Roman Joy

We will never tire of Rome. There is an ever-present joy in descending from the Quirinale, where the lies the mummy, Draghi, and entering the Field of Mars. A first love glows every time. You spend your day crisscrossing this heavy city, crushed under the domes, sedimented under the layers of time and ruins. Rome resembles a scraped and re-scratched palimpsest. On a speech by Cicero is inscribed a sermon by Augustine; on an elegiac poem, a lustful sonnet by Pietro Bembo. The precept of Lavoisier in chemistry becomes a rule: Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.

The Sol Invictus, luminous and virile divinity, was adored by the military and by Aurelian. According to Paul Valéry, this glaring fault holds within it the power of creation, the drive of life, good health. In its wake, Saint Faith of Rome, a martyr of the second century, daughter of Sophia, sister of Elpis and Agape. Hadrian arrested them, was captivated by their beauty and piety, but decided to put them to death. Faith was stripped, tortured; from the torn off breasts flowed milk. Supported by her mother in her ordeal, her head was cut off.

In Via Veneto there is the Martini sign, fizzing in the night, red-orange, like a new sun; a huge invitation to party – new rites and mysteries of a modern temple: Consumption. Rome is the concrete idea of permanence.

Visiting Rome over the years consists of constantly sifting through treasures with your eyes. First, thinking about the elementary things and then ending up moving for a painting by a 16th century painter in a church that opens only one day a week. And so begins the Roman adventure. What one has visited, one must see again. The traveler must, like a Sisyphean task, revisit what he has seen, revisit what he believes he has seen and what he would like to see again. On the next trip, everything will have to start again. A perpetuum mobile. The mystery of Rome is the closed palaces, full of beautiful things; the lit rooms that you can see from the street at night and to which you have no access; the doors of monasteries and convents that close onto rose gardens and palm trees. The city nurtures the desire, the lack and the urge always to go and see, further.

The Romans play a worldly carnival all year round. In the center, near the Palazzo Madama, a broom of officials and non-officials, carefully tied, brushes through the streets; priests from all over the world, old and western, young and Asian, flood in. The cassock is forbidden. You can still find journalists and intellectuals from the 1970s, with their unattractive physique as in Ettore Scola’s The Terrace. These shirt-wearing commies, with windshields as glasses, still take methodical routes through the city, a gazette under their arm, a pipe in their mouth. Here, a beautiful mother, there, a former TV presenter finished off by the scalpel. Roman nobility rubs shoulders with the marginalized; Russian fortune tellers, bums, obese people on Vespas in vest, a cigarette butt between lips. Rome answers to the celestial and terrestrial Venus, to the great beauty, and to the Fellinian vrenzole. It is torn between total luminosity and the most obvious vulgarity.

However, three Roman figures seem to me incredible in their taste of the beautiful, the good and the true.

Lucius Licinius Lucullus, after having known successes and political failures, withdrew from public life, retired, and settled in his properties to live the high life. His name remains attached to the splendid gardens at the site of the Villa Medici. It is necessary to imagine a vast plain above the city, excellent orchards with numerous citrus fruits, peaches, apricots. Lucullus had the taste for fountains, porches in the shade, thermal baths lined with exquisite mosaics, deep in perspective, powerful of face. In Tusculum, above Frascati, he had planted the first cherry trees of Europe. Lucullus also excelled in the art of the table, cultivated the great refinements; what Plutarch noted with severity by recalling this anecdote. When his cook brought him only one dish, he retorted: “This evening, Lucullus dines with Lucullus.” The cook thereafter made sure to always plan a banquet when Lucullus dined alone, with many dishes, bottles, and the desserts.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, Scipione Borghese was the great cardinal of pleasures. Between the nymph and the gladiator, his eminence showed himself as a great builder, restoring churches, building the great villa to which he gave his name. There he collected paintings and priceless works: a Hermaphrodite from the second century, as revealing of his penchant for men as for women; paintings by Caravaggio, and those of the Cavalier d’Arpin and Raphael. He was also the patron of Bernini, whose art culminates in Daphnis and Chloe, a masterpiece of life and death frozen in fingers that transform; a body that molds itself into bark, hair that passes branches.

Mario Praz, in the twentieth century, chose modest elegance. An art critic, he lived in seclusion in a Roman palace where he collected twelve hundred objects – paintings, drawings, furniture, sculptures from the last century; Napoleonic works but also neoclassical English paintings; conversation pieces; some wax bas-reliefs. The House of Life is his masterpiece, in which he speaks of his life and his work, as if they were the rooms of a house.

Rome is conducive to drunkenness and good food. Happiness is everywhere, desire flows, with all its variety – the lively joy in the sun, the relaxation in the afternoon, the light madness in the evening. What joy it was for me to befriend Julien Rochedy. How we feasted at Al Moro, a landmark for ministers of the regime, on seppioline with artichokes, gamberi al pomodoro, and spaghetti alle vongole. Familiar delicacies take on a double flavor in Rome. Try Giolitti’s ice cream, with almond and hazelnut, topped with panna montata. Genius. The Judeo-Roman cuisine is also excellent. In the street that leads to the theater of Marcellus, admirable as a set of legos among the columns, the Oratorio Venditorum Piscium, the apartments embedded in the heavy stone, you will find the Jewish kitchens, with their oriental air. Moshe will serve you fried artichokes as an appetizer, salted, crunchy to the tooth, fried brains, stew or a piquant and fragrant cod couscous.

The streets of Rome are characters. Via Giulia behind the Campo dei Fiori looks like a dowager alternating knitting and rosary beads. It is straight, austere, gray on one side, held together by official and severe buildings. A bridge crosses the street, covered with ivy, like a dark mantilla of a woman in mourning.

Via dei Coronari is a kind of woman of the century, one foot in the old world, the other in modernity. The antique stores are full of preciosities, trinkets and relics in silver and gold, official portraits of popes, swords, furniture, massive candlesticks. Proof of this strange feminine paradox, the conversation and the permeability to progress; a store sells plastic ducks dressed as the Queen of England, Michael Jackson, Trump; next to it another one sells only lead figurines of the Napoleonic empire.

Via Margutta, on the other hand, is the most sensual; kind of feline, playful, whimsical, sparkling. Its walls are warm, yellow, ochre, saffron, taupe, sometimes washed out; ivy climbs up the walls, pearl-like roses. It is a young socialite, home to gallery owners, jewelers and artists. In its streets that go up and down, André Suarès, even at noon, this great madman, roamed the city in search of the terrible absolute of the beautiful, the good and the true. In the evening, a French bribe-taker coming out of a cantina would fight with a cursed painter with a rapier. In the morning, the writer of the Jet-set, Jep Gambardella returns home, after a party; no more drinks, no more contact lenses, smoking, and finding on the Aventine, a monk come out of the monastery to say a final goodbye to his sweetheart.

The statues in Rome also live. In the church of San Francesco a Ripa, which gave the title to a short story by Stendhal, Blessed Ludovica Albertoni is in ecstasy. She holds her chest, ready to leave it. Here, there is no fourth wall of the theater of which Henri Beyle speaks, no spectators as in the Cornaro Chapel where Saint Theresa is ecstatic at the other end of the city. The layout is more sober, the line more sure, more incisive in the last productions of the artist. The dress is agitated, swollen by the waves of love, while her face remains virginal. Her body betrays terrible convulsions while her gaze carries the delicate vision of paradise.

In Sant’Andrea del Quirinale is the most successful work of Pierre Le Gros the Younger, a French student of Bernini. One reaches the camera del polacco. What is it? It is a room where is the recumbent Stanislaus Kotzka, a young Polish Jesuit, who passed through Vienna, and died when he came of age in 1568. It is a baroque pearl. The young man sleeps, dressed in a black marble that contrasts with his white porcelain skin. The success of the statue lies in the way the rigid cassock is rendered as if it were encased in cuttlefish ink colored marble. His face is soft but his feet are icy.

What can you say about Michelangelo’s Christ in the Basilica in the Santa Maria sopra Minerva! It is a mass, a rock, extra pure. It is the Redeemer who manifests himself to us as a truth that takes up all the space in a life. Christ poses, swayed-hip, naked. The knees are so delicate that Sebastiano del Piombo said they were worth all of Rome.

But finally, Pasquino, does he have something to begrudge these sculptures, the darling of the people? It is a statue from the third century. In 1501, a hand placed a pamphlet on it predicting the death of Alexander VI Borgia. The term pasquinade was then derived, referring to an anonymous pamphlet often written in Roman dialect. With time, Pasquino became the first talking statue of the city, bearing popular reactions, the bloodshed and the acid laughter of the Romans. There are still salacious messages, claims and heart-felt messages: “Berlusconi, figlio di Minghia,” “Nun si necessità sesso, er governo fa er culo ogni giorno!” “er Premier è un vampiro, certo, ma li Italiani nun hanno piu sangue, dispiacce!”

It is more than natural, it is said, according to the custom of tourists, to sigh with admiration before the supreme beauty of the Sistine Chapel. For once, let us leave these marshmallows chewed up into liquid, sky-blue sky dishes and let us admire the Christian mosaics of the first centuries. Let’s start with the mosaics of the Basilica of Saints Como and Damian. After passing the courtyard and the fountain with dog heads covered with moss, you open the door and what jumps at you is a cobalt blue sky, marked by red clouds, under the feet of Christ, who descends from the sky in front of Peter, Paul, Como and Damian. The vision stops you dead in your tracks and grabs you.

Not far away is the Basilica of St. Clement. The mosaics are more careful and finer. We see on the apse deer drinking from a spring that feeds a kind of bush, representing a forest, from which grow branches, woods, trees that take up all the space and shelter monks, hermits, shepherds. The cross in the center is represented as the arbor vitae. In this religious jungle, you can see Saint Gregory and Saint Ambrose. Above the cross, in the sky, the only hand of God sends his son for the salvation of the world.

In the Rione dei Monti, there is the Basilica of Santa Prassede. You have to go to the left chapel, put a coin in the machine to turn on the light. Illumination! Largesse! The Chapel of Saint Zeno is illuminated. It looks like the miniature of a Greek Convent of Meteora. A kind of gold coin box. You have never been so close to the quivering mosaics, glittering like yellow, golden and blue fish scales. You have to see this simple and sober Christ supported by four angels. The faces are pretty, little sketched, almost naive, but the whole of it enfolds you with a warm joy. You even forget that Bernini delivered his first youthful work right next door.


Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef. Translation from the French by N. Dass.


The featured image shows the mosaic of the vault of the Chapel of Saint Zeno, from the 9th century.

Fascism: History And Chimeric Reality

Everything about fascism and its opposite has been said for almost a century. Innumerable are the authors of studies, articles, books and documentaries, more or less serious or fanciful, devoted to the history of the fascist phenomenon and its historical significance. Singularly fewer, on the other hand, are interested in the controversies over the meaning of the word, “fascism” and its opposite, “anti-fascism,” and over the proper use of it. The immense merit of American political scientist Paul Gottfried is that he is one of the very few, if not the only one, to deal with all of these aspects. In this lies the interest and the importance of the vast and fascinating synthesis which he has published in Fascisme, histoire d’un concept (2021), a French translation of Fascism, The Career of a Concept (2017) , a study which the author has recently brought to completion with Antifascism. The Course of a Crusade (2021)]. In his Introduction to the French version, American historian Stanley Payne, a great scholar on the subject, aptly writes: “No other book in the recent scholarly literature treats these problems so comprehensively.” To take the measure of this glowing review, a brief perspective is here useful.

To hear what many politicians, writers and journalists have been telling us for decades, fascism should be a perpetually present, lurking danger, a monster, a hydra which can constantly rise from its ashes, despite all efforts to remove it. In the politico-media vocabulary, the term “fascist” is used constantly to denounce, abuse, denigrate, stigmatize the adversary, whose ideas or person we are supposed to hate. “Fascist” is synonymous with violent, fanatic, intolerant, perverse, macho, homophobic, reactionary, colonialist and racist. Fascism is always assimilated or amalgamated with Nazism; it therefore embodies absolute evil, the figure of the devil, the demon of the Bible in a sort of modernist or updated version. The word fascist has become an “empty signifier,” a truncated, trivialized portmanteau word; but nevertheless, because of its pejorative connotation and negative charge, there is not a single disparaging adjective that can compete with it. No leading or secondary political figure can escape the charge of fascism. Over the years, the most diverse regimes, social categories, cultural and religious communities, political parties and trade unions have all or almost all been denounced as fascists. The most contradictory philosophies and ideas have all, or nearly all, been similarly pilloried.

Fascists are therefore, or would have been, according to modern master-censors, jealous guardians of political correctness: Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Charlemagne, Dante, Isabella the Catholic, Philip II, Hegel, Nietzsche, Roosevelt, Churchill, Franco, Gandhi, Mao, Trotsky, Stalin, Tito, Solzhenitsyn, Erdogan, Netanyahu, Putin, Obama, Trump, Biden, Merkel, Orban, Kim-Jong-un, Xi Jinping. Or, to stick to France alone, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Pétain, de Gaulle, Mitterrand, Chirac, Sarkozy, Macron, Mélenchon, Le Pen, Zemmour, Onfray, Houellebecq and many others. Fascist would be, or would have been, Germany and Italy of course, but also Spain, Portugal, Cuba, the USSR, China, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, France, Chile, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc. Fascists would also be businessmen, bourgeois, bobos, workers, Catholics, priests, Jews, anti-Semites, Zionists, Islamophobes, Islamophiles, Islamo-leftists, sovereignists, populists, nationalists, globalists, feminists, chauvinists, homosexuals, pederasts, puritans, “pornocrats,” police officers. And I’ll pass over the rest and the best. Ultimately, we should all be, to varying degrees, hopelessly fascists! Tutti fascisti! Fascists All! That was the caustic title of the short political essay published long ago by Italian film critic, Claudio Quarantotto. Fascism has never been so topical. The great vanquished of the political-military history of the twentieth century, fascism seems to have become the absolute and omnipotent winner of Western political-cultural life at the turn of the twenty-first century.

