League of Red Cross Societies

Nobel Lecture

Nobel Lecture*, December 11, 1963

The Red Cross in a Changing World

To this hall tonight have been invited men and women representative of the four corners of our world. Each person present has rendered some service to the cause of peace. Such an undertaking imposes humility and suggests that we speak simply to this world forum about the common purpose that concerns us all.

Goodwill is often inarticulate. Fortunately, we are blessed with individuals and organizations to express the longings of little peoples in all lands. The gift of great and continuing institutions is a splendid gift. We are “inheritors of a tradition”, and in our hands is responsibility that the lustre does not dim, nor the shadow shrink.

Before making any reference to the League of Red Cross Societies, I would like to speak in the highest terms of the work which has been done for the past one hundred years by the International Committee of the Red Cross and for the work it continues to carry on ever with increased fervor. The International Committee is that great body of Swiss citizens which acts as intermediary between belligerents in the time of war, and as arbitrators of disputes in time of peace. To quote Mr. Boissier, president of the International Committee, at the inauguration ceremony1 of the Centenary of the Red Cross, “The International Committee will endeavor, with untiring perseverance, to obtain universal acceptance and application of the Geneva Conventions. These conventions, instruments fashioned and perfected by experience, were forged to protect and save innocent victims of war. Each victim is considered as a separate entity and assisted in his individual suffering, from which it is necessary to save him by stretching out a helping hand. In this fashion, the text of the Convention is transformed into a veritable causeway along which representatives from Geneva travel to bring comfort and perhaps salvation to the wounded or imprisoned.”

The League of Red Cross Societies was founded on May 5, 1919. The League is described in its constitution as the International Federation of National Red Cross Societies, an association of unlimited duration having the legal status of a corporate body. In referring to National Red Cross Societies, the constitution also and equally refers to the corresponding National Societies of the countries using in the place of the Red Cross the other emblems recognized by the Geneva Conventions, namely the Red Crescent, and the Red Lion and Sun2.

National Societies emerged and developed as a direct consequence of the attitude and philosophy of Henri Dunant. The first National Society was founded in 1863. For the realization of his dreams, he proposed the formation of relief societies which would always be available for the performance of an ever increasing number of tasks. His ideas respecting the function of relief committees were conveyed in his own words as follows:

“To render great services by their permanent existence during periods of epidemics, floods, great fires, and other unforeseen disasters; the philanthropic spirit which brought them into being would prompt them to action in all circumstances where they could be of service.”3

This year, Red Cross celebrated its centenary. The Red Cross begins its second century with 102 active National Red Cross Societies, comprising approximately 170,000,000 individual members of local societies. Fourteen of these National Societies became members of the League of Red Cross Societies during the last meeting of the Board of Governors held in Geneva in August, 1963. The formation throughout the world of new National Societies gives increased vitality, a deeper and more realistic meaning to the Red Cross principles of universality, humanity, and impartiality. These National Societies are all working according to principles laid down in Geneva one hundred years ago by the founding fathers of Red Cross. Thus have the humanitarian ideas of one man, Henri Dunant, taken root and flourished.

Red Cross members, unified in their own National Societies and federated in the League, belong to something more significant than a series of benevolent societies. These individuals are guided by international agreements and basic humanitarian principles which give their work a special significance. The League represents millions of voluntary workers, to whom the movement owes an extreme debt of gratitude. The officers of the League have the honor of representing these volunteer members on this very important occasion.

The League of Red Cross Societies, the National Societies of Red Cross, and the members of all National Societies regard with pride the history of the Red Cross, and anticipate with confidence and humility the great new tasks which are ahead. They remember with thankful respect the founding fathers of the International Red Cross.

What does the future hold for the Red Cross? Whatever the developments may be in the world in the coming decades, there will be a tremendous opportunity for this humanitarian organization. Without changing its principles, it must adapt itself to a changing world. There will be a great responsibility for the League and for the National Societies.

