Red Cross Hosts Humanitarian Presentation on Cultural Preservation

This year, over 120 students attended the Red Cross’s International Humanitarian Law Youth Action Campaign presentation, with history teacher David Hanna as the main presenter.

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The Red Cross Club recently hosted its annual International Humanitarian Law presentation, featuring history teacher David Hanna. The focus on humanitarian issues sparked nuanced discussions related to the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the associated refugee crisis.

Having been previously exposed to his expertise in a classroom setting, the event’s organizers hoped that the compelling nature of Hanna’s teaching would translate to a lecture hall. “We wanted people to feel inspired and take action, so we just felt like he was the best candidate,” event organizer and junior Larissa Yue said. “A couple of us [in Red Cross] have had Mr. Hanna; I’ve had him for the past two years. His lessons are always super inspirational, and he makes anything interesting.”

The event opened with an introductory presentation about the origin, motivations, and other historical nuances behind the Red Cross. “The founder, Henry Dunant, had been an eyewitness to the aftermath of the battle, and wanted to find a way to help wounded soldiers get better treatment, regardless of which side they were on,” Hanna said in an e-mail interview.

Throughout the discussion, Hanna made connections to international relations and other topics that have gained a new level of relevance in light of Ukraine’s refugee crisis. Although topics change on an annual basis, Hanna’s lecture on cultural preservation built on previous presentations on the role of education during wartime. “The International Committee of the Red Cross has been directly involved in […] agreements on how to improve the treatment of the wounded, prisoners of war, non-combatants, and cultural landmarks during wartime,” he said.

These tie-ins between historical precedent and current events reveal why Hanna’s history lectures are well-received by students. “[The Red Cross’s] international legal norms can be used as a basis for charging people with war crimes at the International Criminal Court,” Hanna said. “For instance, evidence is being gathered at this time to make a case that Vladimir Putin should be held responsible for war crimes committed by the Russian military in Ukraine. [...] A student asked if I thought Vladimir Putin had committed war crimes. I said that according to the history books, that yes, what's happening in Ukraine seems comparable.”

Hanna expressed that speaking at the event was a unique experience, noting that the Q&A portion of the lecture generated quite a bit of historical discourse. “I've spoken at various venues in my capacity as an author, but less so as a history teacher,” he said. “For the most part, the audience was interested in the topic. At the Q&A session at the end, some students asked questions that I was uncertain about. [...] One student asked a question regarding the role of the Red Cross in the Spanish Civil War. This wasn't a simple question to answer, because that conflict [...] was internal, not two countries fighting.”

The event proved to be a success, garnering a turnout of over 120 students. For many participants, Hanna’s lecture was the first Red Cross event they’ve attended in person, since the Stuyvesant Red Cross’s speaker events were held virtually last year. Overall, the reception was very positive. “That thing was crowded—zero seats. That was the first thing I noticed. People were sitting on the floors or the stairs. It was nice that you [could] see peoples’ faces and hear their voices. It is nice for presenters, too, to see that students are present and taking notes,” sophomore Unique Zhang said. “I was actually there with my friends and the best part was towards the end when we were listening through questions. [...] We were all writing notes furiously.”

Furthermore, members of the Red Cross Club express that Hanna’s insight helped them develop a better understanding of the history behind the organization. Many felt that the presentation was insightful due to the current topicality of humanitarian concerns. “I joined the Stuyvesant Red Cross [last year] […] but didn’t do that much because it was remote. [The presentation] gave me a deeper understanding of what the Red Cross really does and what it represents [...] beyond the high school version,” sophomore Zhang said. “I’m learning relatively the same thing in AP World History and also from current events, so [the lecture] helped me learn more about the restrictions on what can and cannot [be] done in terms of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.”

Hanna too enjoyed participating in the event. “It was a real honor to be invited to speak to the Stuyvesant Red Cross, the largest student club at the school. If I were invited to speak again, I would definitely consider it,” he added.

Overall, as humanitarian issues grow increasingly relevant on a global scale, both Hanna and the Stuyvesant Red Cross emphasize the importance of discussion and education regarding these topics. “Mr. Hanna made sure to mention how culture preservation and international humanitarian law apply to the Ukraine-Russia War,” Yue said. “People should understand and talk about this, and Mr. Hanna did a really good job tying everything together. He started with the history of the Red Cross, and a lot of people think the Red Cross is just disaster relief, but it actually started because of war. I think he started from the very beginning to tie it all together.”