More seriously or more rigorously, since the “march on Rome” of the Mussolini fascists in 1922 (at least, if one accepts to put aside the recent ideological drifts of American and European universities), academic circles have never ceased to try to formulate explanatory theories of the phenomenon. To this day, and despite the incongruous assertions of Roger Griffin and his followers, the debate remains open because there is no consensus. On the contrary, a whole series of interpretations, for the most part initially advanced in the 1920s and 1930s, occupy the field. Some combine and overlap; others, for the most part, contradict and exclude each other.

According to the tastes and convictions of exegetes, fascism is sometimes perceived as the violent and dictatorial instrument of bourgeois capitalism, the “armed wing of capital,” as the Comintern affirmed, in the year 1923. Sometimes, fascism is seen as the effect of irrational, extremist and violent nihilism, a consequence of the moral crisis and the corruption of morals. Sometimes, fascism is regarded as the deleterious result of capitalism and sexual repression, the outgrowth of an authoritarian and repressive society, with its inevitable neurotic and pathological impulses, as the ideologists of the Frankfurt School claimed in the 1930s.

The list of analyses, interpretations and explanations of the phenomenon does not stop there. About twenty specialists, internationally recognized as such, whose tedious enumeration I will spare the reader, identify other factors or characteristics which they deem more essential. The fascist phenomenon is, according to them, the product of the advent of the masses on the political scene; or, the expression of the exclusive radicalism of the middle classes; or, the response to a situation of distress in the face of a movement of social destruction, producing aversion to chaos among the most homogeneous social actors; or, the contemporary form of Bonapartism, independent of a specific class domination; or, the outlet for homosexuality; or, the product of late and atypical development processes; or, resistance to modernization; or, the prototype of the “developmentalist” and modernizing revolution; or, a form of populist and revolutionary ultra-nationalism; or, again, a “political religion,” the typical manifestation of 20th century totalitarianism, a collectivist and police-system specific to modernity, embodying the triumph of violence and terror, with the archetypal models of the Soviet-Communist and Nazi tyrannies, which have more in common with each other than with any other authoritarian form of government.

Let me stress, for the sake of being more complete, but without being exhaustive, that specialists also oppose the right, left or “right and left” nature of the phenomenon – some see fascism as the product of a revisionism of the left, socialist, statist, secularist, anti-traditional and anti-Christian. Others see it as a right-wing revolution, neither reactionary nor opportunist, based on the myth of renewal and regeneration. Still others see it as a revolutionary movement “neither on the right nor on the left;” or simultaneously on the right and the left, born from the synthesis of “revisionist” socialism, revolutionary syndicalism and a new community nationalism, organic and social.

However, fascism as a sociopolitical model of a general and transnational character (or if one prefers the categorization of “generic fascism”) raises more questions than it answers. How can one define fascism without sinking into interpretation-schematization or the reductionist cliché? Historians respond that defining “fascism” is above all about writing history, with the national characteristics linked to political, economic, social and cultural events of countries under consideration. There is not, according to these historians, a model of “one-size-fits-all fascism,” nor a universally valid definition. But on the other hand, one can note the existence of a basic minimal conception, common to the political movements and regimes which appeared in Europe at the beginning of the last century, in the midst of a cultural, economic and social crisis. A point of view a priori convincing but one which raises many questions.

The imperfect similarities which these historians point out constitute indeed a veritable jumble of ideas, values and principles; and there is of course no agreement on their comparative importance, frequency and significance. According to the convictions of the authors, there should be, at the heart of loose fascism, a mystical conception of life and politics; an irrational and voluntarist or idealistic or even spiritualist way of thinking; a cyclical view of history or a palingenesic view of history; the rejection of Marxist materialism; contempt for individualism, parliamentary democracy and the bourgeoisie, in the name of the organic, structured and hierarchical community; racism, anti-Semitism and hatred of others; the cult of the providential and charismatic leader; the call for a new elite, based on the virtue of example; the aspiration to a more mobile society; the desire to create a new ruling class from the middle classes and the working class; the exaltation of youth; the mobilization and integration of the masses through propaganda and the one party; realistic politics (Realpolitik) opposed to utopian politics (Phantasiepolitik); political-cultural imperialism; the heroic justification for war; the desire to reconcile technical modernity and the triumph of traditional values; the fusion of ideals common to traditionalism, nationalism, elitist liberalism, revolutionary socialism and anarcho-syndicalism; the assertion of the primacy of political sovereignty at the expense of any form of economism; the defense of the private economy but nevertheless the extension of public initiative; finally, and in order not to lengthen this list excessively, the will to transform society and the individual in a direction that has never yet been experienced or realized. In the end, a real intellectual patchwork that leaves one speechless.

In the face of these disagreements, many writers have come to deny that one can define a “generic fascist” phenomenon. Others take a less radical position, but nonetheless express the greatest doubt about its usefulness (see in particular: Gregor, Bracher, Allardyce, Muñoz Alonso, Fernández de la Mora, Arendt and De Felice, to name a few).

In reality, specialists of fascism fail to overcome the obstacle represented by the profound differences that exist between supposedly “fascist” movements or regimes, not only between fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany, but also between these two models and the other “nationalist-socialisms” that appeared in the years 1920-1940. To stick to the “state totalitarianism” of Italian fascism, and the “racial totalitarianism” of German National Socialism (and not to mention the “class totalitarianism” of the anticlerical and anti-religious Soviet-Communists), there is an immeasurable difference in the horror (the thesis of Emilio Gentile on “the Italian way of totalitarianism” has moreover been severely criticized by the disciples of Renzo de Felice). Before coming to power, between 1919 and 1922, the Italian fascists inflicted between 600 and 700 casualties among left and far-left activists, but also suffered roughly the same number of deaths in their own ranks. From 1922 to 1940, the Mussolini regime executed nine people (the majority of them Slovenian terrorists), and seventeen others in 1943 (date of the start of the civil war which claimed 50,000 victims, according to Claudio Pavone).

The number of political prisoners in fascist Italy never exceeded 2000. Italian fascism never had the intention or the possibility of developing a genuinely totalitarian system, based on the control of all state institutions and society, nor a fortiori a concentration camp system like those of National Socialist Germany and the USSR. The number of crimes, murders and executions, committed in the name of the “salvation” of Aryan humanity by National Socialist Germany or of the “happiness” of the proletariat, even of all humanity by the USSR and the other communist countries remains a subject of debate among historians; but in any case it is without comparison with that of the victims of fascist Italy (According to the methods, the criteria and the sources, the estimates vary by twice as much: They are from 8 to 15 million for National Socialist Germany, from 20 to 40 million for the USSR and from 60 to 120 million for all the Communist countries). Thus, with Italian fascism there is a difference, not only of degree but of nature.

All of these questions about the similarities and dissimilarities of the Nazi-German and Fascist-Italian models and many more are asked, examined and judiciously discussed by the author of Fascisme, histoire d’une concept (Fascism, History of a Concept). Free and independent of spirit, Paul Gottfried takes seriously the academic tradition of rigor and probity. In this he honors his profession, when a good number of his peers now wallow in ideology and intolerance. Gottfried is not one of those who claim to have the exclusive right to rational or “scientific” arguments, nor to have a monopoly on legitimate speech. He respects his opponents; presents their theses honestly; discusses their content, and presents his conclusions, always avoiding admonishment. If he accepts the categorization of “generic fascism,” he emphasizes, as other authors have done before him (such as Nolte, Arendt, Sternhell, de Felice, Payne, Del Noce or Gregor, to name but a few) that there are fundamental differences between German National Socialism on the one hand and Italian fascism and other “fascisms” on the other.

More seriously or more rigorously, since the “march on Rome” of the Mussolini fascists in 1922 (at least, if one accepts to put aside the recent ideological drifts of American and European universities), academic circles have never ceased to try to formulate explanatory theories of the phenomenon. To this day, and despite the incongruous assertions of Roger Griffin and his followers, the debate remains open because there is no consensus. On the contrary, a whole series of interpretations, for the most part initially advanced in the 1920s and 1930s, occupy the field. Some combine and overlap; others, for the most part, contradict and exclude each other.

According to the tastes and convictions of exegetes, fascism is sometimes perceived as the violent and dictatorial instrument of bourgeois capitalism, the “armed wing of capital,” as the Comintern affirmed, in the year 1923. Sometimes, fascism is seen as the effect of irrational, extremist and violent nihilism, a consequence of the moral crisis and the corruption of morals. Sometimes, fascism is regarded as the deleterious result of capitalism and sexual repression, the outgrowth of an authoritarian and repressive society, with its inevitable neurotic and pathological impulses, as the ideologists of the Frankfurt School claimed in the 1930s. The array of analyses, interpretations and explanations of the phenomenon does not stop there, however. About twenty specialists, internationally recognized as such, whose tedious enumeration I will spare the reader, identify other factors or characteristics which they deem more essential. The fascist phenomenon is, according to them, the product of the advent of the masses on the political scene; or, the expression of the exclusive radicalism of the middle classes; or, the response to a situation of distress in the face of a movement of social destruction, producing aversion to chaos among the most homogeneous social actors; or, the contemporary form of Bonapartism, independent of a specific class domination; or, the outlet for homosexuality; or, the product of late and atypical development processes; or, resistance to modernization; or, the prototype of the “developmentalist” and modernizing revolution; or, a form of populist and revolutionary ultra-nationalism; or, again, a “political religion,” the typical manifestation of 20th century totalitarianism, a collectivist and police-system specific to modernity, embodying the triumph of violence and terror, with the archetypal models of the Soviet-Communist and Nazi tyrannies, which have more in common with each other than with any other authoritarian form of government.

Let me stress, for the sake of being more complete, but without being exhaustive, that specialists also oppose the right, left or “right and left” nature of the phenomenon – some see fascism as the product of a revisionism of the left, socialist, statist, secularist, anti-traditional and anti-Christian. Others see it as a right-wing revolution, neither reactionary nor opportunist, based on the myth of renewal and regeneration. Still others see it as a revolutionary movement “neither on the right nor on the left;” or simultaneously on the right and the left, born from the synthesis of “revisionist” socialism, revolutionary syndicalism and a new community nationalism, organic and social.

However, fascism as a sociopolitical model of a general and transnational character (or if one prefers the categorization of “generic fascism”) raises more questions than it answers. How can one define fascism without sinking into interpretation-schematization or the reductionist cliché? Historians respond that defining “fascism” is above all about writing history, with the national characteristics linked to political, economic, social and cultural events of countries under consideration. There is not, according to these historians, a model of “one-size-fits-all fascism,” nor a universally valid definition. But on the other hand, one can note the existence of a basic minimal conception, common to the political movements and regimes which appeared in Europe at the beginning of the last century, in the midst of a cultural, economic and social crisis. A point of view a priori convincing, but one which raises many questions.

The imperfect similarities which these historians point out constitute indeed a veritable jumble of ideas, values and principles; and there is of course no agreement on their comparative importance, frequency and significance. According to the convictions of the authors, there should be, at the heart of loose fascism, a mystical conception of life and politics; an irrational and voluntarist or idealistic or even spiritualist way of thinking; a cyclical view of history or a palingenesic view of history; the rejection of Marxist materialism; contempt for individualism, parliamentary democracy and the bourgeoisie, in the name of the organic, structured and hierarchical community; racism, anti-Semitism and hatred of others; the cult of the providential and charismatic leader; the call for a new elite, based on the virtue of example; the aspiration to a more mobile society; the desire to create a new ruling class from the middle classes and the working class; the exaltation of youth; the mobilization and integration of the masses through propaganda and the one party; realistic politics (Realpolitik) opposed to utopian politics (Phantasiepolitik); political-cultural imperialism; the heroic justification for war; the desire to reconcile technical modernity and the triumph of traditional values; the fusion of ideals common to traditionalism, nationalism, elitist liberalism, revolutionary socialism and anarcho-syndicalism; the assertion of the primacy of political sovereignty at the expense of any form of economism; the defense of the private economy but nevertheless the extension of public initiative; finally, and in order not to lengthen this list excessively, the will to transform society and the individual in a direction that has never yet been experienced or realized. In the end, a real intellectual patchwork that leaves one speechless.

In the face of these disagreements, many writers have come to deny that one can define a “generic fascist” phenomenon. Others take a less radical position, but nonetheless express the greatest doubt about its usefulness (see in particular: Gregor, Bracher, Allardyce, Muñoz Alonso, Fernández de la Mora, Arendt and De Felice, to name a few).

