Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross

Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross

Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross

Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross

Synopsis

The author of this polemical account of the Red Cross movement argues that the militaristic tendency has taken advantage of the Red Cross and that a spin off of this is the promotion of war by Red Cross itself!

Excerpt

Thanks to the public questioning of the role of the Red Cross in the "tainted blood" scandals in France and Canada, the AIDS- conscious generation now coming of age will never be likely to regard the Red Cross as a sacred cow. Half a century ago, however, the climate of opinion was entirely different. As World War II came to an end, the Red Cross was expected to play a beneficent role in the peacetime world by caring for veterans, teaching children about hygiene and international friendship, and providing useful community services such as first aid training and swimming lessons. As a boy in Toronto in the late 1940s, I can remember our school choir singing at the dedication of a Red Cross Lodge at Sunnybrook Hospital for veterans; the distinctive red and white flag was as familiar to us as any national flag and almost as frequently seen. In 1952, the International Red Cross held a conference in Toronto, and we schoolchildren were told what an important event this was; we may even have been told something about the Geneva Convention, but if so, we quickly forgot. I clearly remember "Junior Red Cross time" in the classroom, when the teacher distributed little cards surmounted by a Red Cross, containing the ten rules of good hygiene that we were expected to observe. At summer camp, the standards for swimming tests were set by the Red Cross, and the badges on our bathing suits bore its familiar symbol. However, like most of my generation, once I grew up I had little more contact with the organization, apart from occasional visits to blood donor clinics. One knew that the Red Cross existed and that its existence was a good thing, but one took it and its goodness entirely for granted.

The enduring legacy of this childhood experience, I discovered years later, was an implicit belief that the Red Cross was beyond criticism. It was as unthinkable to make negative comments about the Red Cross as it was to desecrate the graves of fallen soldiers. I was thus amazed and wholly unprepared when, many years later while doing research for a book on health reform in revolutionary Russia, I discovered a group of people who had little good to say for their country's Red Cross society. These were the public physicians of tsarist Russia, most of whom were employed by county councils . . .

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