Naples:life,death &
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© Jeff Matthews   entry Aug 2011
Ferdinando Palasciano

Ferdinando Palasciano (1815 - 1891) was a physician whose work is considered crucial to having helped lay the foundations of the International Red Cross. He was born in Capua, then part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (also known as the Kingdom of Naples).


Palasciano graduated in Literature and Philosophy, Veterinary Science and, finally, in Medicine and Surgery. He served as a doctor in the Bourbon army and was witness to a number of harsh regime tactics against early revolutionaries at the beginning of the Risorgimento, the decades-long series of wars to unify the peninsula into a single Italy. His work during the government campaign against rebels in Messina in 1848 led him to utter a phrase that summed up his entire career and one that served to inspire those who later founded the Red Cross and who drew up various versions of so-called "Rules of War" to embody a set of humanitarian principles: "The wounded, whatever army they belong to, are sacred to me and cannot be considered as enemies." That particular sentiment landed Palasciano in trouble with the Bourbon military commanders of the day, who had ordered their medics not to treat rebels. Palasciano was sentenced to death for insubordination, but his sentence was commuted by King Ferdinand II, and Palasciano spent one year in prison.

In the weeks following the annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the declaration of a united Italy in 1861, the Accademia Pontoniana, a Neapolitan association of scholars, held a meeting at which Palasciano further declared:

When nations declare war against one another, they need to commit themselves to the principle that those wounded in battle thereby become neutral; nations need further to commit themselves to unlimited increase in medical personel for the duration of hostilities.
That found such resonance throughout Europe that the Enciclopedia Universale Rizzoli-Larousse (vol. IV, p. 680, entry "Croce Rossa internazionale") later said that "The origins of the [Red Cross] can be traced back to Ferdinando Palasciano." (This in no way diminishes the work of Jean-Henri Dunant, who witnessed the savagery of the battle of Solferino in June of 1859, part of the Second Italian War of Independence; that episode led him to write A Memory of Solferino, which inspired the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1863. In 1901 Dunant received the first Nobel Peace Prize, together with Frédéric Passy.)

In 1865 Palasciano was appointed professor of Surgical Chemistry at the University of Naples, and in 1883 he was among the founders of the Italian Surgical Society. He was also a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and Senate. Around 1886 Palasciano developed dementia. He died in 1891 and was buried at Poggioreale Cemetery, Naples. He was later remembered in WWI through the presence of an Italian hospital ship named for him.


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