In reality, specialists of fascism fail to overcome the obstacle represented by the profound differences that exist between supposedly “fascist” movements or regimes, not only between fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany, but also between these two models and the other “nationalist-socialisms” that appeared in the years 1920-1940. To stick to the “state totalitarianism” of Italian fascism, and the “racial totalitarianism” of German National Socialism (and not to mention the “class totalitarianism” of the anticlerical and anti-religious Soviet-Communists), there is an immeasurable difference in the horror (the thesis of Emilio Gentile on “the Italian way of totalitarianism” has moreover been severely criticized by the disciples of Renzo de Felice). Before coming to power, between 1919 and 1922, the Italian fascists inflicted between 600 and 700 casualties among left and far-left activists, but also suffered roughly the same number of deaths in their own ranks. From 1922 to 1940, the Mussolini regime executed nine people (the majority of them Slovenian terrorists), and seventeen others in 1943 (date of the start of the civil war which claimed 50,000 victims, according to Claudio Pavone).

The number of political prisoners in fascist Italy never exceeded 2000. Italian fascism never had the intention or the possibility of developing a genuinely totalitarian system, based on the control of all state institutions and society, nor a fortiori a concentration camp system like those of National Socialist Germany and the USSR. The number of crimes, murders and executions, committed in the name of the “salvation” of Aryan humanity by National Socialist Germany or of the “happiness” of the proletariat, even of all humanity by the USSR and the other communist countries remains a subject of debate among historians; but in any case it is without comparison with that of the victims of fascist Italy (According to the methods, the criteria and the sources, the estimates vary by twice as much: They are from 8 to 15 million for National Socialist Germany, from 20 to 40 million for the USSR and from 60 to 120 million for all the Communist countries). Thus, with Italian fascism there is a difference, not only of degree but of nature.

All of these questions about the similarities and dissimilarities of the Nazi-German and Fascist-Italian models and many more are asked, examined and judiciously discussed by the author of Fascisme, histoire d’une concept (Fascism, History of a Concept). Free and independent of spirit, Paul Gottfried takes seriously the academic tradition of rigor and probity. In this he honors his profession, when a good number of his peers now wallow in ideology and intolerance. Gottfried is not one of those who claim to have the exclusive right to rational or “scientific” arguments, nor to have a monopoly on legitimate speech. He respects his opponents; presents their theses honestly; discusses their content, and presents his conclusions, always avoiding admonishment. If he accepts the categorization of “generic fascism,” he emphasizes, as other authors have done before him (such as Nolte, Arendt, Sternhell, de Felice, Payne, Del Noce or Gregor, to name but a few) that there are fundamental differences between German National Socialism on the one hand and Italian fascism and other “fascisms” on the other.

That said, Gottfried prefers to reserve the term “fascism” for movements other than Nazism (which was a “borderline case,” marked by the totalizing and exterminating character of its dictatorship, and significantly opposed to any form of organic democracy) – and in the framework of “generic fascism” he distinguishes between and “Latin fascism” of Catholic countries from “North European fascism” of Protestant countries. He also agrees that the fascist phenomenon is revolutionary in nature and historically linked to interwar Europe. Furthermore, he also agrees that the traditional, nationalist and conservative rights of the authoritarian governments of Franco, Salazar or Dollfuss cannot be amalgamated with the only true model of “generic fascism” that is Italian fascism. On the other hand, considering that the dividing line between right and left rests on the principles of egalitarianism and hierarchy and on the acceptance or rejection of the myth of progress, Gottfried resolutely classifies fascism on the right, and opposes thus frontally authors who, like in his Preface to the French translation, Stanley Payne, believe that fascism constitutes, on the contrary, the only type of revolutionism beyond the classic forms of the left and the right.

One can however doubt that the categorization of “Latin fascism,” used by Paul Gottfried, is really of a nature to shed more light on the rather muddled question of “generic fascism.” For my part, I believe I know the life and political thought of José Antonio Primo de Rivera quite well, as well as the entire bibliography of his movement, the Spanish Phalange. The majority of specialists see in José Antonio the model of “Spanish fascism.” Defined as fascist, José Antonio is therefore necessarily anti-democratic, putschist, ultranationalist, imperialist, a warmonger, totalitarian, apologist of violence and dictatorship. The problem is that these opinions, accusations and value judgments are all questionable and easily overturned by the facts, life and writings of José Antonio. Let us pass over the annoyance and the legitimate sarcasm that the severity and the injustice of these judgments do not fail to arouse in Hispanic countries, when such judgments come from foreign authors who make sure to be much more careful, balanced and measured when the time comes to assess the immeasurably greater violence committed in the name of so-called peaceful democracy inside or outside the borders of their own countries.

But let us underline two points, often overlooked by those who approach the study of so-called “Spanish fascism.” It should first be remembered that over the past two centuries, both the Right and the Left have for the most part embraced their own forms of anti-democracy, authoritarianism, nationalism, imperialism, violence, warmongering, elitism, hierarchy, identity politics or particularism. It should then be noted that the José-Antonian Phalangist movement (1933-1936) has only very distant links with the Traditionalist Phalange movement, born of the merger of all the right-wing parties under the aegis of Franco, in 1937, and all the more so with the Caudillo regime from 1937 to 1975.

For the comparison with “Latin fascism,” let us stick here only with the Phalange of José Antonio. In reality, beyond the “revolutionary” or very reformist character of the economic and social program of the Spanish Phalange of the JONS, the elements which differentiate the José-Antonian ideal from fascism(s) are numerous: the conception of the subordinate state to moral principles and to the transcendent end of man, the sense of human dignity, consideration for the individual and social life, respect for freedom, the affirmation of man’s eternal value, and the Catholic inspiration of political philosophy and the structure of society. And this is not nothing. Anti-capitalist and anti-socialist-Marxist, José Antonio undoubtedly was. But was he anti-democratic? It is debatable: “The aspiration for a free and peaceful democratic life will always be the goal of political science beyond all fashions,” he said. Violence was not a postulate of its ideal, nor a condition of its objective, but a pragmatic necessity to avoid being annihilated (the José-Antonian Phalange suffered about fifteen fatal attacks the day after its foundation; after eight months of waiting, it launched into reprisals, leaving some sixty victims among its adversaries, a figure roughly equal to the total of its own losses. But throughout the duration of the Second Spanish Republic and until the outbreak of the Civil War there were nearly 2,500 dead).

José Antonio wanted to be a patriot much more than a nationalist. “We are not nationalists,” he said, “because being a nationalist is nonsense; it is to base the deepest springs of the nation on a physical factor, on a simple physical circumstance. We are not nationalists because nationalism is the individualism of peoples.” We do not find the slightest territorial claim in his Complete Works either. According to him, the Spanish Empire in the 20th century could only be spiritual and cultural in nature. One would look in vain for anti-Semitic or racist overtones in his remarks. No doubt he clumsily used the term totalitarian or totalitarian state five times, but he did so clearly to signify his desire to create a “state for all,” “without divisions,” “integrating all Spaniards,” and “An instrument at the service of national unity.” Equally surprising is his point of view on fascism expressed in his 1936 declaration: “Fascism is fundamentally wrong: it is right in sensing that it is a religious phenomenon, but it wants to replace religion with idolatry;” and “it leads to the absorption of the individual into the collective.” As for his Catholic convictions, they cannot be questioned. We find the ultimate and clear manifestation of this in the will he wrote on November 18, 1936, the day after a parody of a trial, two days before his execution: “I forgive with all my heart all those, without exception, who may have harmed or offended me, and I ask all those to forgive me to whom I may owe the reparation of some wrong, be it great or small.”

One can of course think that there exists between the agnostic Mussolini, the secularist Giovanni Gentile (official philosopher of fascism), the neo-pagan Julius Evola, the Romanian orthodox, very anti-Semitic, Codreanu, and the Catholic, national-syndicalist, José Antonio, a kind of lowest common denominator. But the link that would constitute “Latin fascism” is at the very least tenuous and questionable. The comparison of the young leader of the Phalange with the non-conformists or French personalists of the 1930s, or with the founder of Fianna Fail, President of the Irish Republic, Éamon de Valera, however seems much more convincing. It is telling that, somewhat embarrassed by the José Antonio case, most historians resort to a series of euphemisms. Joséantonian fascism would be, they say, “intellectual,” “rational,” “moderate,” “civilized.” “idealist,” “naïve,” or “poetic”. Perhaps! But these attributes are not among the commonly accepted characteristics of fascism.

With this reservation on “Latin fascism” made, I cannot say enough how much Gottfried’s book deserves to be read. Having appreciated the English version in its time, I was fortunate to be associated with the French edition project. In his beautiful Introduction for the French-speaking public, Stanley Payne writes: “Paul Gottfried’s book is the best and most comprehensive interpretive study of fascism that has emerged in the last decade of this century.” Allow me to correct just a few words to say in a way that I believe is even more precise: “which has been in existence for a quarter of a century.”

Note: A word on the Franco-French polemics around the “French origins” of fascism. According to the thesis developed over more than forty years ago, by the Israeli historian, Zeev Sternhell (who was a Zionist-socialist in his youth and then a social-democratic activist influenced by Habermas), France was the laboratory of proto-fascism and of fascism at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It then had a real “fascist impregnation” in the 1930s, which finally led to the Vichy regime, the perfect realization of fascism. Obsessed with a view of the history of binary ideas pitting the heirs of the Enlightenment against their opponents, Sternhell exaggeratedly magnified the influence of a few political-cultural movements and a handful of famous intellectual figures. Contrary to what he suggests, there is a considerable difference between nationalist and authoritarian movements, which advocate state reform in the sense of strengthening the executive, and a fascist organization which pursues its revolutionary overthrow, or which aspires to a profound upheaval of social structures. Raymond Aron, Michel Winock, Serge Berstein and many other historians and political scientists, have demonstrated the amalgamations and the Manichean character of Sternhell’s work, which, despite very stimulating early intuitions, is more of a form of anti-fascist activism than a rigorous history of ideas.


Arnaud Imatz is a French historian and political scientist, and a great connoisseur of Spain. His notable publications include José Antonio et la Phalange espagnole and La Guerre d’Espagne revisitée. His lates book is Droite/gauche, pour sortir de l’équivoque.

This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef. Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The featured image shows a poster for the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI), by Gino Boccasile, ca. 1944.

Mary, Queen Of Families: The Forgotten Apparition Of Le Ghiaie di Bonate

Last summer, during a brief break in the pandemic, I was sitting at a family dinner, close to my aunt, Emma (90 years old), and casually the conversation turned to St. John Paull II and the Holy Virgin’s apparition at Fatima.

All of a sudden my aunt Emma said, “Well, I was present at a Virgin apparition when I was young…”

“Sorry auntie, you were what?”

“Yes, I was present at two of the 13 apparitions that took place at Le Ghiaie di Bonate. I remember very well. It was spring 1944, because the war was still raging in our region, and it was very difficult to get there.”

“But auntie you never told us anything like that before!”

“When you grow old, you have very little concern about daily life in the present, and remembrance of old times comes back very easily and strong.”

And she briefly recounted to the amazed party her experience.
The apparition site was some 15 miles north of our home and the word spread instantly, despite censorship and harsh war-time. She and her friends first went on a small horse-cart from the farm, along adjacent country roads. But they did not get too far because all the roads were clogged with people; and so they had to walk the last 4 miles, thus ending up very far from the place where the seer was receiving the apparition.

Adelaide Roncalli in ecstasy at Le Ghiaie di Bonate, with doctors surrounding her.

Then she went a second time, two days later, and this time she and her friends rode their bicycles at night, so they could reach the apparition site. They made their way to the precise spot where my aunt could see the event from a very short distance.

Adelaide Roncalli among the faithful at Le Ghiaie di Bonate.

The seer was seven-year-old Adelaide Roncalli, a blonde girl of humble origins, who wore a white ribbon in her hair. She was standing on a podium and after some minutes she went into a trance glancing at a remote point. And thus she stood, despite the doctors crowding around her tiny body, piercing her arms and cheeks and monitoring her blood pressure and heart beat.

After few minutes, the seer came around and briefly released a short summary of the message received from the Holy Virgin to the surrounding crowd and then she was taken away by the police force that was in charge of her security.

Here aunt Emma finished her story; and she could not tell me what happened afterwards, and why this apparition has had so little recognition from the official Church.

I had driven tens of times through the village of Bonate and had seen the brown tourism road sign, showing the way to the “Site of the 1944 Apparitions.” (Yes, the road sign actually does say, “Site of the 1944 Apparitions,” but no mention of any sanctuary of the Virgin). And so now, the surprising revelation by aunt Emma ignited my desire to learn more about this event.

My research was not easy because most of the publications were written and published by local authors for use only by the supporters of the apparition. However, thanks to the help of my many Christian friends around Lombardy, I could put together enough details to arrive at a reasonable understanding of the events of that fateful May in 1944.

Most, if not all, Marian apparitions are marked by common features: One or more seer; very often young, but certainly always very simple persons, a message entrusted to the seer for universal revelation and miracles. Le Ghiaie was by no means less in this “standard.”

The Seer

Adelaide Roncalli (her grandfather was a relative of Angelo Roncalli, better known today as, St. John XXIII) was a country girl of seven at the time of the apparition. On May 13, she was playing with her siblings in the field close to her parents’ farm at Le Ghiaie (literally, “The Gravels” because it is located by the side of the Brembo river) when her aunt, Annunciata, asked her to gather some wildflowers to adorn the small Madonna altar at the farmhouse.

While Adelaide was picking some elder flowers she suddenly stood still, as if lost to the world. Her siblings immediately ran home yelling, “Come quickly, Adelaide is standing dead!” But her parents did not do anything.

Adelaide Roncalli on her first Communion.

Adelaide then recovered, eagerly walked home and told her siblings, “Do not tell anybody, but I have just seen the Holy Virgin.” Her younger sister, Palmina, however, told their parents about what had happened. They did not believe Adelaide and punished her. But the news spread like wildfire.

