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Exploring the overshadowed streams of the Red Cross Movement

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Mayuka Tamura Miyagawa

Historiography

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Establishment of the Red Cross Movement within Japan

  • 1 Checkland, Humanitarianism and the Emperor’s Japan, 173.
  • 2 Ibid., 174.
  • 3 Ibid., xii.
  • 4 Moorehead, Dunant’s Dream, 150–51.

1The way historians have dealt with the early history of the JRCS has changed over time. In the 1990s, the history of the JRCS was often studied through the Western bias mentioned earlier in the introduction. In her English-written monograph Humanitarianism and the Emperor’s Japan, Olive Checkland analysed the reason for which Japan complied with the Geneva Convention during the war against the Qing dynasty of China and also against Russia, but later failed to do so during World War II. She inferred that it was because ‘the humanitarian movement in Japan, as demonstrated by the Red Cross Society […] embarked upon in the Emperor’s name by a powerful Japanese government, determined to legitimate itself as far as possible on the world stage’ and that ‘the millions of Red Cross members, often minor civil servants dragooned into service, were easily recruited as patriots because, in Japan, the Red Cross was purely an arm of the military’.1 She also went as far as to state that ‘there was no place for the individual and none for internationalism’,2 and that ‘the spirit of ‘voluntaryism’, so vital at so many levels in Western society was not the principle motivating the Red Cross in Japan until after 1945 when American Red Cross Societies workers introduced it’.3 Moorehead, whose work covers the extensive history of the Red Cross Movement, echoes Checkland’s view and states that the JRCS was ‘a perfect vehicle for closer relations with the West’ and that there was ‘very little of Western volunteer spirit’ about the JRCS.4 The two authors see the JRCS not so much as a platform on which Japanese people could embrace and develop humanitarianism, but rather as an actor that was manipulated by the government to pursue its nationalistic agenda. Consequently, both authors mention the founder of the JRCS in just a few lines, and Ishiguro Tadanori, whose effort was key to spreading the movement in Japan is missing from their writing.

  • 5 Sho Konishi, “The Emergence of an International Humanitarian Organization in Japan: The Tokugawa Or (...)
  • 6 Frank Käser, “A Civilized Nation: Japan and the Red Cross 1877–1900,” European Review of History: R (...)
  • 7 Michiko Suzuki, “The Emergence of Modern Humanitarian Activities: The Evolution of Japanese Red Cro (...)

2In recent years, however, historians have started to question and address the Eurocentric bias in the historiography of the JRCS. Sho Konishi argues that fertile ground for the humanitarian movement to take root in Japan already existed in the early nineteenth century, prior to the emergence of the Red Cross Movement.5 He makes his point by stating that thousands of doctors were educated to embrace the practice and ethics of saving people’s lives through medical care in Juntendō School of Medicine during the Tokugawa Era. Frank Käser challenges the Eurocentric narrative of the Red Cross Movement by arguing that the idea of establishing a humanitarian organisation was new in both Europe and Japan in the late nineteenth century.6 By presenting various historical circumstances, he claims that the organisation preceding the JRCS was created separately and was later renamed as Red Cross because the government became a party to the Geneva Convention. Similarly, Michiko Suzuki shed light on regional grassroots charity movements that were later recognised as local branches of the JRCS.7 She suggests that the mutual assistance in politically turbulent times converged with the state-building movement, and it is for this reason that JRCS came to place value on peacetime operations.

3While the studies of the predecessors have opened academic space to challenge the Eurocentric bias in the history of the Red Cross Movement, there is still room for elaboration. Indeed, no historians have put weight on exploring the motivations of the leading figures of the JRCS. Moreover, some of the primary sources I have gathered in the course of this research speak against arguments presented by the aforementioned historians. Thus, I seek to weave in more nuances in the existing academic work.

Development of the Red Cross Movement beyond Japan

  • 8 League of Nations, “The Covenant of the League of Nations” (1920), https://libraryresources.unog.ch (...)
  • 9 Caroline Moorehead, Dunant’s Dream: War, Switzerland, and the History of the Red Cross, 1st Carroll (...)
  • 10 Moorehead, Dunant’s Dream, 261–62; Towers, “Red Cross Organisational Politics, 1918–1922: Relations (...)
  • 11 Hutchinson, Champions of Charity, 400.

