Mélange du Mercredi/Henry Dunant: La croix d’un homme

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Henry Dunant: La Croix d’un Homme by Corinne Chaponniere 

This review was written by François Bugnion, an independent consultant in international humanitarian law and humanitarian action, and the author of more than fifty books and articles on IHL and on the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. His review was originally published in The International Review: 150 years of humanitarian action.

No Swiss historical figure is as well known outside his country as Henry Dunant (1828–1910). From Paris to Bangkok, capital cities have honored his memory by naming a street, a boulevard or a square after him. Around the world, millions of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers seek to follow his example and his ideas. Even the founders of organisations established in opposition to the Red Cross, such as Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) and Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), acknowledge him as the father of the modern humanitarian movement. 

And yet, until recently, we had no comprehensive biography of Dunant in French, based on primary sources. There were, of course, interesting compilations, particularly those by Marc Descombes and by Gérard Jaeger, and above all the 1563 Actes du Colloque Henry Dunant, held in Geneva in 1985. In 2010, on the 100th anniversary of Dunant’s death, Roger Durand published a short biography based on a lifetime of tireless research; however, this work – in paperback format – was limited to the essentials. We still lacked a comprehensive biography. 

This gap was incomprehensible, and all the more so considering that Dunant’s life was among the most tragic imaginable. Published in 1862, his book, A Memory of Solferino, brought him fame throughout Europe and opened all doors to him; as the founder of the Red Cross and promoter of the first Geneva Convention, he received numerous medals and decorations, yet that only made his downfall, brought on by financial ruin, all the crueller. Having sat at the tables of kings and princes, Dunant would know poverty and hunger, live in slums and experience the shame of wearing rags, before being awarded the first Nobel Peace Prize in the twilight of his life.

Download the full review here