The Holy Virgin appeared to this very young girl, speaking in plain Bergamasco accent, over two successive periods: From 13 to 21 of May and, after one week of announced hiatus, from 28 to 31 of May. Most of the times, she was accompanied by St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, and a large part of the message received by Adelaide concerned the challenging time the Christian family was facing and on the importance of a faithful and honest life of the spouses as the key to a happy and virtuous life. The Holy Virgin also gave Adelaide some news about the war and the current times and predicted for her a troubled life, but for which She would compensate with eternal life in Paradise.

Poor Adelaide dearly paid for her visions of the celestial Mother. Due to the immense resonance of the Le Ghiaie facts, she was separated from her family and put into a religious boarding school for more than one year.

A priest (we will not disclose his name for mercy’s sake) entrusted by the bishop of Bergamo to stay close to the girl and prepare the evidences for the oncoming trial, exerted all possible psychological and moral pressure on the girl and literally dictated to her the terrible abjure memo that the child finally wrote and signed: “I am a liar I did not see the Holy Virgin and I made up the story myself.” Based on this forced confession, in 1948 the diocesan court of Bergamo ruled that there was no evidence of supernatural intervention at Le Ghiaie and forbade any type of Marian cult.

Adelaide spent the successive ten years wandering from one religious boarding school to another to keep her away from Le Ghiaie. Then at age 15, she entered the Sacramentine cloister as the Virgin had promised her. But after a few years of persistent gossip, and because she was held suspect when not in open hostility by the official Church and the other sisters, Adelaide was forced to quit the habit and returned to a secular life. She became a nurse, married, had children, lived in anonymity in Milan, and died in 2014. She disappeared from public life; and only in the late 1980s did she release a notarized declaration, in which she stated once and for all that she genuinely had had the apparitions of the Holy Virgin, in May 1944.

The Message

The apparitions occurred over 13 meetings, in which the Holy Virgin spoke of several subjects to Adelaide, including the then terrible war-conditions in Italy, fear for the life of the Holy Father who, at that time was made almost a prisoner in Rome by the German army. But without question the focus of the messages was on a few, core themes: Family, repentance and sanctification of suffering.

All the scholars that have studied the texts of the revelations to Adelaide are unanimous in understanding the three themes as being tightly interlinked, since the sins (THOSE SINS, as the Virgin told the seven-year-old girl) committed by mothers and fathers bring disruption to the family and open the door to sorrows and disgrace. Hence repentance from sins, a return to the sanctity of the family, and incessant prayer to restore disordered family life. It is also very notable that the last apparition of the first cycle (May 21) was purely a speechless vision which many analysts interpret as a fine theological sermon on the Christian family.

This was the vision: Adelaide saw the Holy Family sitting in a temple, together with some praying animals (a donkey, a dog, a sheep and a horse). All of sudden the horse left the temple through the wide-open door and began stomping a beautiful white lily field nearby. St. Joseph went for the horse and brought him back to the temple where he joined the praying group again. The horse is the father who is free (the temple is open) to destroy marital fidelity (the white lily): only the perseverance of prayer and the Christian life can sustain and keep the ordered life of the family. And yes, of course, according to the diocesan court this was the invention of a seven-year-old girl!

Well, you do not need to be an educated theologian to appreciate that the family-focused message of Le Ghiaie came right at the beginning of probably the very first period in the history of humanity when the destruction of the traditional family became a priority: Sexual revolution, divorce, abortion, homosexuality and its derivatives. It is to be remembered that the seer of Fatima, Lucia dos Santos, predicted that the last fight of the devil for the domination of the earth would be against the family.

The Miracles

As in all Marian events, the most glorious miracle of all generated by the apparition was the grand awakening of the people’s faith. Just from May to July of 1944, a multitude estimated at 3 million (3 million!) flooded the crumbled roads and the precarious railroads of North Italy to Le Ghiaie, to pray at the place where Adelaide saw the Holy Virgin. The pilgrims asked for the safe return of sons and husbands from Russia, for the end of the civil war, for healing of diseases; but most of all they prayed for the conversion of their households.

We have positive evidence of all this because a lot of visitors wrote their prayers on small slips of paper and left them at the apparition spot. A few thousand of them were happily preserved by Don Cesare Vitali, then the parish priest of Le Ghiaie, and lately studied by Ermenegilda Poli who confirmed that two appeals to the Virgin predominate: Bring back my husband/son from the war and convert my father/husband/son to the true religion. The endless processions marched day and night to the tempo of rosary and Marian chants and it is recorded in the newspapers that the bystanders at café terraces stood up and took their hats off at the passage of the pilgrims.

Spring 1944 was a severe war-time period for the North of Italy, with daily air raids, aimed at destroying the heavy war industry, as well as the morale of the population by massive bombing of cities. Nothing happened to Le Ghiaie, nor to any of the pilgrims heading there, though once back home they had to suffer the raids of allied aircrafts. Several times airplanes were seen and heard above the crowd gathered to attend the apparitions, but no harm came to the people.

According to Mons. Vittorio Bonomelli, a priest who acted as allied intelligence during most of the war, the news of the apparition quickly spread among the allied forces and particular attention and instructions were given to the pilots operating in the sector. He also disclosed that the apparitions of the Virgin saved the city of Bergamo from a massive bombing the allied HQ had already planned, one of the few cities in North Italy to be spared from a common and terrible fate.

Miracles are frequently, if not always, associated with healing from chronic disease or deformity, and Le Ghiaie was no exception to the rule of Marian apparition. During the two cycles of apparitions and for the first months afterwards unexpected and inexplicable healings happened at a very frequent pace: paralytics stood up and left their wheelchairs or crutches; children with impaired hearing returned to hear, totally or partially blinds recovered the sight and a lot of other healings occurred to youngsters, adults and elders alike. Many of the priests that were present at the time reported this incredible season of grace in their diary with the word of Matthew 11, 4-5 “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Among the tens of reported and evidenced graces during the first period of Le Ghiaie, I wish to single out the story of Bianca Nicoletti, a young girl of five, suffering of Pott’s disease, a tuberculosis of the spine, leading to the degeneration of the intervertebral joints and very often of the vertebrae. In 1944 there was very little chance to cure the disease; and the doctors of Udine treated the young girl with a cast back brace for her entire upper body, in the hope of a possible surgery when (and if) the girl turned 12.

In July 1944, her mother heard about the apparitions of the Virgin to Adelaide and decided to go there. Udine is approximately 200 miles from Le Ghiaie and mother and girl alone did the entire journey, travelling by railroad, in freight wagons when necessary. The girl could not walk, and the mother literally carried her for all the journey. And when the railroads were stopped because of the wreckage caused by air raids, they went by stealing passage on the few trucks that dared to defy the allied road bombing and strafing.

It took them some days, but eventually they made it to Le Ghiaie where, during a prayer session, the girl asked her mother to put her on the ground. The cast simply burst and she started walking, recovered forever. A lot of people witnessed the miracle, and all their records were collected, together with the incredible results of the new specialized medical examination back at home. The Holy Virgin had promised Adelaide that the pains of the infirm would always be compensated, if asked through prayers, perseverance and repentance of sins. The mother of Bianca is the perfect example of true devotion that leads to redemption.

Many observers see Le Ghiaie as the completion of the revelation of Fatima; and as at Fatima, thousands of people had the opportunity to appreciate the “sun dance” on May 21, at the occasion of the last apparition of the first cycle; and these people then left accurate records of the miracle of the sun, when it spun around fast, opaque white in color, which did not hurt the eyes to look at, and which radiated a light of many colors. The phenomenon was visible for ten minutes in many different places around Bergamo and was positively confirmed by the media of the time.

The Present

Despite the large quantity of evidence and the endless stream of pilgrims in the first ten years after the apparitions, the church is still denying the event and remains anchored to the extorted confession of a persecuted seven-year-old girl: “I am liar.” As a matter of fact, a lot of eminent churchmen were fully convinced of the truth of Le Ghiaie di Bonate, among them Pope St. John XXIII (who wrote a letter, stating that the confession of Adelaide was invalid from a canonical perspective). There was Blessed Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, who sent Father Agostino Gemelli, a physician and psychologist and founder of the Catholic University of Milan, to examine Adelaide whom he found perfectly normal and unable to make up this story. And there was Pope St. John Paul II, who introduced in 1986, in the Litany of Loreto, the invocation to the Queen of Families.

All bishops of Bergamo, from the time of the event up to now, are firm believers of Le Ghiaie, though none of them had enough courage to start a revision of the 1948 trial. Nowadays, at Le Ghiaie, there is still the old, small chapel that was built before 1948, surrounded by a little gallery and a lot of trees and greenery. Recently in 2019, the bishop of Bergamo, Francesco Beschi, authorized the cult of Mary Queen of Families at the small chapel, where flocks of believers still come to implore the Mother of the Family.

Le Ghiaie di Bonate chapel today.

At the end of this incredible story, I guess the readers will share the same simple questions that haunt all believers of Le Ghiaie: Why such a perseverance in rejecting the evidence? Why deprive the People of God of the comforting company and motherly care of the Holy Virgin? I am sure there might be hundreds of good answers, starting with the current preference of the Church for pastoral issues rather than supernatural events, or of smelling “the smoke of Satan in the temple of God,” as prophetically announced by Pope St. Paul VI. But I am not a theologian nor a cleric scholar. I am a believer and can suggest a couple of insights.

Sometimes the devil’s advocate wins the lawsuit, and in the case of Le Ghiaie this is particularly evident and true, when you look at the dramatic disruption that the family has endured over the last 50 years. The Virgin came to warn us about a terrible incumbent danger; but we simply shrugged our shoulders and went the easy way the devil had planned for us.

The faithful at Le Ghiaie di Bonate chapel.

No matter how powerful and formidable the intervention of heaven is, without man’s cooperation, nothing can be achieved on earth in virtue of the supreme liberty God has awarded to us. And this brings to my mind the Gospel of Luke (16, 19-31) when the dead and condemned rich man asks Lazarus to go back to his brothers and warn them, and Abraham replies, “If they did not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Note: Most of this essay was outlined and meditated upon, on May 13, the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin to Adelaide, while I was walking alone the 15 miles from my home to Le Ghiaie, to thank Our Lady Queen of the Families, for the unexpectedly fast and complete recovery of a very close friend of mine who had been struck by a life-threatening case of Covid.

Completed on May 26, Feast of Our Lady of the Fountain at Caravaggio.


Maurizio Mandelli is a businessman by trade and enthusiastic amateur scholar of local history and the arts. He has published two books (War of the Spanish Succession in Lombardy and The Italian Campaign of Napoleon III). He is a regular contributor to local magazines on religion, ethics, society, history and the arts.


The featured image shows, Our Lady of Le Ghiaie di Bonate. The painting of the Virgin in a red robe, with two grey doves in her hands, was made under the instruction of Adelaide herself.

Fascism And Its Historiography: Some Reflections

Through the kind courtesy of Damien Serieyx, Director of L’Artilleur-Toucan, we are so very delighted to publish this piece by Stanley G. Payne, which forms the “Introduction” to Paul Gottfried’s Fascisme. Histoire d’un concept, which is the forthcoming French translation of his Fascism: The Career of a Concept.


Well over half a century after the end of the fascist era in 1945, fascism remains in common use as a term, if not as a coherent concept. Never in history has a completely obliterated political phenomenon remained so alive in the imagination of its would-be adversaries. For more than seventy years, journalists and political commentators have searched assiduously to identify the emergence of some form of neofascism; eventually professional historians began to join in this perpetually disappointing endeavor.

The most recent major excitement was generated by the American presidential campaign of 2016 and 2020, when journalists bedeviled academic specialists, including this writer, with the repeated query “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” The results of this persistent search for a new fascism have been uniformly negative. When a new political phenomenon of some importance is identified, it turns out not to be genuinely fascist. If the novel entity does bear some sort of genuine resemblance to historical fascism, it turns out—partly for that reason—to be totally marginalized and doomed to insignificance. A splendid analysis of such exercises as applied to the case of contemporary Italy may be found in the very recent volume, Chi è fascista (2019), by Emilio Gentile, that country’s leading historian of fascism.

From its origins in 1919, fascism has been hard to understand. This is not because of its radicalism and violence, since at that time radical and violent new political phenomena were rampant in Europe, led by the nascent Soviet regime. Fascism, however, was like communism in its violence and authoritarianism, but otherwise unique in its complex combination of features, neither clearly of the left nor the right. It was the only genuinely new kind of political movement to emerge from the wreckage of World War I and had no clear predecessor. It persistently confused observers, but in its analogous German form briefly rose to world-historical prominence, unleashing the most destructive single conflict history had ever seen. Even after it concluded, as an historical phenomenon and as a concept fascism, broadly defined, continued to be difficult to grasp. For two decades after 1945, study of fascism was limited to national histories and monographic work on individual movements.

The true “fascism debate” did not develop until nearly a generation had passed, initiated by Ernst Nolte’s Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche, the first major comparative study, and Eugen Weber’s brief Varieties of Fascism, both of which appeared in 1964. Both agreed that there was such a thing as a “generic fascism” (of which Nolte provided a brief philosophical definition), but also that it was an extremely pluriform phenomenon, with quite different manifestations in various countries. Nolte, particularly, concluded that it had defined an entire era, the “era of fascism,” which ended in 1945; that it had been dependent on historical forces peculiar to that period; and that historic fascism was not likely to reappear in the future. Rather than constituting a recurrent form or concept, such as democracy or socialism, it was characteristic only of one specific historical era.

