Florence Nightingale opposed the Red Cross

A New Yorker magazine review of a book about the negative effects of humanitarian aid (“Alms Dealers”, October 11, 2010) contains an interesting fact about Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing:

Humanitarianism also had a godmother, as Linda Polman reminds us. She was Florence Nightingale, and she rejected the idea of the Red Cross from the outset. “I think its views most absurd just such as would originate in a little state like Geneva, which can never see war,” she said. Nightingale had served as a nurse in British military hospitals during the Crimean War, where nightmarish conditions—septic, sordid, and brutal—more often than not amounted to a death sentence for wounded soldiers of the Crown. So she was outraged by Dunant’s pitch. How could anyone who sought to reduce human suffering want to make war less costly? By easing the burden on war ministries, Nightingale argued, volunteer efforts could simply make waging war more attractive, and more probable.

The rest of the book review is also interesting, suggesting that Western humanitarian aid has made African conflicts far more bloody and gruesome.

3 Comments

  1. Josh Volchko

    November 5, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

    1

    I’ve read about this exact issue more than once; this is easily the most depressing of the articles I’ve read. Most others seemed to focus on either bad logistics, or giving money directly to governments, or aid given by governments. This is even more disheartening.

    I find myself quoting some other voices in the article where they wonder should we really do nothing. However, much of the time the answer to that seems to be a resounding, probably.

    I am guessing, however, most of the points raised are strictly for aid given to war torn countries, rather than moderately friendly/peaceful countries afflicted by a natural disaster.

  2. Rellag

    November 6, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

    2

    Josh:

    >>I am guessing, however, most of the points raised are strictly for aid given to war torn countries, rather than moderately friendly/peaceful countries afflicted by a natural disaster.

    Maybe not.

    Presence of aid in response to natural disasters (geological, epidemological, whichever) reduces the cost of risky behavior, such as building on flood plains, or not using resources for public sanitation [instead. building palaces/armies/domestic security forces].

    Smaller governments don’t, but could purchase insurance for catastrophic events.

    Smaller governments have purchased insurance
    (Moroccan F-16 insurance) in cases where there will be no international assistance provided upon an adverse event.

    I think the analysis is applicable for any cross-border aid, regardless of intent of donor or recipient. Which is as it should be. Deductively, intent shouldn’t affect outcome.

  3. JP

    November 6, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

    3

    This is an interesting argument, and while it is not without merit, how well have deterrents against war worked in the past? How many dozens of weapons have we built with the idea that they would instill so much fear in an enemy that we’d never have to use the weapon?

    I can remember cannons, the gatling gun, and most recently nukes and MAD. How is witholding humanitarian aid so different? A recent sociology text I read pointed out that historically the middle class do the fighting for the power elites. The power elites don’t really care if there is humanitarian aid given to their pawns, or their middle class cohorts (civilians). I suppose they might if casualties were great enough to hugely impair the biopower and economy. Wow total war sucks. Can we go back to swords please?

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