Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Carl Joachim Hambro*, Member of the Nobel Committee

The Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting [Parliament] has decided to divide the Peace Prize for 1963 between the two sister organizations of the Red Cross: the International Red Cross Committee and the League of Red Cross Societies.

It is most appropriate that such a decision should be taken this year, for it marks the centennial of the Red Cross. That it should have been possible to constitute the Red Cross and start its work in 1863 is one of the great miracles in human history.

It was after the French-Sardinian-Austrian war and on the background of the terrible massacres on the battlefields of northern Italy that the Red Cross came into existence. On June 24, 1859, 300,000 French, Sardinian, and Austrian soldiers fought at Solferino in northern Italy, the most merciless battle of the war; and more than 40,000 dying, dead, and wounded were herded into the little village of Castiglione. There was no organized medical aid and no medical supplies, and there was no water. The heat was suffocating; and in this hell on earth an idealistic and pious young Swiss businessman from Geneva, Henri Dunant (he was later called by Dickens “the man in white” and repeated the words which Dunant adopted: Tutti fratelli. We are all brothers.), worked day and night among the dead and the dying and pressed into his service every man and woman of the neighorhood. The Italian peasant women came to his aid and helped even the enemies.

Dunant had come to Italy for a conference with Napoleon1, but followed the call of his heart and conscience.

The earlier decades of the nineteenth century had seen wars in every country of Europe, and from the days of the disasters of the great French armies, the minds of statesmen and soldiers were busy with the idea of how to prevent wars and how to fight the disorder and disorganization which followed in the wake of war.

Fifty years before Solferino, General Dobeln, the great hero of the Swedish war in Finland,2 wrote in his diary: “Happy the country where nothing is regarded as little things, neither in peace nor in war.”

Dunant saw in Castiglione the indescribable suffering that came as a result of the lack of preparation and the neglect of what had been regarded as little things; and when later the idea of the Red Cross was accepted with open hearts in England, it was because the importance of “the little things ” had been understood as a result of Florence Nightingale’s work,3 and there were public meetings very much like those that were later arranged for the Red Cross. For such a meeting in 1845 a young English authoress, Miss Craigie, presented a poem called Little Things,4 which became very popular and was recited in the schools of England and America and accepted as an introduction to work for the Red Cross.

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.

Thus the little minutes,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
Of eternity.

Thus our little errors
Make a mighty sin;
Drop by drop the evil
Floods the heart within.

Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth an Eden,
Like the heaven above.

Never have little things given greater results. Last summer there were Red Cross societies in eighty-eight countries, with a membership of nearly 170 million.

Henri Dunant had learnt to see the importance of little things, and when in 1862 he published his book, Un Souvenir de Solferino, which was a tremendous shock to public opinion in Europe, he launched the idea to start, before any war broke out, organizations of peaceful, idealistic women and men to work for help to the wounded in war, friends and enemies alike. And should it not be possible to bring about an international convention to declare that wounded and medical personnel should be regarded as neutral and under protection of the governments at war? His book made an impression like that of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe,5 and stirred the conscience of responsible people all over Europe.

In his native city of Geneva, La Societe genevoise d’utilite publique [the Geneva Public Welfare Society] appointed a committee of five – among whom was Dunant – to make his idea a reality. And these five private individuals, without any official status, really succeeded in arranging a conference at Geneva in October, 1863, in which sixteen countries participated among them Norway and Sweden. Here the Red Cross was organized, and in honor of Dunant it adopted as its international emblem the inverted Swiss flag – the red cross on white.

Until then every country – if it had any organized military medical service at all – had had its own flag and symbols, and there was general confusion behind the battlefields.

In 1864, the year after, delegates of twelve states, invited by the Swiss government on the initiative of the Committee of Five, met at Geneva and adopted the first Geneva Convention for protection of sick and wounded in land warfare.

Gradually – and in the early years slowly – the Red Cross became the mighty institution which it is today.

It is wholly independent of any government and completely neutral. Its highest authority is the Red Cross Conference which usually meets every four years and consists of delegates from the National Red Cross Societies, the International Red Cross Committee, the League of Red Cross Societies and representatives of the governments which have signed the Geneva Convention. The delegation of each national Red Cross has only one vote. The decisions of the Conference bind the National Red Cross Societies morally, but the Conference can only give advice and express wishes.

The first International Red Cross Conference was in Paris in 1867, and the most recent one was in New Delhi in 1957 on the invitation of the Indian Red Cross.

A permanent International Red Cross Commission of nine members has been established to discuss every problem which arises between the conferences and to decide when and where the next conference shall meet. Five of the nine are elected by the Conference from the national Red Cross organizations, two are appointed by the Committee and two by the League.