The fascism debate continued into the 1990s and seemed to wane briefly, until further important work appeared after the turn of the century. The debate concerned specific fascist movements and regimes, as well as the dilemma regarding an adequate “generic” concept. The understanding and interpretation of fascism matured in the process, with increasing agreement that fascism, or its constituent movements, did indeed have a specific ideology; that it occupied its own autonomous political space (not merely as the “agent” of some other force); that it was not necessarily “anti-modern” and that it constituted a revolutionary interclass movement.

In a new anthology that he published in 1998 (International Fascism: Theories, Causes and the New Consensus), Roger Griffin, one of the best of the younger scholars to emerge during this discussion, could confidently present a “new consensus,” though not everyone agreed. In the new century, the debate was renewed by others, with such notable books as Michael Mann’s Fascists (2004), the best work of political sociology in the field, Griffin’s highly original Modernism and Fascism (2007), and Constantin Iordachi’s anthology, Comparative Fascist Studies: New Perspectives (2010). With the assistance of Matthew Feldman, Griffin also published Fascism in five volumes (2004), a massive collection of key texts, studies and interpretations. The case of France has been treated anew in the outstanding set of studies edited by Michel Winock and Serge Berstein, Fascisme français: La controverse (2014).

Paul Gottfried’s new book is the best broadly interpretative study on fascism to have appeared in this century’s second decade. It undertakes a fresh analysis from the critical perspective of someone with a deep background in major aspects of modern political thought, concerned first with the perpetually vexing problem of the definition of the term. It then addresses the concept or understanding of fascism by followers of the fascist movements themselves. The use and abuse of the concept of fascism is the major focus of this study, especially the way that it has been understood and employed by self-proclaimed anti-fascists. In reality, Gottfried finds that amid contemporary political discourse and popular historical reference, most of historical fascism has disappeared from view, so that when fascism is mentioned, the term almost always refers to Nazism, always the most popular “other” in twenty-first-century discourse and entertainment. Islamic Jihadis work diligently to achieve equal status, but have not gained equivalent eminence.

In the broadest sense, of course, “fascist” is simply the most popular term of denunciation, its usage only indicating that whatever is referred to “displeases” the speaker, as Gottfried says. Hence the frequency with which journalists and commentators have applied the term to Donald Trump, though they sometimes admit they do not really know what it might actually mean. At the most common level of leftist discourse, “fascism” often merely implies “failing to keep up with social changes introduced long after the Second World War.” The trivialization is absurd, with the result that the term fascism has become what linguists call an “empty signifier” into which any kind of meaning may be injected.

Gottfried accepts the categorization of “generic fascism” only at a very high level of abstraction, but, more fundamentally, concludes that National Socialism was so different from Italian Fascism and other fascisms in its character, doctrine and historical significance that to include them all in the same taxonomic category involves a good deal of distortion. In this he agrees with Nolte, the pioneer of comparative fascist studies, and, for that matter, with German historians generally. For Nolte, National Socialism was unique both in its prime characteristics and in its radicalism and destructiveness, remaining “borderline” in its relation to generic fascism. German historians generally have tended to view it as relatively unique, and since the early achievements of Nolte have made only somewhat limited contributions to comparative fascist studies.

Nazism was of primary historical importance to Europe and the world, while fascism in general was quite secondary in significance, to the extent that, absent Nazism, there could hardly have been a “fascist era.” Gottfried prefers to employ the term to refer to most of the other movements (that rarely were regimes), though without insisting on any tight definition. He agrees with other scholars for whom fascism was strictly an epochal phenomenon, confined largely to interwar Europe, after which conditions became so drastically altered as to make impossible the development of any subsequent movement with the same characteristics, particularly in Europe. This is not to deny the occasional existence of tiny groups and cults, which have existed and will continue to exist in diverse venues.

Gottfried also concurs that fascism was a revolutionary movement but does not agree with those who judge that this quality carried it beyond the left-right spectrum. The dividing line between left and right nominally rests on the issues of egalitarianism and hierarchy, and the acceptance or rejection of the myth of progress. For Gottfried, the fascist position on these key issues reveals fascism to be a peculiar form of the right, the only sector of the right that was “revolutionary,” and here one might add revolutionary as distinct from merely being radical or extremist. There were numerous expressions of a radical right during the era of fascism, but they all sought either to preserve or revive traditional institutions, and always fell short of the revolutionary characteristics of fascism. This is a reasonably convincing conclusion, though it fails to resolve such issues altogether, since subsequently the left would strongly embrace its own forms of nationalism, elitism, hierarchy, particularity and identitarian politics. Thus, in the broader view, fascism might still be seen as a unique type of revolutionism, beyond both the left and right in their classic forms.

Yet, though fascism has been confused with the conservative or even radical right, its revolutionary thrust was so great that in its final conflagration it not merely destroyed itself but also brought nearly the entire nationalist hard-right wing of Western politics down with it. Gottfried observes accurately that since 1945 the political life of the Western world has tended almost exclusively toward the left. What passes even for “conservatism,” much less the hard right, is simply a conservative or moderate form of liberalism, even of part of social democracy, and all the efforts to revive the right as a significant and separate force have failed, political contests taking place almost exclusively between forms of moderate liberalism and a more “advanced” left.

Though he takes issue with aspects of the quasi-consensus developed in fascist studies, a significant part of Gottfried’s book is devoted to the “career” of the concept since 1945 and the role of the idea of fascism in a post-fascist world. The initial concept was defined for political purposes by the Comintern in 1923, the first non-Italian political organization to raise a categorical banner of “anti-fascism,” subsequently deliberately conflating all manner of other phenomena with fascism as a calculated propaganda device. Only after 1945 would this Comintern practice pass into more general usage in other political sectors. It should be remembered, however, that genuine anti-fascists were much more numerous than fascists, or, for that matter, even those more vaguely fascistophile, even in the heyday of the “fascist era.” It is a mistake to confuse the potency of Nazi Germany with any notion of an extremely widely diffused attraction to fascism that in fact never existed.

It was the political triumph of Hitler in Germany in 1933 that considerably increased the appeal of fascism in other countries, yet the initial enthusiasm did not last in the great majority of European polities; in general, the growth of anti-fascism was considerably greater. On the left it produced a sharp shift in Communist tactics toward the Popular Front, and elsewhere encouraged increasing imitation of the Comintern line that conflated a wide variety of political forces with fascism. In Spain, beginning in the final months of 1933, the left termed everything from the center-right and beyond simply “fascist.” By 1935, both Soviet policy and that of the Comintern had wrapped themselves in the banner of anti-fascism; this was fundamental to the Communist line from that point forward, except for the biennium of 1939 to 1941.

During those two brief years Stalin was an ally of Hitler and, in propaganda theory, exempted National Socialism from the category of fascism. From 1941 to the very end of the Soviet system, anti-fascism, almost as much as Marxism-Leninism, was the propagandistic bedrock of Sovietism. It was always useful in winning support for Sovietism among anti-fascist moderates that otherwise would probably never have been forthcoming. François Furet analyzed this phenomenon with great skill. Moreover, from 1941 to 1945 anti-fascism in the broad sense was the bedrock for the most powerful international military alliance in world history, yet anti-fascism either as a genuine force or as a propagandistic argument has received much less attention in historiography than has fascism. This is the more surprising given the prominence of anti-fascism in political doctrine and propaganda since 1945.

Gottfried’s thirty-page chapter “Fascism as the Unconquered Past” addresses the place of fascism in leftist theory and propaganda. He grounds this not in Comintern propaganda, which was always opportunist, but in the intellectually most serious leftist cluster of the 1930s, the Frankfurt School. These émigré German philosophers, psychologists and social thinkers transformed the concept of fascism from that of a political force or forces in contemporary Europe into a permanent “psychic condition” or temptation of all Western culture. This intellectual sleight of hand enormously magnified the potential or latent state of fascism even beyond the political conflation generated by Comintern propaganda. Ideologues of the Frankfurt School created their “Critical Theory” for the analysis of all Western history, culture, institutions, society and politics. It relied not on Marxist economics but on the adaptation of Freudian psychology, pushing the latter “in a visionary direction that Freud himself would have never recognized” by offering cultural analysis in the guise of social and political criticism. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer then adapted Marxism to their “negative dialectic” “by which existing social and cultural institutions were exposed to critical assault” on a continuing basis.

Fundamental to this critique was the danger of “fascism,” for which they invented a particular typology, creating an arbitrary “F scale” to measure something that they termed “The Authoritarian Personality” (TAP). This purported to assess the extent to which literally anyone might be prone to “fascism,” claiming to identify dangerous proclivities lurking almost everywhere. According to the Frankfurt theorists, these could be overcome only by doing away with advanced capitalism, so long as that could be achieved simultaneously with complete sexual liberation. Their theory contended that fascism was based not merely on capitalism but on sexual repression (a concept that would have astounded Mussolini). As quasi- or pseudo-Freudians, they generally ignored the basic Freudian injunction “that the repression and redirection of primal urges was necessary for human civilization.” It was characteristic of the Frankfurt theorists that the TAP critique was especially aimed not at fascist or post-fascist societies but “at an American society that was believed to be suffering from a democracy deficit.” Immediately after achieving the total destruction of European fascism, American society and culture were held to be generating their own “fascism.” Such notions have been broadly expressed and elaborated in the discourse and politics of the left throughout the Western world during the past half century, directed not merely against American society and culture, but also against those of democratic Western Europe.

Nowhere has radical anti-fascism held sway so fully as in Germany, briefly the homeland of the most radical fascism. The “hermeneutics of suspicion” created by critical theories of anti-fascism has de-legitimized invocation of German patriotism and has dominated cultural and political life in the Federal Republic of Germany, while in the German Democratic Republic anti-fascism came to enjoy an even more predominant place. After the public discrediting of Stalinism in 1956, anti-fascism tended increasingly to take the place of Marxism-Leninism in legitimating the regime’s ideology and practice.

Thus, the existence of fascism was not at all necessary in order to generate the most intense anti-fascism. It could be artificially but dramatically recreated as an ever-present danger that lurked perpetually. Rather than being directed against fascism, anti-fascism was a concept and a propaganda banner that in some ways became more useful and intense in its application the farther that any given society moved away from fascism, an ultimate symbol for the left long after the traditional social classes, classic Marxism or fascism itself had disappeared. In Europe a prime example may be found in Spain, where the left declared itself more “antifranquista” in 2016, after living memory of franquismo had virtually disappeared, than in 1980 or 1985, when franquismo had been a recent reality. Emilio Gentile has examined the same phenomena in Italy.

More broadly, the specious scientism of these theorists provided the background for what ultimately developed into the very broad leftist “pathologizing of dissent” in the second half of the twentieth century and beyond. Under this rubric, the first really dangerous neofascism was discovered in the United States in the 1950s. From that point, this standard hermeneutics of suspicion has gone on to find neofascists under every bed, even though every single case has turned out to be a false alarm. Stigmatization seems indispensable to political polemics, and no other form is so intrinsically appealing as “fascist.” No other adjective, not even “Stalinist,” has acquired such totally pejorative connotations, while the very vagueness of the term, together with its uniquely sinister phonetic qualities, stimulates protean usage.

Gottfried’s book is thus unique in the way that it addresses both sides of the fascist phenomenon—history and historical meaning on the one hand, and the long history of pejorative polemics on the other. No other book in the recent scholarly literature treats these problems so comprehensively. It elucidates both a major historical problem and a major feature of contemporary debate, and is the most useful book on fascism to have been published during the last decade.


The featured image shows, “The Hands of the Italian People,” by Giacomo Balla, painted in 1925.

Italian Fascism: The Drive For Unity And Self-Government

As a fascism junkie I couldn’t resist ordering and reading the last work of the eminent historian Renzo De Felice (1929-1996) on a subject to which he devoted more than thirty years of his life. This preoccupation also led De Felice to produce an eight-volume study centered on the life of Benito Mussolini. In the foreword to Breve Storia del Fascismo (A Short History of Fascism), Falco Quilici, a friend of the late author, notes the extreme care with which De Felice searched all available archives for his massive research project. Moldering piles of scrap paper ( tutte pile di scartoffie) bearing on his subject found anywhere in Italy attracted the author’s attention; and he would personally search through these dusty piles for new data even after publishing his gargantuan work.

This short history of fascism that relates both the movement and its leader to the interwar period summarizes the leading points in De Felice’s eight-volume work. An astonishing fact for those who know little about the struggle between fascists and the Resistance in Italy is the relative paucity of those involved on either side of this confrontation that unfolded in the fall of 1943, between a German-controlled Italian fascist regime and various leftist militant groups. Only about 4 million Italians out of a total Italian population of 44 million played any role in this struggle.

The “myth” of a massive Resistance came along later to generate the useful image of the Italians as an antifascist people. The revenge wrought on collaborators was far more ruthless and indiscriminate than any persecution that Mussolini while in power initiated. Clearly the Salo Republic that il Duce presided over, in name only, which was established in Northern Italy after the Germans rescued Mussolini from internment (and after the King and the fascist Gran Consiglio had removed him from power and imprisoned him on July 25, 1943) behaved quite brutally. But this happened mostly owing to the de facto imposition of a Nazi German regime.

De Felice points to the aspect of overcompensation that characterized Italian fascism. The Italian peninsula was never truly unified in the nineteenth century by the House of Savoy based in Turin. Despite the presence of a national government and the availability of literature and operas that stressed Italian solidarity, deep regional and social divisions remained after the country’s apparent unification. The North and South were culturally and economically divided; and the owners of industry and the latifundia that dotted the Italian countryside stood in opposition to a radicalized working class and impoverished peasants.

