It Is War That Is to Be Despised: To Ethiopia as an ICRC Delegate

A turning point in Dr. Junod's life came when he was asked by a friend from his days in the relief movement for Russian children to go to Ethiopia as a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He had difficulty deciding whether or not to accept this request. The job he had at the time offered the perfect environment in which to study.

He consulted with the hospital director, who advised him, "Go out and see the world." Perhaps the director would have preferred to keep Dr. Junod on his staff, but he offered excellent advice bearing in mind Dr. Junod's future as a doctor and those who needed his help. So Dr. Junod made the decision to go to Ethiopia where he would be able to help many people. That decision marked the beginning of the tumultuous years in the life of Marcel Junod.

Dr. Junod's assignment in Ethiopia was to organize and operate as many Red Cross field hospitals as possible. The Italian army had invaded Ethiopia, and the Second Italo-Abyssinian War was escalating. It was obvious that the Ethiopians were hopelessly overmatched against the Italian Army and its modern weaponry. Casualties mounted, and the Italian Army carried out attacks on civilians and employees of the Red Cross using chemical weapons in violation of the Geneva Convention.

Unimaginable tragedies took place on a daily basis, and unthinkable atrocities occurred. Every day the lives of many were snuffed out as if they were expendable. Dr. Junod witnessed the evil that lurks in men's souls. Despite unrelenting helplessness and despair, he faced the difficulties that confronted him with a firm belief in the inherent goodness of people. But when his negotiations for a prisoner exchange failed, he was tormented by his inadequacy and the cruelty of human beings.

Nevertheless he behaved in a way that was quite the opposite of what he had witnessed. He devoted himself to behaving in the way that truly befits human beings. Without regard to his personal safety, Dr. Junod repeatedly went to both the southern and northern fronts of the war to assist the wounded and to provide medical supplies. "It is war, not human beings, that should be despised," he said. This notion underpinned his indomitable spirit.

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