The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, under which all Red Cross factions fall, was founded with the aims of protecting human life and health, as well as the prevention of human suffering and degradation.
Perhaps the most remarkable and significant aspect is the universal application of their values and resources: no discrimination based on race, religion, class, or nationality is taken into consideration.
In addition to the International manifestations of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, national variations exist in almost every country in the world. Currently 186 National Societies are recognized by the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), a private institution founded in Geneva in 1863 by Henry Dunant.
Dunant was a Swiss businessman, whose propensity for generosity and humanity found their most effective expression during a trip to Solferino in 1859. His original intentions were to discuss with Napoleon III difficulties in conducting business in Algiers. However, witnessing the gruesome aftermath of the Battle of Solferino taking place during Dunant's time in the region, moved the man to abandon his original business trip and tend to the wounded in the immediate aftermath of the fighting.
This affinity with, and desire to prevent human suffering has long been associated with Red Cross and Red Crescent movements, and has continued to be the case throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Following the desolation of the First World War, the IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) was founded in order to co-ordinate all 186 National Red Cross Societies and their activities.
The work of the Red Cross Societies during the Great War and the Second World War cannot be overestimated. The outbreak of WWI presented an enormous challenge to the ICRC, whose nurses and other volunteers had not experienced such a large scale operation. On October 15th 1914, the ICRC set up the International Prisoners of War Agency, whose aim to ease the suffering and torture of POWs resulted in the delivery of approximately 20 million letters and messages, as well as 1.9 million parcels by the end of the conflict in 1918.
The delivery of parcels to Europe from loved ones at home, as well as letters and postcards sent from the front line helped reassure and comfort those waiting at home for their family and friends caught up in the fighting.
The invaluable work of the ICRC continued on throughout the Second World War, right up to the current conflict in the Middle East, where militants on both sides receive the care and consideration of the Red Cross volunteers.