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Reigning in brutality - how one man's outrage led to the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions
The history of the Geneva Conventions tells us how the international community draws the line on brutality.
- Henry Dunant's work led to the Red Cross and conventions on treating prisoners humanely.
- Four Geneva Conventions defined the rules for prisoners of war, torture, naval and medical personnel and more.
- Amendments to the agreements reflect the modern world but have not been ratified by all countries.
Is history just a collection of barely-connected events that recur because humans can't really learn to do better or does it have an arc that bends towards progress and a better fate for humanity? One action people have taken that makes it seem like we are moving away from barbaric practices are the four Geneva Conventions – a set of international agreements on rules of conduct during wars, including how to treat prisoners of war and medical personnel humanely. The Conventions are also linked to the creation and work of the International Red Cross.
The first Convention was held in Geneva, Switzerland in 1864. Businessman and activist Henry Dunant, who won the first Nobel Peace Prize, is credited with the movement that led to the event. He was largely inspired by witnessing the horror following the Battle of Solferino in 1859, which involved 300,000 soldiers of French and Austrian armies fighting each other in in Northern Italy. Dunant was incredibly moved by the suffering of 40,000 wounded soldiers resulting from the French army's victory, who were just left on the field because of the absence of adequate facilities, personnel, and agreements that would allow them medical help.
In 1862, he published an account of his impressions called "A Memory of Solferino" ("Un Suouvenir de Solferino"), which called for nations to create trained volunteer relief groups that would treat the wounded on battlefields and provide other humanitarian assistance in war situations. Dunant's advocacy and influence resulted in the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863.
1859 Battle of Solferino.
"Le Petit Journal", Paris, September 1901.
A year later, upon invitation of the Swiss government, sixteen countries sent delegates to Geneva for a conference that resulted in the adoption of the first Geneva Convention which called for "the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field."
The agreement, signed by 12 European nations, was relatively basic and asked for the following, as per Britannica:
- the immunity from capture and destruction of all establishments for the treatment of wounded and sick soldiers
- the impartial reception and treatment of all combatants
- the protection of civilians providing aid to the wounded
- the recognition of the Red Cross symbol as a means of identifying persons and equipment covered by the agreement
Henry Dunant, Swiss philanthropist and co-founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross ca. 1850-1860.
A second Geneva Convention in 1906 amended and expanded the original, especially with regards to the principle that the sick and wounded have a neutral status on the battlefield. The so-called Hague conventions of 1899 and 1907 carried over the same principle to maritime warfare and the Navy.
The third convention in 1929 related specifically to POWs. It made it a requirement for the warring parties to treat prisoners of war with humanity, provide information about them, and allow representatives from neutral states to officially visit prison camps.
After that, two of the worst wars ever to happen on this planet took place, rife with horrendous abuses of all written and unspoken agreements. In reaction, the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 restated the principles of the agreements, protecting medical personnel, fighting civilians, banning torture, as well as laying out new rules for the safety of the wounded or shipwrecked in the naval forces. It also safeguarded hospital ships.
American prisoners of war carry their wounded and sick as they begin the Death March on Bataan in April of 1942, during which thousands died. (AP Photo/U.S. Army)
Two additional "protocols" were added to the Conventions in 1977. Protocol I gave more protection to civilians, journalists and military workers during armed conflicts.
Protocol II concerned civil war situations and forbade the taking of hostages, terrorism, "outrages upon personal dignity," collective punishment, executions without due process, and racial, religious and political discrimination.
In the years since, have the Geneva Conventions been successful? Certainly, the world has seen no shortage of regional armed conflicts and terrible abuses. But more than 190 states have become signatories to the 1949 conventions. 174 are on board with Protocol I, and 168 signed on to Protocol II (with the United States being a notable absentee in both cases).
Addition international organizations have arisen as a result of the influence of the Geneva Conventions - war crime tribunals and the International Criminal Court. The Conventions helped create boundaries for acceptable behavior in the international community, ultimately containing brutality.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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