What Does a Red Cross Symbolize?

In its international capacity, a red cross symbolizes the neutrality of military medical services and volunteers from first aid societies. It was initially born out of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to those wounded on the battlefield.

Today a red cross also signifies the wish to prevent and relieve human suffering wherever it may be found. It serves to protect life and health, as well as ensure respect for all human beings.

The idea originated with a book written by Henry Dunant, a Swiss citizen who witnessed firsthand the misery of soldiers wounded during war. Dunant wrote “A Memory of Solferino,” which proposed the establishment of volunteers to take care of war casualties and an agreement between countries to protect such volunteers.

The book was published in 1862 and inspired an international conference where delegates from 14 governments met to adopt resolutions providing for the establishment of relief societies for wounded soldiers and a single distinctive symbol to protect medical service personnel, as well as victims of armed conflicts.

Because of Switzerland's permanent neutral status and the acceptance of a white flag as a sign of negotiation or surrender, the committee adopted a red cross on a white background, an emblem formed by reversing the colors of the Swiss flag.