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Journal of World History 10.1 (1999) 243-246

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Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross. By John F. Hutchinson. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996. Pp. xxii + 448. $35 (cloth); $23 (paper).

In Champions of Charity John Hutchinson focuses on the Red Cross movement's beginnings and organization, and on its operations from 1863 and the first Geneva conference to the 1921 conference that dealt with the challenges of peace. He delineates three categories of policies of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which provided the leadership for the national Red Cross organizations: "The Civilizing Mission," "The Militarization of Charity," and "Pains of Rebirth." Hutchinson views the ICRC as visionary in its [End Page 243] origin, as it initially sought to make war more compassionate. Increasingly, however, the ICRC was politicized as it built on nationalism and patriotism of individual member countries rather than on humanita-rianism or internationalism; it was dependent on national organizations and governments, and war was the prime reason for its existence. The Red Cross members came to ignore Florence Nightingale's warning that they would only make it easier for states to engage in war; they also failed to heed the plea for pacifism of Henry Dunant, a founder. The pictorial essay emphasizes how the Red Cross served national interests and was identified with patriotism. By the end of World War I, the ICRC lacked a broad vision of peacetime challenges. Then Henry P. Davidson, executive of J. P. Morgan and the chair of the war council of the American Red Cross, challenged the ICRC with his vision of a war against epidemic diseases and the provision of relief efforts for the war destitute. The ICRC, fearing that it would be turned into a panacea to deal with all human suffering, thus undermining its ability to be prepared for war, resisted a larger peacetime role until its authority was challenged with the founding of the League of Red Cross Societies (LRCS). Fear of losing its position forced the ICRC to increase its peacetime efforts, but its slow response led to an unnecessary internal squabble with the LRCS. Only in 1928 was a compromise reached that survives to the present. The agreement redefined the structure of the International Red Cross to include three groups: the LRCS, the ICRC, and the national societies. As national governments took over the responsibilities of caring for the wounded during military conflicts, the Red Cross became known for its public health and disaster relief efforts.

Hutchinson reveals the internal disputes within the ICRC, as well as the conflicts between it and the various national Red Cross organizations (and among the national groups), in spite of the fact that he was denied access to the ICRC archives. There is a certain irony in the ICRC failure to provide archival access, since its own existence depended upon the openness of national governments. Clearly what was at stake was concern over its image. Denial of archival access was apublic relations mistake, because Hutchinson did not become enamored with his subject—as too often happens when sources are readily available.

Although Hutchinson's focus is on the organization of the International Red Cross, he also provides some insight into issues of concern to the individual national Red Cross committees, particularly the French, German, British, Russian, U.S., and Japanese. He takes up as well the question of symbol: the Red Cross versus the Red Crescent [End Page 244] favored by the Ottoman empire. However, Hutchinson's focus is largely Eurocentric, and it is unclear to what degree the ICRC was indeed a world organization. Although the increased detail I would have liked on other national Red Cross committees is outside the lines of this work, Hutchinson could have provided more information on the international reach of the Red Cross. The Tenth Conference in 1921 was attended by hundreds of Red Cross society delegates from six continents, in contrast to a few individuals in 1863. But how many national committees attended the meeting? At what...