“We are a civilization which knows how to make War, but no longer knows how to make Peace”, the Italian Guglielmo Ferrero wrote in his book, The Problem of Peace. During the past ten years this provocative declaration has been tested by partial and localized conflicts in many parts of the world. There is a condition of continuous tension arising from the antagonism of ideologies and the fear of a world war. And yet, there is not a person in the world who does not yearn for peace. What then, in the twentieth century, in this world which is a prey to the most violent convulsions and to the most unexpected upheavals, are the ways to create a climate of understanding and fraternity between men? How do we learn to make peace?

As the seventeenth International Conference of the Red Cross affirmed in Stockholm in 1948, “The history of mankind shows that the campaign against the terrible scourge of war cannot achieve success if it is limited to the political sphere.” The Red Cross, to which quite special appeals have been made in these last ten years, has demonstrated that it is one of the rare institutions capable of marshaling great numbers of men and women, and the necessary material resources, to action for peaceful purposes. It has made a contribution to development of a climate of agreement over and above all ideological, racial, and religious considerations. The Red Cross has always devoted itself to ignoring the antagonisms, whatever they may be, in order to unite all men in one and the same movement of solidarity.

Since its founding in 1919, the League has sent out 168 appeals for international help. The response has not been only from a few prosperous societies. Every society, large or small, young or old, rich or poor, responds to the call for help with eagerness and generosity. After the recent Agadir disaster4, where 17,000 people were killed and 1,700 injured, sixty-one Red Cross Societies participated in relief work. From all comers of the globe teams of surgeons, doctors, and nurses made every effort to bring relief to the victims. Foodstuffs and medicaments were provided to a total value of millions of Swiss francs. Following the disaster emergency, the reconstruction of a hospital complex in Agadir remains as a memorial of Red Cross cooperation.

The list of disasters in the last ten years is impressive. It illustrates the distress of populations who require continuous relief in many instances for several months. To a greater extent than any other body, the League has been called upon to devote its attention to the fate of needy populations and to draw up long-term programs, often at the request of UN specialized agencies, and even governments. Within the broad plan “each victim is considered as a separate entity and assisted in his individual suffering, from which it is necessary to save him by stretching out a helping hand”.

The paralysis epidemic in Morocco in 1959 presented the League with the opportunity of bringing relief to a population and demonstrating the solidarity of this world movement. Everyone recalls the innocent consumption of adulterated cooking oil by a section of the Moroccan population5. There were 10,466 paralysis victims, but after training centers were set up, manned by expert personnel for a period of eighteen months, all but 120 were rehabilitated and orthopedic surgery was arranged for these. In the midst of the disturbances, doctors from Federal and Democratic Germany worked in the same operating theatres; Polish, Canadian, and Czechoslovakian nurses bandaged and treated the same patients, without discrimination.

Among distressed populations, there is a category of people who are most destitute among the destitute, namely the refugees. Often obliged to flee from their own countries, with no official status and with pride hurt, the refugees are left to their own devices. At this time when some countries are persecuting these human beings, and other countries ignoring them, the League, in pursuance of its principles of humanity and impartiality, rushes to their support. In 1956-1957, 180,000 Hungarians fled from their country. For eleven months the League, with the help of the Austrian and Yugoslav governments and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, devoted itself to coordinating relief and administering temporary camps. Millions of dollars were put to use in this vast operation, in which fifty-two National Societies participated, and for which the League received the Nansen medal.

The largest relief operation ever undertaken by the League remains without doubt the one from which 285,000 Algerian refugees benefited. These refugees, installed in Tunisia and Morocco from 1958 to 1962, received regular care from medical teams and were provided with foodstuffs and clothing. Fifty-seven National Societies made gifts during these four years to the total amount of 90,000,000 Swiss francs. This massive assistance was given until the repatriation of the refugees which was effected in 1962 under the auspices of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. And later, for some months, the League was engaged in a large scale program of assistance to two million needy Algerians.

The mission of the League is to bring relief on all fronts. One has only to recall the appeal of the League in 1960 to provide medical teams for the civilian hospitals of the Congo, the relief given to the Angolan refugees, and the medical care and foodstuffs provided for the Watusi tribes from Ruanda-Urundi, who were not only given assistance in the form of medical care and foodstuffs, but were also resettled and equipped.

