When vacationing Genevan businessman Henri Dunant arrived at the resort community of Solferino, Italy, in June 1859, he certainly did not expect to find the remains of a bloody battle, concluded earlier in the day, between the Austrians and the French. The casualties, over 6,000 of them, horrified Dunant. More shocking were the survivors, left unattended on the bloody battlefield, many of them severely wounded and near death. Overcome by the brutality of the scene before him, Dunant organized and led a team of volunteers that systematically cared for the wounded. Within five years, he and four other prosperous Swiss citizens formed the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded and drafted the first Geneva Convention.
Renamed in 1876 the International Committee of the Red Cross, the organization today comprises 137 national societies and 250 million members. The Committee that governs it, however, has changed little since the 1870s. According to Caroline Moorehead, author of Dunant's Dream: War, Switzerland and the History of the Red Cross, the power to monitor and criticize all governments of the world remains "in the hands of a small band of co-opted, elderly Swiss lawyers and bankers." While the International Committee has operated staunchly on its self-prescribed principles throughout the 20th century, many of its decisions, actions, and instances of inaction have been ambiguous and seemingly motivated by politics. In Dunant's Dream, Moorehead, a London-based journalist, presents a scrutinizing yet balanced history of the organization. Despite its length, Dunant's Dream makes no attempt to be comprehensive. Instead, Moorehead, her argument supported by unprecedented access to private Red Cross archives in Geneva, analyzes the conflicts, issues, and moral dilemmas from over 130 years of war and natural disasters that have had the most determining effect on the growth of the modern Red Cross. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack [via]