In 1862, Memory of Solferino appeared in Geneva. “Appeared” is a lot to say: the circulation of few copies of this little book was marked “not for sale.” It was intended only for some friends, at whose insistence Henry Dunant had finally decided to write it. A small book, a memory of a battle whose aftermath of blood and helplessness Dunant had seen by chance; a memory of what this man had tried to do, with some locals, to alleviate the many sufferings a bit. Just a little book. But, a year later, from these pages a charitable movement arose that would conquer the world: the “Red Cross” and, a year later, an International Convention, the first “Geneva Convention”.
To this day, war after war, two sentences in this book would save human lives. We know what the Red Cross is, what the Geneva Conventions and their additional Protocols are. At least we think we know. The charitable will of this Institution and the legal articles of these instruments have achieved real wonders in increasingly deadly conflicts; there, war is fought not only against enemies, but also against the spirit of charity and against law. As a result, almost supernatural powers have often been attributed to the Red Cross and these Conventions.
That the Red Cross manages to save a multitude of human beings from the god Moloc from modern warfare does not even surprise some people. It is not usually asked what weapons the Red Cross has against cannons and bombs; nor what force can enforce international humanitarian law when treaties are broken. It is thought that the Almighty Red Cross is there to perform miracles. Informed people do not reproach the Red Cross for the millions of victims it could not save; they think, instead, of the millions of beings whom they managed to protect from the fate they should have run.