These are only a few of the actions undertaken by the League during recent years. Others are too numerous to mention except by names-floods in Italy, The Netherlands, England, Belgium, and other countries; hurricanes in Thailand, Madagascar, the Caribbean; earthquakes in Japan, Iran, Turkey, and more recently, in Yugoslavia, where the city of Skoplje was destroyed in July, 1963. The League undertook to assist the Yugoslav Red Cross by providing 27,000 children and 3,000 mothers with food and clothing while their homes were being rebuilt.

These examples illustrate this vast movement of solidarity, which the League always tries to promote and develop between nations. The generosity of National Societies, which between 1950 and 1960 contributed to eighty-eight relief actions to the extent of some sixty million dollars, is certainly not a negligible factor in the search for peace. In Austria, Chile, the Congo, and Viet Nam, men of all races and different ideologies have united their efforts, here to build a dispensary, there to set up a milk station, and everywhere to alleviate suffering. A great philosopher has said: “Force them to build a tower together and you will change them into brothers.” This is the most important aspect. Specialists from all comers of the globe have studied together a rare illness. They have taken the measure of human suffering to find a remedy.

Even more than the thousands of cases of clothing and foodstuffs, with labels from many nations, which lie together in the holds of ships, these human contacts which the League does not cease to encourage are those that best contribute to the justification of its motto: “Per humanitatem ad pacem”. Such is the great, the noble task which the League never ceases to pursue.

International mutual aid is not limited to the field of relief but includes also the development of other sister Societies. The League needs constantly to extend its network of humanitarian actions, and many new countries have recently gained their independence. The Red Cross Development Program is to promote by material and financial aid the organization and development of the different services to sister Societies in need of help. This program, dynamic and flexible enough to be adapted to local conditions, also aims at developing international understanding between sister Societies, between the old and the new. Study seminars and the loan of technical experts help to train the leaders of future Societies, or Societies recently founded.

The Junior Red Cross enables children, ignoring the quarrels of adults, to smile at each other across national borders: A symbol of this broad approach to international service and understanding is the “Henri Dunant House” in Woudschoten, near Zeist, in The Netherlands. Founded by teams of young people on the occasions of the disasters6 which struck Holland in 1953, it has become a house of solidarity-welcoming groups of handicapped adolescents.

It should not be forgotten that the meetings of the League bring peoples together and create better understanding. To these meetings all the National Societies send their representatives, and this serves not only to strengthen the links between members of the Red Cross but also to provide fruitful contact with statesmen who belong to the Red Cross and whose influence may be considerable. Thousands of families, the members of which were dispersed throughout the world as a result of the last war, have been reunited through contact with the National Societies.

On many occasions resolutions relevant to peace have been adopted by various Red Cross Conferences. In addition, the League has intervened directly to remedy to the extent possible the consequences of a conflict. Thus, in 1952 the League took the initiative in arranging semiofficial discussions between the Red Cross Societies of Japan and the People’s Republic of China. In a few months, 30,000 Japanese detained in China were able to return to their country, thanks to the goodwill and understanding of these two societies. In December, 1952, following suspension of the armistice negotiations in Korea, the League appealed to the belligerents to take immediate steps, under the Geneva Conventions, to ensure repatriation of prisoners. The difficulties were immense, but the League’s appeal prepared the way for a solution which, if it had been delayed for long, would have caused new and pointless suffering.

In 1955 the German Red Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany negotiated the repatriation of 11,000 Germans detained in Poland.

The League of Red Cross Societies launches through its activities a daily challenge to misery and despair. It succeeds when it establishes a field of understanding, where men of goodwill speak together in the spirit of human heart.

No finer homage has ever been paid to the League than by the late Mr. Dag Hammarskjöld7, secretary-general of the United Nations, when he declared: “The Red Cross, with its affiliated Red Crescent and Red Lion and Sun Societies, has become the symbol of complete impartiality in rendering help wherever help is needed. The technical achievements of the League have been outstanding, but even greater has been its work in strengthening the ideal of the human race as one family by translating into practical terms the humanitarian concern for the welfare of our fellow men.”

