CHAMPIONS OF CHARITY by John F. Hutchinson

CHAMPIONS OF CHARITY

War and the Rise of the Red Cross

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A convincing but dense history of the early years of the Red Cross, presented as a cautionary study in moral and political compromise and of assimilation into the international military machine. Beginning with the shared interest of Swiss philanthropist Gustave Moynier and French writer Henry Dunant in a soldiers' aid society, historian Hutchinson (Simon Fraser Univ.) moves quickly to the Geneva Conference of 1863, where the Red Cross, and the conflicts associated with it, take shape. Social crusaders aiming for ``higher civilization'' and military opportunists who believe the organization can serve nationalistic and military goals are the book's central antagonists. Changes over the years show the winner: By 1906, according to Hutchinson, the Red Cross had shifted toward the needs of ``states and armies,'' not social betterment. WW I Red Cross posters make the marriage of voluntary aid and patriotism plain: One poster depicting the American and Red Cross flags announced, ``Loyalty to One Means Loyalty to Both.'' The conflicts among the founders of the Red Cross are fascinating, but they are not as successfully highlighted here (in part, possibly, because Hutchinson did not have access to the papers of Moynier and another early Red Cross figure, Louis Appia). Only Henry Dunant, with his naturally dramatic life of high-mindedness, inspired rhetoric, financial scandal, and social rehabilitation (he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901), emerges as a captivating character. Florence Nightingale, who appears to have rejected the Red Cross on grounds that it ``would render war more easy,'' is more a thematic marker than a historical personage. An even more vexing problem is the wordy prose, with interminable sentences punctuated by parenthetical statements, as well as multiple dates and acronyms. This study sustains its theme and convinces readers of its view of this ``sacred cow,'' but prolixity and lack of narrative drive make it slow going. (97 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8133-2526-9
Page count: 544pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1996




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