars now rage in densely populated areas resulting in direct impact on civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people become refugees as they try to avoid a conflict. Regard for human life has declined to the point where civilian casualty counts exceed those who are actually doing the fighting.
But, even wars have limits, or at least they should have. The Geneva Conventions were written to set a standard of humanitarian action. The Conventions are still relevant today and perhaps have more meaning than ever. Have we forgotten that? We know there are forces today that do not "sign on" to the Geneva Conventions and who feel that any and all means should be used to further their cause. Those nations that have "signed on" remain committed to the words and the ideals behind the agreements. It is time for us to remember.
August 22 commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions which were first developed on that date in 1864. A time when the United States was deeply involved with the Civil War. This treaty bound 11 European nations to provide aid to wounded soldiers in all future conflicts and to recognize the neutrality of aid workers and the wounded. Eleven of those original signers of the Geneva Convention also pledged to establish national Red Cross societies.
|Pamphlet cover for "The Red Cross|
and the Geneva Convention"
As the American Red Cross expanded, under the leadership of Clara Barton, its role during peacetime transformed itself into one with a focus on civilian relief following disasters. Disaster response included distribution of material aid during major floods in 1883, earthquakes in 1886, tornadoes and yellow fever in 1888 and the Johnstown, PA flood in 1889.
Since those formative years the American Red Cross has remained a leader in humanitarian action around the world. Today we look back on a proud history of humanitarian service and action, thankful for those whose love for humanity gave them the strength and courage to bring nations together under the Geneva Conventions.