Since the birth of the League, it has seen wars and major human catastrophes. The blind forces of nature have on many occasions overwhelmed the puny breastworks of man. In each and every instance, from every corner of the globe, the response came flooding in to meet the challenge.

It would be an impervious being who would not note that this outpouring of the spirit of helpfulness is not present in all the dealings between the scattered members of our human family. Many have been the attempts to scale the heights, or pierce the thick darkness, where Peace resides. History, civilized and primitive, is stained with the blood of those who had the determination to attain peace, or impose it upon their adversaries. Too often, idealism has found itself steeped in cruelty and twisted in hate. The path to Peace is deep in dead. The entrails of youth are strewn on our battlefields. What matters it to Death and Despair that our protestations are pure, and our declared motives blameless.

In such a world it is to be wondered that the Red Cross has survived. Is it merely that a referee is needed who will serve as liaison and be impartial? Is there place for a doctor who will stanch the bleeding of those who may still be saved? Is it merely as a convenience of the combatants that Red Cross is able to penetrate the exclusions of nationalism to keep alive the fact of mercy? Is Red Cross in wartime a flickering flame to remind us of our continuing brotherhood? Is it a gesture to declare, despite appearances, that we are derived from the Godhead; that we may lay waste our bodies but cannot cast aside, entirely, our souls?

It is this contrast between the work of the Red Cross in peace and in war that provides an endless fascination. In peace, it is the strong support of beneficent service, and in emergencies a wave and pillar of succor for the distressed. In war, it is a liaison, a medium of practical help to the wounded and the prisoner, a symbol that beyond the knives and guns, the larks and the angels are watching.

Why is it that the Red Cross must work in two such disparate worlds? How is it that the same people who rush to the relief of the stranger in a peacetime emergency will grant merely treaty rights in time of war? These rights have been hard won and have yielded important returns in the relief of suffering. But it is the contrast in moods that is impressive.

The Red Cross, acting on behalf of mercy, touches a vibrant chord of out-welling sympathy that stretches from land to land, from black to white, red to yellow, from creed to creed, from heart to heart. There is no delay, no finely weighed counting up of plus and minus, no calculation of the terms of trade, or estimate of what we get for what we give. It is like the mechanism of the human body responding to an infection; like a human family pooling its resources for the member who has met catastrophe.

Perhaps we do not live in two worlds. Rather we live in a divided world where we alarm our neighbors with terrible threats, and evoke the horrors of retaliation. That very same world and those very same people are ready to rush to the aid of those very same neighbors when nature lets loose her terrors. Great wells and springs of sympathy and understanding exist. They are tapped and made into reservoirs in times of need.

Happily, there is some evidence that the closing years of the twentieth century may see great progress made towards the goal of human brotherhood and away from the practices of hate and deception. You may be tolerant if we place before you certain of the reasons of our convictions, and even hopes:

(1) The expansion of knowledge about the world, the universe and man himself has shown how fascinating can be the discovery and enjoyment of this vast workshop and playroom. War and destruction are idiotic in circumstances where the potential is boundless for the sharing of achievement. Why quarrel over pebbles when we can share diamonds; why create destruction when we could be partners in abundance?

(2) The great religions of the world are indicating a realization that they are the keepers of a viewpoint about man and his meaning. Archaic arrogance and conflicting finalities are yielding to a nicer grasp of what matters and should be enshrined. The past is not being forsaken, it is being winnowed; the truth is not being abandoned, it is being rediscovered in modern terms; differences are not being disregarded, they are being reconciled. From this alchemy may come diminution of the estrangement of reason from belief, and the alienation of good men over suppositional certainties.

(3) The habit of cooperation is growing among the nations. The United Nations is a fact and a symbol for man’s determination to talk and act together. Projects like the International Geophysical Year8 draw men from everywhere, together in furtherance of a common interest. The Thinkers Conference9, at Pugwash, Canada, could be proliferated in topics and place to great advantage. The Peace Corps10 and the Peace Institute11 have seeds of promise. Common interest is a common denominator and is the solution of many problems. Happily, there is more coming and going, and more understanding should be a consequence.