4Although the ICRC was established with the aim of providing humanitarian assistance during wartime, peacetime operations were brought into the mandate of the Red Cross Movement in May 1919, when the LRCS was created and its mandate was codified as a covenant of the League of Nations (article 25) as well as in the statute of the LRCS (article 2).8 It was the national societies of the Allied powers of World War I (WWI) that led this movement, and JRCS was deeply involved in the process. However, the prevailing narrative explains the establishment of the LRCS as a product of the ARC’s endeavour. While the ARC played a significant role in leading the process to create the LRCS, no existing studies by Western scholars to this day have paid close attention to the JRCS’s engagement, especially not to the rigorous advocacy of Ninagawa Arata who sought to codify peacetime operation as an international legal instrument.9 On the contrary, Ninagawa’s work is only cited (and belittled) in some historical narratives.10 For example, John F. Hutchinson, in the endnote of his monograph Champions of Charity, underestimates Ninagawa’s work by noting that Ninagawa ‘[tried] to take credit for being the originator of the peacetime program of the League’ but ‘[…] the degree of his interest in its affairs is perhaps better measured by his regular absence from meetings of its board of governors during the 1920s’.11

  • 12 Suzuki, “The Emergence of Modern Humanitarian Activities:The Evolution of Japanese Red Cross Moveme (...)
  • 13 Yoshiya Makita, “The Alchemy of Humanitarianism: The First World War, the Japanese Red Cross and th (...)

5In contrast, some recent historians have cast light on Ninagawa’s endeavours. However, in her research paper, Suzuki dismissed the details of some of the intricate yet crucial contributions made by Ninagawa.12 Yoshiya Makita, in comparison to Suzuki, analyses Ninagawa’s contribution in depth.13 However, crossreading of archival materials and existing publications has much more to offer. Furthermore, no historian has explored why Ninagawa might have come to immerse himself in the process of creating the LRCS. Thus, necessary contexts can be added to the existing narrative of the birth of the LRCS by studying the primary and secondary sources more closely.

Notes

1 Checkland, Humanitarianism and the Emperor’s Japan, 173.

2 Ibid., 174.

3 Ibid., xii.

4 Moorehead, Dunant’s Dream, 150–51.

5 Sho Konishi, “The Emergence of an International Humanitarian Organization in Japan: The Tokugawa Origins of the Japanese Red Cross,” The American Historical Review 119, no. 4 (2014): 1129–53.

6 Frank Käser, “A Civilized Nation: Japan and the Red Cross 1877–1900,” European Review of History: Revue Européenne d’histoire 23, no. 1–2 (January 2, 2016): 16–32, doi:10.1080/13507486.2015.1117427.

7 Michiko Suzuki, “The Emergence of Modern Humanitarian Activities: The Evolution of Japanese Red Cross Movement from Local to Global,” Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Institute of International Relations 8, no. 1 (September 30, 2019): 59–105, doi:10.15026/94233.

8 League of Nations, “The Covenant of the League of Nations” (1920), https://libraryresources.unog.ch/ld.php?content_id=32971179; The League of Red Cross Societies, “1919 Articles of Association and Bylaws” (1919).

9 Caroline Moorehead, Dunant’s Dream: War, Switzerland, and the History of the Red Cross, 1st Carroll & Graf ed (New York: Carroll & Graf Pub, 1999); Reid and Gilbo, Beyond Conflict; John F Hutchinson, Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross, 1996; Julia Irwin, Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation’s Humanitarian Awakening (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Bridget Towers, “Red Cross Organisational Politics, 1918–1922: Relations of Dominance and the Influence of the United States,” in International Health Organisations and Movements, 1918–1939, ed. Paul Weindling, Cambridge Studies in the History of Medicine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 36–55, doi:10.1017/CBO9780511599606.005.

10 Moorehead, Dunant’s Dream, 261–62; Towers, “Red Cross Organisational Politics, 1918–1922: Relations of Dominance and the Influence of the United States,” 52; Hutchinson, Champions of Charity, 324,400.

11 Hutchinson, Champions of Charity, 400.

12 Suzuki, “The Emergence of Modern Humanitarian Activities:The Evolution of Japanese Red Cross Movement from Local to Global.”

13 Yoshiya Makita, “The Alchemy of Humanitarianism: The First World War, the Japanese Red Cross and the Creation of an International Public Health Order,” First World War Studies 5, no. 1 (January 2, 2014): 117–29, doi:10.1080/19475020.2014.901182.

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