ON the blood-stained field of Solferino, during the second war for the unification of Italy, Henri Dunant, the Swiss philanthropist, conceived the idea of a voluntary association having for its object the ministering to the sufferings of the wounded in war ; and in the year 1862 the inspired pages of his Souvenirs de Solferino sent forth to the world the heartrending cry of the wounded on the fields of battle.
But prior to him, a Neapolitan physician, Ferdinando Palasciano, at the siege of Messina in 1848, by boldly replying to the Bourbonic General Filangieri, who threatened to shoot him, ” A wounded man is no longer an enemy ! ” had already had a clear and accurate vision of the legal and humane principle of rendering aid to the wounded in war.
In a paper which he read in the year 1861 to the Accademia Pontaniana of Naples, and which was later to acquire historical importance, Palasciano said : ” It should be incumbent on belligerent powers to reciprocally recognise the principle of the neutrality of wounded and sick combatants until they are cured, and the powers should also respectively adopt the principle of the unlimited increase of medical and nursing staffs for the whole duration of the war.”
Indefatigably persevering in his propaganda, in the year 1862, in another paper he even more de-finitely set forth his idea that the principle of the neutrality of the wounded combatant should be adopted as the result of a stipulated agreement ” in an International Congress, or by mutual and special consent of the belligerent powers in the act of their declaration of war.”
On August 22, 1864, the International Conference at Geneva, by establishing the ” Red Cross,” sanctioned the principles upheld by Palasciano, Dunant, and Arrault, as well as that work of voluntary aid to the wounded to which Florence Nightingale, who had hailed the landing of the Italian Bersaglieri at Balaclava, had so nobly devoted her life.
Ferdinando Palasciano’s conception, which corroborated the principle of the Italian jurist of the Renaissance, Hostilitas cum nullo toilet obligationem naturalem, was thus blended with Florence Nightingale’s ideals under the safeguard of the Red Cross. The ratification of the Geneva Convention by the powers gave to that covenant its character of a true and essential international law.
Thus only fifty years ago, after so many centuries of wars and treaties, due provision was made for the wounded by an international agreement.
Since the year 1864 the Italian Red Cross has been associated with each one of New Italy’s triumphs, with every one of her misfortunes. We thus find it in the war of 1866, then at Monterotondo and Mentana in 1867, with the expedition to Erythrea in 1895, again with the Italian troops in China and in Candia, and finally in our Libyan War.
Thus the Italian Red Cross, enrolled with the Army Medical Service (Sanitâ Militare), which is always true to the traditions of its reorganiser, Senator Riberi, and in conjunction with the Cross of Malta, the glorious remnant of the Hospitaller Orders of the Middle Ages, has attained complete efficiency for its work of valid assistance to the Italian Army.
All over Italy Red Cross territorial hospitals have come into being, equipped with the latest improvements in hospital gear suggested by science ; an army of nurses, having at their head H.R.H. the Duchess Elena of Aosta, has been raised, who all fulfil their merciful duties with a deep feeling of disinterestedness and self-denial ; moreover, the whole administration and all the different services have been admirably organised.
By means of an active propaganda the Italian Red Cross has everywhere strengthened the ranks of its trained staff, thus truly and adequately interpreting the solicitude and gratitude of Italy towards her sons, who against enormous difficulties are so bravely doing their duty to their country. It is a real competition of noble energies that the Red Cross has stirred up and made subservient to its noble ends.
Thus the great institution, of which Florence Nightingale and Ferdinando Palasciano were the pioneers, has now, in the hour of Italy’s supreme ordeal, found a worthy scope for the earnest accomplishment of its work and the achievement of its aims.
The lamp of Florence Nightingale, who was born in Florence, and to whose memory a monument rises in Santa Croce by the side of our greatest men, is the symbol of mercy of the Red Cross.
The work of Florence Nightingale was not done in vain for Italy.