This Day In History: December 10

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After three years of war, during which there had been no Nobel Peace Prize awarded, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awards the 1917 prize to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

From the outbreak of World War I, the Nobel Committee had decided not to award its annual peace prize, stating officially that there had been no worthy candidates nominated. In January 1917, however, Professor Louis Renault, a prominent lawyer, past winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1906, for his role in the extension of the Geneva Convention to include maritime warfare), and current president of the French Red Cross, nominated the ICRC for that year s prize. Renault worked closely with the secretary of the Nobel committee, Ragnvald Moe, during the pre-nomination process. In addition, the government of Switzerland had separately nominated the ICRC, whose operatives were based in Geneva.

In their nominations, both Renault and the Swiss lauded the Red Cross for its establishment of the International Prisoner-of-War Agency, which worked to provide relief to soldiers captured by enemy forces and provide communication between the prisoners and their families. They also praised its efforts to transport wounded soldiers to their home countries via neutral Switzerland. Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers worked in Geneva and in the field during the war, directing inquiries to military commandants and hospital officials alike in order to find information about prisoners and the wounded and sending more than 800,000 communiqués to soldiers families by June 1917.

This was not the first time, nor the last, that the Red Cross would be honored by the Nobel Committee for its humanitarian work. Its founder, Henry Dunant of Switzerland, was awarded the first-ever peace prize in 1901; the Red Cross organization would go on to claim the prize twice more by the end of the century, in 1944 and 1963.

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