Humanitarian diplomacy and the cultures of appeasement in Britain

This chapter examines one year, 1938, in the history of the British Red Cross (BRCS): a year that was not one of its most obviously eventful. Indeed, with devastating conflict raging in Europe, the BRCS, like the British Government, was notable for its non-intervention in Spain. Yet it did play a part in the high drama of European politics, advocating for international protocols on civilian protection in war, and acting as broker and facilitator between movements for civil defence and (territorial) military planning and Government departments at a time when the shadow of European war loomed large. Using the case study of the Red Cross International Conference held in London in June 1938, the local and national history of the BRCS is explored better to understand its relative state of non-intervention in the Spanish war, and how this related to the discourse on civilian protection and civil defence at home. How much the BRCS focused on these national priorities at a time of international crisis is a focal point of this chapter, which explores the broader question of how the Movement as a whole operated and avoided segmentation at this critical political juncture in the final years of peace.

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The British Red Cross and the Spanish refugees of 1939

In late January 1939, almost 500,000 Spanish Republican refugees fled into France after the fall of Catalonia to the Nationalists. Once in France, the refugees were indiscriminately placed in concentration camps on Mediterranean beaches. Surrounded by barbed wire and lacking shelter, many refugees felt their plight was directly caused by the Non-Intervention Agreement signed by their current host, France, and its ally Britain. While France was obligated to deal with the Spanish on its own soil, many expected Britain to do something to support the situation it had helped create. Thus, the British Red Cross received a £50,000 grant from the British Government to aid the work of the French Government in the camps – a paltry sum significantly hampered by both insufficiency and inefficiency. This case study highlights the close relationship that exists between national governments and national Red Cross societies and argues that, in the Spanish Civil War, the biased ‘neutrality’ of the British Government, through the Non-Intervention Agreement, directly influenced the actions and attitudes of the British Red Cross. It further investigates how the British Red Cross’s work during the Spanish Civil War reveals the priorities and prejudices of the British Government during the late 1930s.

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The New Zealand Red Cross and the international Red Cross Movement

During the twentieth century, the New Zealand Red Cross was one of the most distant national societies from the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies. Its engagement with them was shaped by its own complicated beginnings, and by both intersecting relationships with the British Red Cross and the challenges imposed by distance. The chapter examines the points of contact between this particular national society and the Movement; whether they were independently sustained or mediated through government actions or the influence of larger societies such as the British Red Cross; and how they changed over time. It is a study of a national society looking outwards, but also of the ways that the Movement’s lofty principles were understood and played out internally, often becoming submerged in the sheer ‘busyness’ of local Red Cross activity within New Zealand. The growing sense of New Zealand’s distinctive contribution to the Movement from the 1960s is examined in relation to the work of its overseas delegates and representatives, and to Red Cross activities in the Asia-Pacific region. A broader question interrogated here is what it means to ‘be Red Cross’ in a particular national context.

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The United States Sanitary Commission and the development of the Red Cross Movement, 1861–1871

In 1861, President Lincoln authorised the creation of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) – a body comprising humanitarian volunteers whose purpose was to complement the work of the Union’s Medical Bureau by sourcing supplies, inspecting hospitals and providing general succour to wounded soldiers. Two years later, when news of the first Geneva Conference reached the ears of the USSC’s leaders, they naturally assumed that the Committee of Five had been inspired by the American example to pursue its aims. Historians of the USSC have repeated these claims, despite the comprehensive rejection of the idea of an American origin for the Red Cross Movement by several leading Red Cross scholars. This paper will re-examine the issue of American influence on the Red Cross Movement by turning away from the idea that the USSC inspired the Geneva Convention. Instead, the focus here will be on how the performance of the USSC captured the imaginations of the first Red Cross volunteers, and contributed to the fundamental reshaping of the Committee of Five’s conception of the Red Cross by the dawn of the twentieth century.

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Terrorism, parliament and the ritual of proscription

Banning them, securing us offers a rich and expansive exploration of the politics of proscribing – or banning – terrorist organisations in Britain. The book calls attention to the remarkable, and overlooked, role of proscription debates and decisions in contemporary UK politics. Using primary empirical research, the book shows how parliamentary processes of proscribing ‘illegitimate’ organisations is as much a ritual performance as it is a technique for countering political violence. This ritual, we argue, is a performance of sovereignty and powerful framing of Britain as a liberal, democratic, moderate space. Yet, it represents a paradox too. For proscription’s processes have limited democratic or judicial oversight, and its outcomes pose significant threats to democratic norms, human rights, political dissent and citizenship more broadly.

The book breaks important new ground on the politics of terrorism, counter-terrorism, security and democracy. It will be widely read by researchers and students across Security Studies, International Relations, Political Science, History, Sociology and beyond.

This chapter explores the way in which the British Red Cross Society responded to the crisis that affected the flow of relief parcels to British prisoners of war in Germany after the summer of 1940. It argues that the Society was slow to adjust to total war conditions. It was ill equipped to deal with the intensity of public criticism, and found itself outmanoeuvred by a Government that was intent on evading its responsibility for the crisis. It was also slow in identifying ways out of the crisis, or in forging close working relations with the non-anglophone elements of the Red Cross Movement, notably the International Committee of the Red Cross and neutral national Red Cross societies.

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Finding a role after the Second World War

In 1974 the British Red Cross (BRCS) conducted an ‘Attitude Survey’, the analysis of which concluded that the public knew much more about the organisation’s wartime than peacetime activities, and that the number of younger members was in decline. Three decades earlier, the BRCS had faced a crisis in identity, leading to the repositioning of the charity at a time of tremendous political, social and economic change, including much more emphasis on international humanitarian aid. Indeed, in 1947 the BRCS’s Public Relations Department stated that the public needed to know that the ‘British Red Cross still exists’. To what extent did the end of the Second World War and the launch of the National Health Service in 1948 affect policy, philanthropy, volunteerism and public perceptions of the charity? Drawing on the wider historiography on postwar humanitarianism, the Welfare State and voluntarism, this chapter analyses the way in which the BRCS adapted, and co-operated with State services and other charities between 1946 and 1974.

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This chapter offers a reflection on two features of modern/contemporary western humanitarianism: arrogance and compassion. The objective of the chapter is to put forward and historicise arrogance, offering an ad hoc – usable – definition, and to do the same with compassion. The chapter engages with the historiography of this increasingly densely populated field, offering reflections on the state of humanitarian history both within and without this edited collection.

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The American Red Cross in the last war of Cuban independence (1895–1898)

This chapter takes one episode of Spain’s modern history as a case study to move the focus of Red Cross historiography towards less rigid national and colonial categories. It focuses on the relief initiatives carried out during the last war of Cuban independence in 1895–8. It suggests that it was here that the American Red Cross openly made its push for world domination of humanitarian power, and challenged the model of colonial expansion practised by other national societies under a model set up and controlled by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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The First World War and the expansion of the Canadian Red Cross Society’s humanitarian vision

When the Canadian Red Cross (CRCS) was created in 1896 as the first colonial branch of the British Red Cross, it held closely to the Red Cross Movement’s founding vision of inactivity in peacetime. While other national Red Cross societies expanded beyond the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, the CRCS did not – and, as a result, failed to thrive. This chapter will examine the role of the First World War in transforming the CRCS into a nationwide patriotic and humanitarian cause, its wartime work fuelled by British imperialism and an emerging sense of English-Canadian nationalism born of the war. The CRCS’s evolution between 1914 and 1919 therefore offers a useful case study of how intersecting national, imperial and transnational forces shaped the evolution of one humanitarian organisation.

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