Jessica Hillman
Humanitarian Efforts World War II

American Red Cross poster from World War II. Founded in 1881, the American Red Cross is a voluntary membership organization that provides a wide array of relief activities during peace and wartime.

Throughout the introduction of World War I and World War II, the humanitarian efforts of the populations grew considerably. Several factors, many of which began before the wars, grew considerably in their after effects. The Geneva Conventions played an essential role in the evolution of greater humanitarian efforts, catapulting organizations such as Red Cross into widespread effect and establishing humane treatment of prisoners of war. While the first Geneva Convention convened in 1864, several others conventions were added or updated after the shocking effects of the wars.
World War II refugees await a meal served by the American Red Cross.

The Geneva Convention was created to establish and maintain humane rules during war. It established the living conditions in which prisoners of war could be held, i.e. shelter, hygiene, water provision, food, clothing, health treatment, disposal of bodies, documentation, mail, etc. The rules according to the Geneva Conventions increased after World War I and culminated in four new Geneva Conventions established August 12, 1949 after World War II. The International Committee of the Red Cross was formed in Geneva in 1863, right before the first Geneva Convention.

Some organizations, such as Red Cross, began before either of the World Wars but grew considerably during these events. Clara Barton established Red Cross on May 21, 1881. It began as a small organization and grew as demands increased. Over time, Red Cross gained the support of many people, as did their funding. Red Cross played a huge role in making sure the soldiers were taken care of during and after wartime.

There were many advances in humanitarian efforts during WWI. On September 12, 1914, the Red Cross "Mercy Ship" sailed to Europe with medical staff and supplies following the outbreak of World War I, responding almost immediately. In 1917, the Red Cross held the first War Fund drive in the US, surpassing the goal of raising $100 million in one week, and demonstrating how involved every citizen was in the war effort. On May 5, 1919, the League of Red Cross Societies was formed in Paris, France, extending the grasp of its efforts beyond the US and responding to the demand of help Europe needed during World War I. Red Cross evolved ever further, and after World War I ended, in 1919 Red Cross National Children's Fund was established to help children in postwar Europe.

US involvement in humanitarian efforts during the war varied. While Red Cross was established in the US, many people did not believe they should help foreigners. In March of 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's gave his last radio talk to nation is in support of the Red Cross War Fund, showing his support for the effort.

World War II left much of the world in disarray. Japan was particularly hit hard, however the in late August of 1945 the first Red Cross field director arrived in Japan after World War II to help rebuild the Japanese Red Cross, showing the extent of their expeditions. World War II forced the reach of Red Cross, the Geneva Convention and other humanitarian groups out past Europe and America and into the Middle East and Asia. Throughout the war Red Cross delegates visited prisoners of war around the world and helped exchange millions of Red Cross Messages from family members. For years after the war, the Red Cross and other associated humanitarian groups dealt with requests for news about missing loved ones. This was a great improvement on how many things were done previously, when the families of prisoners of war had no closer or knowledge of where their family lived or were captured.

The after effects of World War II resonated over much of the world, resulting in many nations needing help in order to rebuild. After the cruelty shown to many civilians and their reactions, there was a need to protect their rights in any future wars, thus the Geneva Convention added a fourth rule, in Article 27 of the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 12, 1949 it states: "Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honor, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault." Showing the public concern over how women had been treated during the mass occupations in World War II. World War II had huge impacts on how civilians thought about war and how involved they would be. Total war pushed civilians who might otherwise be unaffected by the war to reach out and help others, resulting in the movement toward humanitarian efforts.
Red Cross poster from World War I urging people to "Help the Red Cross."


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