Italian Soldiers in World War I
While looking over all of the reading again, I decided that one of the most interesting themes throughout the reading was the concept of war, which has been a topic that we have discussed in class. In each of the readings, this topic of war has been a part of it. In our discussions we have seen how there was an issue within Italy with regards to their national identity and unity. In the first readings we covered, Prime Minister Crispi wanted to start a war because he believed that the Italian people could and would unite through the war because they would be fighting a common enemy. Despite Crispi’s many attempts to provoke the French, it was all to no avail, and no war was started. It reminds me, and I have mentioned this in class, of the British. The British too had an issue of unity and identity within the country and united against the French, thus giving them a common enemy.
Of course, there were other ways to try and promote unity and some of the social and political movements attempted this as well. Socialism and Catholicism as well as Nationalism were all movements that brought unity but also disunity to Italy. The Nationalist movement saw war a way to use the energy produced in the class struggle but also to help heal the internal struggles.
Italy, as stated in the reading, did not need to enter the First World War, however, they did. The war, in my opinion, did not bring unity to Italy in the way that many had hoped that it would. Even throughout the war many did not feel connected to their country. Multiple soldiers did not even know why they were fighting the war and only followed the orders they were given. One factor that really stood out to me was the fact that many of the generals did not even trust their own soldiers and treated them violently, thus hurting the morale of the troops.
Once the war was over, and despite the fact that they were on the winning side, the Italians did not unite as a country but in a way united over the ideals of certain movements. Those who had suffered through the war united in that fact and in their hatred for the government who made them live through that experience. Many were still dissatisfied with the country and its government still and in the end the Nationalist movement prevailed, propelling Mussolini into the position of Prime Minister and ultimately, the Dictator of Italy. In the end, the concept that war would unite the Italians behind a common enemy did work but the common enemy was the government of Italy itself.
The years leading up to Mussolini’s power begged for a leader, and it is not surprising that this leader was a strong-willed and charismatic dictator. The years of Crispi and the ‘New European Order’ as well as the battle between Catholicism and Socialism left Italy in nothing but a confused divide. In my opinion it was not the will to rule that was lacking, but the initiation and command of formal leadership. Instead of getting caught up in controversies and politics, Mussolini garnered public opinion though his charisma and easily followed ideals such as “the importance of ‘discipline’, ‘order’, and ‘hard work’,” as well as “the need for Italy to shake off its old vices” (435).
Duggan asserts that “the cause of fascism was greatly assisted by the ineptitude of its enemies” which I believe to be true—not necessarily their incapacity to rule, but their inability to do so. It seems that other parties which were trying to come to power were more focused on battling each other for votes rather than coaxing votes out of the citizens themselves. I believe that the mental state of the citizens at this time is also an important consideration. The citizens were divided and seeking one leader to conjoin them in a manner they could all agree on. As it turns out, they do not need to agree on anything if they are ruled by a dictator.
In rereading chapter 16, specifically the section on the Crispi Phenomenon, I thought of his time in power as an initially well-intentioned movement that got out of control. The final paragraph of the section entitled The Crispi Phenomenon, Duggan describes Crispi as “a democrat who believed strongly in the need to defuse social question by making sure that the masses had a stake in the life of the nation.” (page 335). This particular quote really stuck with me during my first and second reading of this passage because it is something I find I agree with. I believe that in order for the masses to want to work collectively for the good of the whole they need to have a personal stake in the success of the country. This makes the struggles and successes of the nation of personal importance to the individuals that make up the masses. Had Crispi not let the power go to his head, and had he been able to focus on this belief throughout the duration of his time in power, he may have been able to lead Italy to some real successes instead of tragedies and struggles it faced during that decade.
While some of his political moves helped Italy during its years of struggle, it seemed that Crispi’s insurmountable desire to experience warfare victory led him to his demise. In fact, his first move when returned to power after the Dogali disaster was to sign a military convention with Germany. Duggan states that “the main purpose of this convention was to make war as attractive as possible to Germany” (page 328). Pushing hard for war early in 1888, Crispi pulled back at the last moment and informed Germany that “it might be wise to wait until Italy had completed a further round of rearmament” (page 329). Then, in a later effort to encourage the startup of a war, Crispi sent secret propositions to France in 1890 offering to abandon the Triple Alliance in return for the concession of Tripoli. Such a move could have been disastrous for Italy in the unstable condition in which it existed. His desire for war would not allow him to stop in Europe, as Crispi then turned to Africa, though he is described as being “somewhat reluctant”. In signing the Treat of Uccialli Crispi believed that he was agreeing to assist Menelik in bringing the empire fully under his control, in return for Italy’s right to large portions of inland territory and an Italian protectorate over Ethiopia. In the second half of 1889 Crispi ordered movement of Italian forces from the Red Sea inland and attempted to form a new Italian colony. His charisma and excitement when publically speaking is what made Crispi capable of dominating the political scene for almost a decade, but his inability to heed his desire for war and desire for expansion led to his demise as a political figure.
what a great mustache