BULL STREET - The art of the Con

The Geneva Convention 1864

Henry Dunant was born in Geneva, Switzerland in May of 1828. He came from an upper class background and his father was the supervisor of prisons for the country. Henry, after graduating from college went into banking and joined the house of Lullin et Sauter. An extremely well read young man and strongly influenced by the good work of Florence Nightingale, on battlefield treatment of wounded, Harriet Beecher Stowe relative to slavery and Elizabeth Fry relative to women’s rights in criminal proceedings. Moreover, he had become strongly religious, he was an avowed pacifist and was present when Victor Hugo at the Paris Peace Congress stated, “A day will come when there will be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening to ideas. A day will come when there ill be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and bombs are replaced by votes, by universal suffrage, by the venerable arbitration of a great supreme senate which will be to Europe what Parliament is to England, the diet to Germany and the Legislative Assembly to France.” This made a lasting impression on the young man and shaped his future.

He was a witness to the Battle of Solferino in Italy where over 41,000 men died in the battle and later another 40,000 died of their wounds, disease and fever. Dunant started to organize the local peasants in order to care to the wounded, He had the churches open their doors to act as hospitals and he assembled the local doctors to treat the solely wounded. This battle and its resulting carnage left such a mark on Dunant that he approached Napoleon II and had him issued the following edict: “Doctors and surgeons attached to the Austrian armies and captured while attending to the wounded shall be unconditionally released; those who have been attending to men wounded at the Battle of Solferino and lying in the Hospital at Catiglione shall, at their request, be permitted to return to Austria.”

This only caused Dunant to step up his pace relative finding a way to improve the overall treatment of those wounded in battle. He wrote a book on the subject entitled “A Memory of Solferino” which dealt with creating safeguards for all official and unofficial people helping the wounded on both sides of any battle.

“When the sun came up the 25th it disclosed the most dreadful sights imaginable. Bodies of men and horses covered the battlefield; corpses were strewn over roads, ditches, ravines, thickets and fields; the approaches to Solferino were literally thick with dead. The fields were devastated, wheat and corn lying flat on the ground, fences were broker, orchards ruined; here and there were pools of blood. The poor wounded men were ghostly pale and exhausted. Some, who had been the most badly hurt, had a stupefied look. Others were anxious and excited by nervous strain and shaken by spasmodic trembling. Some, who had gaping wounds already beginning to show infection, were almost crazed with suffering. They begged to be put out of their misery; with faces distorted in the grip of the death struggle.

Though the army, in its retreat, picked up all the wounded men it could carry in military wagons and requisitioned carts, how many unfortunate men were left behind, lying helpless on the naked ground in their own blood? How many silent tears were shed that miserable night when all false pride, all human decency even, was forgotten? In some quarters there was not water, and the thirst was so terrible that officers and men alike fell to drinking from muddy pools whose water was fouled and filled with curdled blood. The men’s wounds were covered with flies. The tunic, shirt flesh and blood formed an indescribably mass, alive with vermin. A number of men shuddered to think they were being devoured by these vermin, which they thought were emerging from their bodies, but which in reality were the result of the fly-infested atmosphere.”

He was smart enough to realize that he was not going to be able to prevent war; however, he wanted to ameliorate its catastrophic effect as much as possible. The book called for a coups of volunteers to be created that would become available during times of war and other cataclysmic events. As a direct result of the books and his continued pontification relative to the subject, he was invited to attend a meeting of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare where he presented his concept. It was determined that the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, a forerunner of the International Committee of the Red Cross was established and Dunant was its original board of directors.

The Board convened a conference of 13 nations to be held in Geneva with the subject of the meeting to be, “making war more humane.” A number of matters were agreed upon at that meeting, among them were the return of prisoners to their country, the neutral status of those that aid the wounded, and the adoption of the insignia, a white flag with a red cross to identify non-belligerents that were providing aid and comfort to the wounded on both sides of the lines. At that convention, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Spain and Switzerland all signed onto the project in 1864. In succeeding years Britain, Prussia, Greece, Turkey, Austria, Portugal, Russia, Persia, Serbia, Chile, Argentina, Peru, United States, Bulgaria, Japan, Luxemburg, Venezuela, South Africa, Uruguay, Guatemala, Mexico, China, Germany, Brazil, Cuba, Panama and Paraguay in 1097.

However, as usual in these stories, while the key players are instrumental in helping the rest of humanity, they sometimes accomplish it at their own detriment. The bank in which Dunant was a director of in Geneva collapsed as a result of double dealing by the Board itself. Dunant was financially ruined as a result of this action and was forced to resign as the secretary of the international Committee of the Red Cross. He spent the rest of his life in poverty but was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1901. he died in Heiden Switzerland on October, 30, 1910.

The Geneva Convention was really in no way comparable to any of its legal predecessors. The signatories to the agreement, while probably well meaning at the time, were not going to let the convention’s niceties stand in the way of war’s exigencies. We would note that Japan, a country that until 1945 thought that rules were for the other guy, was one of the signatories. It wasn’t too much later that they broke every codicil of the convention in their war with Russia, their occupation of Korea and their treatment of every single prisoner that they captured during World War II. Public relations aside, neither the Russians, the German’s and believe it or not, the American’s did not treat their prisoners or their opponents wounded in the fashion called for under the convention. War is Hell and rules are made to be broker. Such was the Geneva Convention, a tribute to one man’s perseverance, but in practice, not quite worth the paper it is written on. I would refer you to the following articles of the convention should you think this statement rash:

“Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth wealth, or any other similar criteria.”

One would wonder how many Russians returned after World War II from the German Prison Camps or how many German’s returned from the camps run by the Russians. We are aware what happened with the forced marches in Japan, and as far as Korea and Vietnam are concerned, we still wonder whether our people are still being held against their wills. The Geneva Convention has no enforcement capabilities other than its public relations public relations value. Any law or rule that does not have guns backing up its regulations is highly unreliable when the chips are down.

 

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