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Inter Arma Caritas: The Cultural Origins of Humanitarian NGOs

Inter Arma Caritas: The Cultural Origins of Humanitarian NGOs

(p.14) One Inter Arma Caritas: The Cultural Origins of Humanitarian NGOs
Above the Fray
Shai M. Dromi
University of Chicago Press

The Red Cross emerged in 1863 to assist wounded soldiers on the battlefield, and received widespread acclaim. However, mid-nineteenth-century Europe was already brimming with ideas for improving medical care on the battlefield by the time the Red Cross first appeared. What made the notion of nongovernmental volunteer aid societies, as proposed by the Red Cross founders, stand out when other types of proposals were similarly attractive? This chapter traces the social and cultural conditions that made multiple parties in late-nineteenth-century Europe and elsewhere particularly receptive to the idea of organized volunteer relief work. The chapter first reviews the key ‘competitors’ to the Red Cross idea, in particular mendicant orders, military medicine reformers, and pacifist movements. The chapter then shows that the early advocates of the Red Cross—in particular Jean-Henri Dunant—offered proposals that resonated with an intersecting set of inchoate anxieties prevalent among their contemporaries, especially surrounding the neglect of wounded soldiers on the battlefield of Europe. By drawing on these specific concerns, the Red Cross gained the necessary leverage by which to advocate for volunteer humanitarianism in broader terms.

Keywords:   Red Cross, Solferino, Jean-Henri Dunant, humanitarianism, battlefield medicine, institutional emergence, Henry Arrault, Ferdinando Palasciano, Geneva Convention

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