Swiss-born Henry Dunant needed water rights for a business venture in French-controlled Algeria. The person who could get him those rights was Napoleon III. The only problem was, Napoleon III was on the battlefield in Italy. Dunant did not let that deter him, but set out for Napoleon's headquarters at Solferino in Northern Italy. Thanks to that bold venture, this Christian-influenced businessman became the first person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
He arrived in Solferino in time to witness one of the bloodiest battles of the 19th century. About 40,000 men died in the fighting on June 24, 1859, and another 40,000 perished afterwards because of inadequate medical care.
Henri Dunant had been reared in active Christian faith. His father was involved in social work and Dunant himself had labored for the Swiss arm of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). He was a man of action. Appalled by the suffering he witnessed at Solferino, he immediately organized the local peasants to gather the wounded and care for them in homes and churches. Had he not done so, even more may have died. He persuaded Napoleon III to issue an order freeing doctors and surgeons attached to the Austrian armies. But more was needed.
Dunant saw that modern weapons would kill increasing numbers of men. Something had to be done. He wrote a book titled A Memory of Solferino. In it he called all nations to set up commissions to deal with war casualties. Everyone who could should be trained to care for the wounded. His idea sparked interest. In 1863 a committee of five, including Dunant, met in Geneva to see if his plan could be implemented. It called for a conference. This was also held in Geneva. On this day, October 29, 1863, the conferees founded the International Red Cross (not yet called by that name). The following year, the concerned committee drew up the Geneva Convention.
Dunant never got his water rights. As a consequence, his business failed. Genevans lost money through him and shunned him. He was accused of homosexuality and died obscure and impoverished in a hospice, bitter and refusing to spend the international awards that showered upon him.
- Rich, Josephine. Jean Henri Dunant, founder of the International Red Cross. Messner, 1956.
- Internet articles.
Last updated November, 2006.