Efforts were made to resettle Italian population, particularly from the south, in North African colonies, but in 1896 the Italians lost 18, 000 soldiers to 88,000 Abyssinian warriors in the Battle of Adua, a national humiliation that Mussolini tried to erase by attacking Ethiopia in 1936.

There was also the hope among Italian nationalists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that their country might complete the work of unification by taking the South Tyrol and Istria, on the Adriatic Coast, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That goal drove the Italian government into the First World War against the Central Powers, a disaster that resulted in 531, 000 lost lives and which did nothing to improve the country’s economic condition. We might also note that between 1890 and 1920 Italy lost 4 million of its countrymen to the US. 10 percent of our immigrants then arrived from Italy, and almost all of them came from the Mezzogiorno, the region extending south from Rome into Sicily.

The fascist regime was intended to overcome those problems left from Italy’s faulty unification in 1870. The parliamentary system that it put in place added to political difficulties by creating a spoils system between alternating ruling coalitions. Mussolini’s tirades against “the fetid corpse of liberalism” were aimed at the parliamentary corruption that preceded his advent to power in October 1922. A unified state, or one that claimed to be such, was the fascist response to Italy’s failed experiment in self-government.

According to de Felice, the Fascist Party of Italy remained in “a secondary position” relative to the Italian fascist state and indeed “could be easily sacrificed if the superior needs of the state required it.” Unlike the German National Socialists or the Soviet Communist Party, Italian fascism placed the state above party, race or just about anything else. This “fascistization of the state” presupposed the operation of a Duce, who would mediate social differences. This figure was indispensable to the entire balancing of interests and stood above the Italian monarchy and a subservient party structure.

A “totalitarian state,” or at least one that claimed to be such, would help Italy, or so it was hoped, rise above internal disunity and economic scarcity. This Italian state was seen to exemplify a “national revolution,” and so it claimed to fuse the nation with the political order. Despite the stunning architecture, marches, and iconography that came out of the fascist experiment, its creative answer to Italy’s earlier failed national revolution did not end well.


Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College (PA) and a Guggenheim recipient. He is the author of numerous articles and 15 books, including, Antifascism: Course of a Crusade (forthcoming), Revisions and DissentsFascism: The Career of a ConceptWar and DemocracyLeo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in AmericaEncounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and TeachersConservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards A Secular Theocracy, and After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State. Last year he edited an anthology of essays, The Vanishing Tradition, which treats critically the present American conservative movement.


The featured image shows, “Vittoria Alata” (Winged Victory),” by Mario Sironi, painted in 1935.

Marsilio Ficino And Plato

In this discussion, Professor Denis Robichaud examines the life and thought of Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), the famed Florentine Humanist, who deeply admired Plato. Here, Professor Robichaud contextualizes and analyzes Ficino’s thought…



The featured image shows the Como portrait of Narsilio Ficino, painted ca. 1520.

The Painter And The Poet

Now that the disgraceful year 2020 is finally gone, with its endless stream of deaths and grievance, we can properly look at what it brought us (Covid, lockdown, unemployment, etc.) and also what it stole from us. I firmly believe that like health and food, culture too is an essential nourishment for our lives, and any time we are deprived of it, we feel miserable and sick.

In Italy two great cultural events had been set for 2020 that were either cancelled or went unnoticed: the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael Sanzio, and the introduction of Dante Day (Dante Dì), the official day to celebrate the immortal creator of the Divine Comedy. Yes, you read that right – until last year, in Italy, there was no official day to celebrate Italy’s greatest poet, and arguably one the greatest poet of all time.

The official dates were the 6th of April to celebrate the anniversary of Raphael, and the 25th of March to remember Dante. Now, these dates were very interesting because both men, by a surprising coincidence, have a connection to Good Friday. According to Giorgio Vasari’s Lives, Raphael was born on the night of Good Friday March 28, 1483 and died on Good Friday April 6, 1520. What an amazing coincidence for a man whose family name was Santi (Saints), which was then latinized into Sancti, and from this to the current Sanzio. And of course, almost all scholars agree that Dante began his fictitious travel into the Three Realms on Good Friday March 25 of the jubilee year 1300. Luckily enough, the official Italian committee discarded the death date of the bard on September 14 because it did not fit properly into the school time calendar. Sometimes obtuse bureaucracy helps!

As for the Raphael celebration, the best painting exhibition ever, collecting the greatest works of the master from museums all over the world, was organized in Rome at the Quirinal Palace. But, alas, it opened just few days before the first Covid outburst and was then sadly shut down a couple of weeks later in the midst of the first terrible stint of the pandemic in Italy. There will not be a second chance for this gorgeous Raphael show.

For Dante Day plenty of cultural events were planned involving scholars, school students, TV actors and ordinary citizens. Readings from the Divine Comedy should have taken place in the most iconic Italian piazze, where schools were invited to feature exhibitions on Dante, and TV was expected to provide huge coverage of the widespread festivities.

All these events were simply obliterated by the surging of the pandemic. In the only event downsized permitted, single citizens were invited to recite, from their windows or balconies, a few tercets of “Paolo and Francesca,” all together at 6:00 PM on March 25. I did that, and posted the recording to social media – and found out that the anniversary was not that popular among my connections. Never mind, next year marks the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante and luckily enough Covid 19 will give us a break by September 14.

Dante in the savage wood (Inferno, Canto 1). Engraving by Gustave Doré, 1885.

But it is not only the sheer coincidence of calendar dates that links these two undisputed geniuses – men of different centuries, genuine children of their time and culture, with very different characters. But both also contributed immensely to elevate our poor humanity towards the perception and appreciation of divinity.

Raphael is unanimously considered the peak of Renaissance painting, capable of shifting Leonardo’s sfumato technique into astonishingly natural and beautiful reality. If ever the Italian Renaissance has meant grace, beauty, harmony, naturality, Raphael is the true and complete achievement of it. Just imagine, from the moment he died in 1520 until the Impressionist revolution in the mid-19th century, his work was the inspiration and touchstone for all painting academies in all countries of the western world. His cycle of Madonna and child Jesus simply set forever the iconographic standard for this holy representation, and you can find a copy of one of them in almost any Italian Christian home. But Raphael is also the creator of the Stanze di Raffaello (the Raphael Rooms), where he mastered his refined art into a theological and compositional complexity that attained unequalled heights in the history of art.

Raphael was a good Christian, and this must not be taken for grant, even in the pope-ruled Rome of the early 16th century. The story goes that on Good Friday 1520, sensing his end, Raphael asked that his last masterpiece, The Transfiguration, be brought into his room and hung on the wall in front of him. There is no doubt about the reason – looking at the beautiful radiant Christ, he was already savouring the glory of his encounter with Him. When you survey the entirety of western Christian figurative production, it is hard to find as glorious and serene an image of the defeat of death, of which The Transfiguration is both a pledge and promise.

I do not know Raphael’s biography so well as to appraise the depth of his religious feeling and belief. However, it is unquestionable that the Holy Spirit guided his hand and heart in the short span of his life.

Unveiling the presence of divinity in Dante is a much easier job, starting from the very title of his masterpiece The Comedy soon after labelled as Divine by his great contemporary, Giovanni Boccaccio, partially because of the theme of the composition but mostly for the unrivalled poetic heights the work accomplished. Some passages warmed our youthful reading (“Paolo and Francesca,” “the voyage of Ulysses,” “Count Ugolino,” and the “Hymn to the Virgin”), others led and transformed our mature-years through a more Christian and mediated reading of Purgatory and Paradise canticles.

And we really do not care if, in praising the institution of Dante Day, the complete host of Italian intelligentsia saluted “The Father of the Italian Language,” “The very first Italian,” and “The founder of European identity.” For us he will be forever the poet who amazingly translated the truths of our faith into exultations of the heart and tears of love: “l’amor che muove il sole e l’altre stelle.” The work of Dante is always so divinely inspired and filled with poetical miracles that he deserves to stay on the calendar regardless of a questionable civil beatification. In this terrible pandemic times we all, we believers first, should start back from where he commenced his journey: “Miserere di me”.

God is a loving Father and an excellent Teacher; He can use many different ways to show us the path to paradise. Among them all, the human longing for beauty sublimely initiates our earthly journey to the glory of celestial infinity. Bless Him for spreading our road with so many friendly and inspiring companions!

Maurizio Mandelli is a businessman by trade and enthusiastic amateur scholar of local history and the arts. He has published two books (War of the Spanish Succession in Lombardy and The Italian Campaign of Napoleon III). He is a regular contributor to local magazines on religion, ethics, society, history and the arts.

The image shows, “The Transfiguration,” by Raphael, painted ca. 1518-1520.

From Salonika To Odessa: Allied Interventions After World War I

The final phase of WWI was especially bitter and cruel, not only for the grimness of the fight between exhausted warring parties (except one, the US), but also because it became clear that alliance against the Central Powers was a mere façade. The growing Allied division emerged with a peculiar stance toward one enemy, the Ottoman Empire and a (former) ally, Russia.

And in this light, the year 1918 could be considered not only the year of the end of the war, but the beginning of a new era, marked by new dynamics and an attempt to reaffirm the old power structures.

The Allies approach was the re-proposition of “playbook” actions, which had always dominated the policies, mainly of Great Britain and France, since the 19th century, toward these two entities. And to them, with different motivations, may be added Italy, US, Japan, Serbia (with the new formation of Croatia-Slovenia), Greece, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Thus, behind the mask of a cohesive policy, the main target was the demolition and partition, among the winners, of the Ottoman Empire and the re-establishment of a weakened Russia; and, where this was not possible, replicating the planned fate for the Ottomans with the establishment of a galaxy of puppet states.

The strategic target of both Paris and London was multifold: extend their own area of influence (directly and/or indirectly), push back any threat against their own national strategic interests, and stand in front of their allies, especially if minor ones, with an eye on the growing polarization with Italy, especially by France. In this gigantic plan, the personalities of Lloyd George, Churchill and Clemenceau emerged as dominant; and perhaps, like never before, the political use of military force.

The level of Allied forces deployed in the two areas, at least by Western standards, were limited in comparison with the millions of men deployed on the different fronts of WWI. But they were highly influential and played a decisive political role, though a small combat role.

After The “Garden Of Salonika

The fighting along the Macedonian Front in September 1918 might not be as well-known as the Somme, Ypres or Verdun (and certainly less bloody), but in terms of delivering the fatal blow to the German war machine, it was unsurpassed. “It was upon this much-abused front that the final collapse of the Central Empires first began,” Winston Churchill wrote.

Controversy had marked the life of the Allied “Armée d’Orient” ever since it began deploying three years earlier through Salonika, the Greek port city that provided the southern gateway to the Balkans, and after the disastrous French-British attempt to take by force the Straits of Dardanelles which sought to blow up the Ottoman Empire and provide support to Russia. The Allies had great difficulties facing the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians on the Eastern front.

The force (consisting of 600,000 men), formally under French command, included French, British, Serbian, Italian, Montenegrin and Russian contingents; added later were Greek and pro-Entente Albanian units. The management of this army persistently reflected the divergent objectives of the participants.

For example, the British contingent constantly tried to minimize the impact of the French command and directives. Also among the French-Italian contingents, the relations were at best controversial, and the collapse of the Central Powers, following the attack in September 1918, underlined the fault-lines among the Allies, not only political but also militarily.

British troops, immediately after the ceasefire, were sent in to secure the Turkish straits; the Italians went to protect Albania; and the French remained committed to their staunch support of Serbs, with the aim of setting up a South pan-Slavic state in the Western Balkans, under the influence of Paris, and initially also with Greece.

After a visit by Talaat Pasha, the Grand Vizir, to other Central Powers capitals in September 1918, Constantinople realized that there was no hope to win the war. On 13 October, Talaat and the government resigned. Ahmed Izzet Pasha was appointed as Grand Vizir and two days later, he sent the captured British General Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend to the Allies to seek terms for an armistice.

London interpreted that to mean that Britain would conduct the negotiations alone. As of today, the motives of this are not entirely clear, whether it was the sincere British interpretation of the alliance terms; or fears that the French would insist on over-harsh demands and foil a treaty; or, again, there was a desire to cut the French out of territorial ambitions promised by the Sykes-Picot agreement.

Townshend also indicated that the Ottomans preferred to deal with the British; he did not know about the contact with America, or that Talaat had sent an emissary to the French as well; but that emissary had been slower to respond.

The British cabinet empowered Admiral Calthorpe to conduct the negotiations with an explicit exclusion of the French. The negotiations began on 27 October on board of HMS Agamemnon. The British refused to admit to the talks the French Vice-Admiral Jean Amet, the senior French naval officer in the area, despite his desire to join. The Ottoman delegation, headed by Navy Minister Rauf Bey, indicated that this was acceptable, as they were accredited only to the British, not the French (and even less, to the Italian, Greeks, and Serbs).

The French were certainly displeased, and the French Premier Georges Clemenceau, the “Tiger,” complained about British unilateral decisions in so important a matter. Lloyd George countered that the French had the same approach in the Armistice of Salonica, which had been negotiated by French General Franchet d’Esperey, without consultations with the commanders of the other Allied contingents, while Great Britain (and Tsarist Russia) had committed the most troops to the campaign against the Ottoman Empire on different fronts (the Palestine, Mesopotamia, Arabia Peninsula and Caucasus fronts).