(4) The improvement in the means of communications and the increase in the resources for wealth creation have multiplied the capacity to help the less fortunate. Much has been said recently about the shortcomings of the colonial powers in the nineteenth century. It is clear that it is possible today to do more for backward peoples than in the days of sailing ships, and supply more than bare subsistence for the masses in the countries of Europe. Factories are springing up in Africa. Exchange students are numerous on university campuses, and these students will return to enrich their respective homelands.

(5) We are moving into a climate of world opinion where idealism is becoming practical politics, an acknowledged fact of life. It is no longer a subject to be discussed in hushed voice and undertaken, by a strange and select coterie, under penalty of ridicule. Young people who follow idealistic courses are no longer regarded as eccentric by their contemporaries. Idealism is no longer “far out”; it is approaching a norm. In this significant change many organizations and many individuals, moving in the slow step of time, have brought to bear their influence. The far comers of the earth are responding to the breath and the touch of brotherhood.

Here tonight, we can make entries in the ledger of hopeful trends. We will include our own auditor’s notes of caution about the terrifying consequences of false or slanted propaganda; of how the ghosts of history can rise to haunt us; and that insane desires or even misunderstandings can loose the horrors of unlimited calamity.

We can take solace and courage from awareness that the good of all men is within our reach. Many forces are in motion. Is there any further way we can tip the balance in the tug between a Paradise Lost and a Paradise Gained?

It would seem that a practical gain might be achieved if we could set up an agreed international relationship between the resources we direct to the means of destruction, and those we direct to the relief of distress, the increase in well-being of the less fortunate, and the continued unveiling of nature. A friendly competition in getting a higher percent of our national resources used for human betterment might be an approach to a lower percent being used for destruction. Most human beings would rather relieve distress than create it.

A famous poet once inquired: “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”12 Perhaps we shall live to the day when men will ask : “Where are the hates of yesteryear?” For, in the long run, the power of kindness can redeem beyond the power of force to destroy. There is a vast reservoir of kindness that we can no longer afford to disregard.

The curtain is lifting. We can have Triumph or Tragedy – for we are the playwrights, the actors, and the audience. Let us book our seats for Triumph – the world is sickened of Tragedy.

* This Nobel lecture was delivered in the Auditorium of the University of Oslo by John Alexander MacAulay (1895- ), who spoke on behalf of the League of Red Cross Societies. Mr. MacAulay, a Canadian jurist, businessman, and for many years an active volunteer worker in the Canadian Red Cross Society and a member of its Central Council (president, 1950-1951), was at this time chairman of the Board of Governors of the League of Red Cross Societies in Geneva, a post he held 1959-1965. The text is that in Les Prix Nobel en 1963, with some statistical corrections and stylistic changes made after collation with the Red Cross Centenary text.

1. In Geneva on September 1, 1963.

2. See history of the Red Cross, Vol. 1, p.285.

3. Jean Henri Dunant (1828-1910), co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1901. The quotation is a translation of fn. 1, p. 152, of the third edition of Dunant’s Un Souvenir de Solférino (Genève, 1863).

4. The severe earthquake of 1960.

5. Moroccan merchants bought surplus mineral oil used for rinsing engines, mixed it with cooking oil, and sold it as table oil.

6. The floods of 1953.

7. Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961), recipient, posthumously, of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1961.

8. The IGY (July, 1957, through December, 1958) was a period of cooperative study of earth and its cosmic environment by scientists throughout the world.

9. Cyrus S. Eaton, a Cleveland industrialist, convened or sponsored at his estate at Pugwash, Nova Scotia, various conferences of intellectuals for the exchange of ideas on contemporary life and issues. The independently organized Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs held its first meeting (1957) at Pugwash at Mr. Eaton’s invitation.

10. The U.S. Peace Corps, an organization of trained men and women sent to assist foreign countries in meeting skilled manpower needs, was established by President J.F. Kennedy in 1961.

11. The International Institute for Peace was founded in 1957 in Vienna to promote peace through publications, through serving those working for peace, through establishing contact with religious, political, and cultural groups with like aims, as well as with the UN and other international organizations.

12. François Villon (1431-c. 1463), French poet, in “Ballade des dames du temps jadis” in his Grand Testament.

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

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