The work of the International Committee has two branches, the General Affairs Division and the Executive Division. The General Affairs Division has worked to spread knowledge of the Geneva Conventions and the principles of the Red Cross, a work which has been of particular importance in all the new states; at the same time the Committee has tried to make governments improve and extend the Geneva Convention, which did not correspond to the modern form of war, and four new conventions were adopted at a conference in 1949, for the protection of the victims of sea warfare, for the shipwrecked, for prisoners of war, and for the protection of nonmilitary persons in time of war. But governments proved most reluctant to accept any conventions that would forbid atomic warfare and use of weapons whose destruction cannot be controlled by those who make use of them.

The Red Cross Conference at New Delhi again adopted such resolutions, and they were sent to the governments of all countries, with the remarks of the International Committee. Most governments have given no answer, and Mr. Boissier has commented that it is not difficult to understand this silence. It will be necessary to fight fear and hatred. And in this work is the future of the Red Cross.

In many quarters there has been an idea that the Committee as a Swiss body is more completely neutral and impartial than the League. It was the Committee that was asked to take care of all transportation and distribution of aid in Hungary after the uprising of the people,6 but it was the League that took care of the refugees, at a cost of more than 100 million Swiss francs; and corresponding large sums of money were given to the Algerian refugees7 and to the Congo8 – and it was a delegate of the Committee who was killed at Katanga.

It was the Committee that was permitted by the government of Nepal to give aid to the refugees from Tibet9 – for Switzerland, not being a member of the United Nations, had taken no part in any decision against Communist China.

In the same way it was on the invitation of the Japanese Red Cross, that the Committee repatriated North Korean prisoners of war in Japan. Up to 1962 some 75,000 had been brought back to their home country, and in Europe the Committee has been active in repatriating refugees in even greater numbers and bringing together families that had been dispersed. And the Committee under the peace treaty with Japan has distributed the compensation given to those who had been prisoners of war in Japan, and in Europe to the victims of medical experiments in Germany.

The work of the Committee is so closely coordinated with that of the League that to all practical purposes they form a unity, and in many fields they work hand in hand with the United Nations. The great worldwide humanitarian work of the League falls outside the sphere of the Peace Prize, but the cooperation between the Red Cross Societies of ninety different countries of different races, creeds, and color is of very real importance for international understanding and peace.

In Mohammedan countries the Red Cross became the Red Half-Moon on white, in Iran the Red Lion and Sun. But they all work loyally together, and the successful efforts of the Red Cross Societies in China and Japan which led to the repatriation of 30,000 Japanese prisoners in China in 1952 promoted peace in the Far East, and corresponding efforts which led to an exchange of prisoners between Poland and West Germany in 1955 had real importance. Particular stress has been laid on the work of the Junior Red Cross Societies. The Red Cross youth movement started in the U.S. in 1923 and has been in constant evolution. Today there are some sixty-two million members, and it cannot be doubted that if millions of young women and men are taught in the schools that we are all brothers-“Tutti fratelli” and that little deeds of friendship and little words of love should bind the world together, the ideas of Nobel will triumph.

* Mr. Hambro delivered this speech on December 10, 1963, in the Auditorium of the University of Oslo, following Mr. Jahn’s presentation of the prize for 1962 to Linus Pauling. At the conclusion of Mr. Hambro’s remarks, Mr. Jahn, chairman of the Committee, presented the Nobel diplomas and medals to Leopold Boissier as representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross and to John A. MacAulay as representative of the League of Red Cross Societies. Both men responded with brief speeches of acceptance, which included tributes to some earlier prizewinners and to the Norwegian Red Cross. The English text of Mr. Hambro’s speech, with some minor emendations, is that appearing in Les Prix Nobel en 1963.

1. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-1873), emperor of the French (1852-1870).

2. War between Sweden and Russia (1808-1809) through which Russia acquired Finland from Sweden.

3. Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), English nurse and hospital reformer who organized hospital units during the Crimean war (1853-1856).

4. By Julia A. Fletcher Carney (1823-1908), American verse writer.

5. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), American author whose novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (serial form, 1851; book form, 1852) did much to solid public opinion in the North against slavery.

6. The Hungarian uprising of October, 1956, against Soviet domination was put down by Russian troops early in November.

7. The Algerian refugee problem arose as a result of Algerian revolt against France, the ensuing war between France and Algeria, and finally of civil strife, once independence had been agreed upon in the early 1960s.

8. The new independent Republic of the Congo, created in 1960, was immediately torn by regional and tribal rivalries, with the province of Katanga seceding but eventually being subdued by UN troops and reintegrated with the Republic.

9. Many Tibetans became refugees as a result of unrest after the Chinese Communists assumed dominance over Tibet in the early 1950s and of the failure of a full-scale Tibetan revolt in 1959.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1963

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