As part of the armistice’s conditions, the Ottomans surrendered their remaining garrisons outside Anatolia and granted the Allies the right to occupy the forts controlling the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, as well as any Ottoman territory, “in case of disorder,” or if a threat to security occured. Later, this vague and obscure clause was widely used by the Allies for their massive interference in Turkish affairs The Ottoman forces were demobilized, and all ports, railways and other strategic points were made available for Alled use. In the Caucasus, the Ottomans had to retreat to pre-war borders with the Russian Empire. Following this armistice, the occupation of Constantinople and the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire started.

Thereafter, it took 15 months of tough negotiations among the Allies (Britain, France and Italy) to establish which territories each of them would get. As for the other defeated powers, the military clauses were bitter. The Army of the defeated powers was restricted to 50,000; the Navy to a few old ships; and no air force. The treaty included an inter-allied commission of control to supervise the execution of all the military clauses.

The Treaty of Sèvres, which formalized the partionist plans of the winners, could be read as a simple variation of a long-planned design to dismantle an enemy power (and then implemented with some important variations, like the inclusion of Greece). In fact, these policies were already in place ever since the signing of the Treaty of London, the St. Jeanne de Maurienne Agreement, the “Sikes-Picot,” and even the so-called Venizelos-Tittoni Agreement, a post-facto sub-agreement from the Peace Conference of Versailles.

The Treaty of Sèvres showed the worst face of the imperialist dreams of the winning powers, not only as in the above-mentioned military clauses, but with the establishment of Zones of Influence, which resulted in an imposition of a kind of multinational protectorate over the defeated country.

Under the treaty, within the territory retained by Turkey (excluding Armenia and Kurdistan), France received parts of Southeastern Anatolia, including Antep, Urfa and Mardin. Important parts of Cilicia including Adana, Diyarbakır and large portions of East-Central Anatolia up to Sivas and Tokat were declared a zone of French influence, garrisoned by troops of the newly established ‘Armée du Levant’ (on 7 October 1918), moving and expanding from their landing spot in Beirut (Octover 11). The first elements of this force came from the former “Armée d’Orient” with the ad hoc established “Division of Cilicia” (consisting of the 12th Infantry, the 17th Senegalese, 18th Algerian Regiments, and the Armenian Legion). A second unit, the “Division of Syria” (consisting of the 415th Infantry, the 3rd Zouaves, the 19th, 21st, and the 22nd Algerian Regiments) was rapidly set up, and tasked to expand French control in the assigned areas, while disarming Turkish and Arab troops in Syria and Lebanon.

Italy was given possession of the Dodecanese Islands (already under Italian occupation since the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912,) despite the Treaty of Ouchy, according to which Italy should have returned the islands to the Ottoman Empire. Large portions of Southern and West-Central Anatolia (the Mediterranean coast of Turkey and the inlands), including the port city of Antalya and Konya, were declared an Italian zone of influence. Antalya Province had been promised to Italy since the signing of the Treaty of London; and the Italian colonial authorities wished the zone to become an Italian colony under the name of “Lycia.”

Italian troops landed on 28 March 1919 in Antalya and then occupied Fethiye, Marmaris, Bodrum, Konya, Isparta and Aksehir. The Italian force was limited in terms of figures (13.000 troops with 3 regiments of infantry and support units) to control so expansive an area, which coincided with continuous infiltrations of Greek troops into Western Anatolia from the enclave of Smirna, about which there was complicit silence at the Spa Conference for the “Megala idea” of Venizelos. Independent of this contingent was an Italian infantry battalion in Constantinople, and another one was assigned in April 1919 to garrison Konya under British command. Great Britain did not establish any zone of influence; but within the terms of the ‘Sykes-Picot’ agreement, they took over almost all Mesopotamia, thus reinforcing their firm hand over oil resources of the region, and strengthening imperial control out to the Far East.

On 13 November 1918, the Allies landed in Constantinople with 2,616 British, 540 French, 470 Italian troops, supported by 50 ships (two days later, this grew to 167 ships).

On February 8, 1919, the French general Franchet d’ Espèrey, Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in the East, officially entered the city on a white horse, emulating Mehmed the Conqueror’s entrance in 1453 after the Fall of Constantinople, thus signifying that Ottoman sovereignty over the imperial city was over.

One year, after the Allies numbered 51,300 troops (27,419 British, 19,069 French, 3,992 Italians and 795 Greeks), garrisoning not only the city but also the neutralized zone of the Straits, largely assigned to units of the 122nd and 156th French Infantry Divisions and 28th British Division.

The Greek and Turkish police and gendarmerie forces operating in neutralized area were subordinate to Allied control; and the Constantinople area was garrisoned by British MPs (in Pera), The French Gendarmes (in Istanbul) and Italian Carabinieri (in Scutari) were supported by Turkish Jandarma personnel.

The Corps d’Occupation de Constantinople (COC) was formally set up on 6 November 1920, after more than one year of de facto occupation, when the drawdown of the Allied forces drastically reduced the level of their strength. Nominally multinational, it was nevertheless a harsh fight between the French and the British.

The COC was assisted by a military committee, formed by the commander of the national contingents and with three High Commissioners (in which, generally, the French and British were military and the Italian a diplomat). The job of the COC was focused on occupation duties and was affected by the bitter and growing polarization between the French and the British, while the Italian presence was little more than nominal.

The growing split among the Allies is widely attributed to the fact that the partition of Turkey had given to France too small a share. The Italians, too, were dismayed to the concession made by London to Athens, at Rome’s expense. This discontent gave rise to Franco-Italian support of the Turkish nationalist movement, both in Anatolia and in Constantinople, even if at the beginning, Paris supported to the end Greek expansionist dreams.

At the regional level, France had strong grievances against Britain, for it felt that British policies were contrary to prior agreements. For example, Britain did not want to share oil exploitations in the Mosul area, and, according to Paris, it stirred up Emir Faisal (the leader of the so-called “Arab revolt”) to attack French troops in Syria. In other words, France labelled the British approach as selfish and imperialist, although Paris applied the same policies in many other regions, like the Balkans, the Baltic Sea, Silesia, Poland, against not only their former enemies, like Germany, but also their present allies like Italy (and Britain).

The Allies had begun to split already in 1919, because of competing interests in Syria, Mesopotamia, Cilicia and the Aegean. TRhus, both France and Italy were eager to dismantle Turkey as a unitary state. But when their interests were undercut, they changed their plans. Also, Italy, because of prevalent domestic issues, confined its imperial aims in Turkey to just seeking out profitable economic concessions.

In the summer, the internal situation in Italy became untenable and Rome started the withdrawal of its troops from Anatolia and abandoned the dreams of territorial expansion in the Levant. The last troops left Anatolia in 1922. This happened mainly for two reasons. First, Italy obtained the Dodecanese islands, and second, there was a growing anti-Greek policy in Rome. But Italy kept small contingents in Constantinople and Adrianople, with a Carabinieri unit in Constantinopole until the general evacuation of foreign troops in October, 1923.

The functionality of the COC was seriously affected by the arrival, in the region, of 150.000 White Russian refugees (the army and civilians who fled after the defeat of General Wrangel in the Crimea), as well as the issue of the remnants of the Tsarist Black Sea Navy.

The other major, and final, crisis of the COC came after the defeat of Greek forces in Anatolia. The Greek-Turkish War saw a major shift in alliances among the Allies. At the beginning, France supported the demands of Greece, as Britain, in order to keep firm control over Turkey, kept out France. Then, Britain supported Greek expansion while. France, of course, along with Italy, moved to helping nationalist Turks.

The crisis was the trigger event of a failed and polarized political alliance, and the military contingents in the neutral zone operated in a disconntected way, reflecting the divergent stances of London, Paris and Rome vis-à-vis the development of the Greek-Turkish war. The final Allied withdrawal came under gloomy conditions, marked by ethno-religious violence between the Greeks and the Turks. When the withdrawal was formally signed into place, it ended the Allied entente of WWI.

The Russian Quagmire

Looking at the issue from an ethical or legal point of view, the Allied intervention in Russia was even worst than it was for the Ottoman Empire, where, at least, there existed a set of documents and treaties. For Russia, there were only ideological fears, old playbook and indolent behavior.

On 23 December 1917, the day after the beginning of the Brest Litovsk talks, delegates of France and Great Britain in Paris concluded a convention for the dismemberment of Russia and the establishment of zones of influence. London looked to the Baltic provinces and the Caucasus (especially its oil); France chose the Ukraine, from Belarus to Bessarabia and Donetz (for the iron, coal, iron and steel basins), as well as the Black Sea shores including Odessa and Crimea.

Soon after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 a three-year Civil War broke out in Russia. The initial phase of the war lasted for one year, and it was marked by rapidly shifting front lines and sporadic engagements by small units. At the beginning, the Bolsheviks generally expanded from the few urban areas in their hands to root out centres of opposition in the periphery of the vast country. This expansion began in the winter of 1917-1918, and it led to the formation of the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army, led by Generals Mikhail Alekseyev and Lavr Kornilov in the Don Cossack region, thus creating the southern front of the war.

Half a year later this was followed by the revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion (despite the name, in reality it was a force of the size of an army corps) on the mid-Volga and Siberia, which assisted the formation of two anti-Bolshevik governments, each with its own army – the Komuch in Samara and the Siberian Government in Omsk.

The Red Army of Lenin’s Bolshevik government was rapidly formed to replace the irregular Red Guard partisan units only at the end of this phase, in the fall of 1918.

The second and decisive stage of the Civil War lasted from March to December 1919. First, the White armies of Admiral Alexander Kolchak in Siberia and General Denikin in Southern Russia advanced resolutely toward Moscow (the last one appeared to be the most decisive push against the Reds). In the Caucasus and Crimea operated General Wrangel (probably the best of the White generals). In the North-West General Yudenich tried to attack Petrograd.

As in many other civil wars, foreign powers intervened in the conflict. Britain played a leading role in this intervention and had a significant effect on the course of the war. Without this foreign intervention on the White side, the superiority of numbers in manpower and weaponry of the Bolsheviks would have quickly overwhelmed their opponents.

British Intervention In Southern Russia, 1918-1920

Despite massive support, the entire British action remained uncertain and split between an ideological battle against Bolshevism and the strategic imperative to protect India and investments in the oil industry in the Middle East (Persia and Mesopotamia). Consequently, the action of Great Britain, while strong in Southern Russia, and massive (two divisions) in the Caucasus and Central Asia – in Northern Russia and Eastern Russia (Siberia) it a lot less intense.

Further, the controversial demobilization scheme, the requirement to keep the public unaware of the extent of the military efforts, and the risk of bolshevism infecting the troops contributed to the incertitude of the British (and French) actions.

From November 1918 the Allies succeeded in supplying regular provisions to the White Armies mainly through the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. The British military mission arrived in South Russia in late 1918, and provided General Denikin’s White army with an enormous amount of matériel. This included full British army kit for half a million men, 1,200 field guns with almost two million rounds of ammunition, 6,100 machine guns, 200,000 rifles with 500 million rounds of ammunition, 629 lorries and motorcars, 279 motorcycles, 74 tanks, six armoured cars, 200 aircraft, 12 500-bed hospitals, 25 field hospitals and a vast amount of signal and engineer equipment. All this was sufficient for an army of 250,000 men and it was much more than Denikin was ever able to use, as the combat strength of his army never exceeded 150,000 men. Ammunitions destined for South Russia also included 25,000 poison gas shells. Churchill had described mustard gas as “ideal weapon against our beastly enemy.” But British personnel were instructed to use it only if the Bolsheviks started gas warfare first.

The British mission also organized the training and equipping of White Russian troops with British weapons. This made the material aid much more effective. Even in small numbers, many of the British instructors, following a personal and ideological commitment, took part in fighting the Bolsheviks, despite the orders of their government.

In real terms, financial and material support from Great Britain pushed Denikin’s army in a far more favourable position than the Bolsheviks in 1919, and very close to being the key element of the victory of the Whites against the Bolsheviks. But the White army of Denikin suffered, like the Tsarist army, of which it was but an extention. This led to serious problems. White officers were unimaginative; their mindset remained obsolete; and they were incapable of organizing the logistics of their army. There were also fundamental defects in the morale of the White troops. These limits affected all the other White armies operating against the Bolsheviks, without mentioning the bitter rivalries among the White generals themselves.

In addition to all the political mistakes of Denikin’s movement and a general inability to adjust to the complex situation in Revolutionary Russia, the Whites suffered a clear military defeat. In South Russia, the Whites were defeated not because of the lack of British aid, but rather despite it; and their defeat was decisive for the victory of the Reds elsewhere.

The British presence in Southern Russia, as mentioned, was limited to few hundred specialists and trainers and non-combat troops (72 servicemen -18 Royal Navy, 41 British Army, 13 Royal Air Force personnel – were killed in South Russia in 1918-1920).

Further, they were scattered over the immense area of Southern Russia, where several White units operated, of which the Denikin one was the larger, but also Wrangler’s that extended to the Caucasus.

The missed arrival of a massive British combat force led to the first rift between the Whites and London. British combat troops were deployed, and in a limited number, only in the South Caucasus to secure the oilfields there (the Baku area); and this situation increased the suspicions of White Russians over the real, future aims of British aid.

The real strategic reason for the massive support of Denikin, who operated mainly in the “zone of influence” assigned to the French, was because of the failure of previous, but also because of the defeat of Admiral Kolchiak’s offensive in Siberia. But lagely these troops came to protect the interests of London over the oil resources in Baku and surrounding region.

After Denikin’s army was decisively defeated at Orel in October 1919 (some 400 km south of Moscow), the White forces in southern Russia were in constant retreat, reaching the Crimea in March 1920. In July 1920, the White forces left Crimea for Constantinople. This ended the British Mission in Southern Russia.

The fate of the British military mission in South Russia followed the fate of the Whites, with constant relocation of the training teams under growing pressure from the Reds. First this progressive impairment, and later the demise of Denikin’s and Wrangel armies impacted the broader plans of London to set up “friendly” states in the South Caucasus – the real strategic objectives of British military expedition in the former allied territory.

At the end of August 1919, the British withdrew from Baku (the small British naval presence was also withdrawn from the Caspian Sea), leaving only 3 battalions at Batum. After a British garrison at Enzeli (on the Persian Caspian coast) was taken prisoner by Bolshevik forces on 19 May 1920, Lloyd George finally insisted on a withdrawal from Batum early in June 1920, thus disbanding the 27th Division (The British Salonika Army was split within Macedonia [22nd Division, disbanded in 1919], the Danube [26th Division, disbanded on May 1919], Turkey (28th Division, disbanded on December 1923], and the Caucasus [27th Division, disbanded in 1920]). Financial concerns forced a British withdrawal from Persia in the spring of 1921.

The French Intervention In Southern Russia

The French intervention in Southern Russia was initiated in February 1918, with 50 million rubles in gold to the Ukrainian Rada. But the first official sign of French preparation for direct military intervention in Southern Russia came on October 7, 1918, when Clemenceau designated General Henri Berthelot to head a military mission with responsibility for operations in Romania and the Ukraine. While an important task of this expedition was to assure the retreat of German and Austro-Hungarian forces from the Ukraine and Romania, Clemenceau’s instructions stressed the need to set up an economic encirclement of the Bolsheviks and help along the fall of the new government in Russia.

However, French intervention in support of the Whites (also in this case for ideological reasons to hinder the path of the Reds) was much shorter and much more confused than by the British – and was shut down only after a few months.

The French expedition had come to Southern Russia under three assumptions, which emerged to be totally baseless: A) that the Whites representing a majority of the people; B) that the Russian people welcomed Allied intervention against Bolshevik; and C) that the bulk of the fight against the Reds would be on the White forces, requiring only moral and technical assistance from the French forces.

In fact, the Ukrainians preferred the Bolsheviks to the Whites; the local population resented Allied intervention; and the Whites had limited capabilities. Disillusionment with intervention increased as officers and soldiers alike realized that the entire population of Southern Russia looked upon their presence with undisguised hostility.

As one officer in Sebastopol declared, Bolshevik propaganda had little effect upon the troops, but the hostile attitude of the local population had a profound impact on troops already exahusted by the tough Salonika campaign.

At initial meetings with Russian Whites, Berthelot promised up to 12 Allied divisions as expeditionary forces in Southern Russia, when in reality only three divisions were in theory available. However, six weeks after first landing in Odessa, the Allied force did not exceed 3.000 ground troops (three infantry regiments [176th, 58th French, 1st Regiment de marche africain, elements from the 10th Algerian Regiment, the 21st Chasseurs Aborigines, the 129th Senegalese Batallion, the Batallion Chasseurs d’Indochine, 4th Chasseurs á cheval d’Afrique]; other support elements [the 19th and 242nd Colonial Artillery, 7th Engineer Regiment]; landing parties of the French naval squadron, augmented by a sizeable Greek contingent, and smaller units of Polish, Romanian and Czech troops). But they did seize Nikolaev, Kherson and Tiraspol, so that Allied forces controlled an arc of territory in the Western Ukraine, along the northern shore of the Black Sea, between the Dniester and Dniepr rivers.

The absence of reinforcements further increased the French command’s skepticism about intervention. But the major problems were the open and tough hostility of the local populations, as a result of Bolshevik propaganda, and the splits among the anti-Reds, the split among the White generals (who wanted to re-establish Tsarist Russia), and local Ukrainian independence movements (split among different factions, running from ultraconservative to anarchist groups).

As among the British, the French also had several dozen advisors and staff personnel, who similar to their British counterparts expressed criticism and doubts about the performance of White leadership and troops and even White military capabilities.

By March 1919, pressure frm the Bolsheviks forced the Whites (and consequently the French and Greeks) to evacuate initially Kherson, and then Nikolaev, putting serious doubt on the validity of the entire operation in the Black Sea. Red attacks over Odessa only grew greater.

The anti-Red coalition was marked more and more by bitter rivalries, which quickly undermined the White armies; Greek forces were more concerned about the safety of the Greek national community there and the beginning of the operation in Asia Minor against the Turks. This weakend further the French-led effort in Southern Russia.

The situation became so untenable that General D’Esperey went urgently to Odessa from Constantinople, realizing that were no other option than to withdraw from there (the evacuation came finally on 6 April). But he did this without consulting the Whites (Denikin was informed ex post facto by Franchet d”Esperey).

The Odessa evacuation left the Crimea as the only remaining area of direct French military intervention. Clemenceau had urged to hold the Crimea as a bastion for future actions in Southern Russia, again creating the impression of a firm French commitment. Yet, from the outset, the French presence in the Crimea had been marked by the same difficulties that plagued the intervention in the Ukraine – but this time, there was the brave White General Wrangel, who could not hold, despite considerable efforts to re-establish good relations with the local populations (that fully supported the Reds). This led him to a desperate evacuation to Constantinople at the end of April.

The withdrawal from Sebastopol was marked by a serious disciplinary situation, especially on board French naval ships operating in the Black Sea. This was the persistent and growing mutinous attitude among the French forces operating in the area.

The Black Sea mutinies have acquired legendary dimension among Marxist historians, largely as a result of André Marty’s somewhat exaggerated claims, and as a result of the “martyrdom” of those sailors condemned by military tribunals. There is no doubt, however, that the mutinies were serious and extensive.

The first uprisings took place among ground troops. On the 4th of February, the 58th Infantry Regiment refused to fight at Tiraspol on the far bank of the Dniester.

On March 8th, two companies of the 176th Infantry Regiment rejected an order to attack at Kherson. April 5 saw the same refusal among elements of the 19th Colonial Artillery Regiment in Odessa, where sappers of the 7th Engineer Regiment fraternized with, and left equipment for, the Bolsheviks. Then, from 10 to 30 April, major mutinies of sailors take place. In Romania, at Galatz, the chief mechanic André Marty planned to seize the torpedo FNS Protet, lock up the officers and rally the Bolsheviks to Sevastopol. The plot was discovered, he was arrested on April 16, and sentenced to twenty years of hard labor.

On April 17, on the cruiser FNS France, protests broke out; four sailors were put in the brig. But two days later, the revolting crew freed them, elected delegates, and demanded the return to Toulon.

On the 20th, the red flag was hoisted on FNS France, FNS Jean-Bart, FNS Justice, along with the singing of the L’Internationale. In the afternoon, sailors who had demonstrated in Sevastopol with the population returned fire of Greek soldiers. Calm returned in the days following; and the delegates, who initially obeyed, saw their role decrease. But FNS Jean-Bart as well as FNS France returned to Toulon and Bizerte.

Another mutiny took place on the 25th on-board FNS Waldeck-Rousseau stationed at Odessa. A committee of sailors decided to revolt, demanded the freedom of Marty and the return to France. In the following days, control was exerted over buildings in Odessa, as well as over all ships in the Black Sea. But the excitement continues into May and June, in the naval bases of Toulon, Brest, Bizerte, Greece (and on board FNS Guichen, led by Charles Tillon) and even in Vladivostok.

As mentioned, the Sebastopol episode marked a climax in a series of mutinies, and rather extensive indiscipline among troops throughout the Ukrainian and Crimean interventions; and the French command was well aware of the low morale and war-weariness among the ranks. Whether this attitude reflected a widespread sympathy for Bolshevism is less clear. The majority of the French soldiers had no desire to fight in Russia and demanded repatriation.

However, some fully supported the Bolsheviks; and the demonstration in Sebastopol revealed a degree of political support for the Russian Revolution that was of considerable significance. But it is not clear that a majority of the soldiers and sailors were prepared to embrace the revolution at this point. Above all, it is an exaggeration to claim that the mutiny in Sebastopol was because of an untenable military situation. Instead, it was because of several factors, already discussed, without mentioning the lack of political support of France from other Allies despite the fury of Clemenceau.
The French military intervention in the Ukraine was a sobering lesson in the perils of intervening in another nation’s civil wars.

Conclusion

The action of Allied powers, in the two cases discussed, revealed the persistence of an imperialistic stance of some countries, despite their exhaustion and their formal adherence to the 14 Points Declaration of President Woodrow Wilson.

This contradiction is the result of a wild era which existed well before the breakout of WWI, behind the façade of economic and social developments at the end of the 19th and the beginning of 20th centuries.

Appendix

Turkish Post-War And Straits Occupations 1918-1923

26.04.1916: Agreement of St.-Jean-de-Maurienne between France, Italy and Great Britain.

16.05.1916: Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Great Britain.

30.10.1918: Armistice of Mudros: Turkey to cease hostilities, demobilize, open the Bosporus Straits, and repatriate POWs. The Armistice found the British occupying most non-Turkish territory of the Ottoman Empire (Palestine, Mesopotamia, Kurdistan), and Arab insurgents in control of the Hejaz and parts of Syria.

12.11.1918: French troops land in Constantinople.

13.11.1918: British troops land in Constantinople.

08.12.1918: Allied occupation of the Bosporus, the Dardanelles, the eastern coast of the Sea of Marmara, islands of Imros, Lemnos, Samothrace, Tenedos, and 15 km deep into the eastern shores; the zone of the Straits is demilitarized (by Greek and Turkish forces) but garrisoned by Allied forces.

18.01.1919: Peace Conference opens in Versailles.

Jan. 1919: Turkish garrison in Medina surrenders to the forces of the Arab revolt.

03.02.1919: In Paris, Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos demands the entire of East Thrace and the Aegean shores of Anatolia, including Izmir to be annexed to Greece.

07.02.1919: Italian troops land in Galata (Constantinople).

08.02.1919: French General Franchet d’Esperey, commander of the Allied Army (later the Constantinople Occupation Corps), enters in Constantinople mounted on a white horse.

04.03.1919: Damat Ferit Pasha, brother-in-law of the Sultan, appointed as the new Grand Vizir (Prime Minister).

29.03.1919: Italian troops land in Antalya.

08.04.1919: British Foreign Minister, Lord Balfour, proposes Istanbul become a neutral zone under the administration of the League of Nations (also French Prime Minister Aristide Briand proposes the creation of a “free city,” a sort of protectorate under the League. The city of Constantinople would be a first free city in 1920. As such, Constantinople would have its own municipal government, but which would be devoid of any of those functions of government exercised by a sovereign state, such as, defense and foreign relations).

30.04.1919: Sultan Vahidettin sends Mustafa Kemal to Anatolia as Inspector-General.

06.05.1919: Allied powers agree to allow Greeks to occupy Smyrna.

15.05.1919: Smyrna occupied by the Greek army. Journalist Hasan Tahsin shoots a Greek flag bearer, firing the first bullet of the Turkish resistance.

16.05.1919: Mustafa Kemal leaves Constantinople.

19.05.1919: Mustafa Kemal arrives in Samsun. Turkish War of Independence begins.

24.05.1919: Demonstration at Sultanahmet in Istanbul against the occupation of Smyna.

22.06.1919: Mustafa Kemal issues the Amasya Declaration stating that the independence of the nation will be saved once more by the determination and decisiveness of the people.

28.06.1919: Treaty of Versailles signed by Germany.

23.07/07.08.1919: Erzurum Congress. It is decided that there will a struggle with the enemy of the people in the Eastern provinces which are an inseparable part of the homeland.

10.10.1919: Allied forces officially take military control of Western Thrace.

22.10.1919: Inter Allied administration of Western Thrace begins with French General Charpy appointed Governor.

04-11.09. 1919: Sivas Congress. A mutual decision about the “homeland being an indivisible whole” is reached. All the local resistance organizations in the country are united and a “Committee of Representatives” is formed.

01.11.1919: Grand Vizir Damat Ferit Paşa resigns.

27.12.1919: Mustafa Kemal arrives in Ankara.

12.01.1920: Opening session of the last Ottoman Parliament.

10.03.1920: Allied Military Administration of Constantinople and Straits Zone formally established.

16.03.1920: Constantinople officially occupied by Allied forces.

20.03.1920: Italian troops withdraw from Konia.

05.04.1920: Damat Ferit Paşa reappointed as Grand Vizir.

11.04.1920: Ottoman Parliament dissolved by Sultan Vahidettin.

19-26.04.1920: The San Remo Conference of the Allied Supreme Council determines the allocation of the League of Nations mandates for administration of the former Ottoman ruled lands of the Middle East by the victorious powers.

23.04.1920: The Turkish Grand National Assembly opens in Ankara.

20.05.1920: Greece annexes Western Thrace.

22.06.1920: Greek offensive in Anatolia begins.

08.07.1920: Greek forces occupy Bursa.

12.07.1920: Greece moves into Eastern Thrace, setting up Adrianople as headquarters.

15.07.1920: Greek forces occupy Edirne and the entire East Thrace.

10.08.1920: Ottoman government signs the Treaty of Sèvres with the Allied nations. Hejaz, Armenia and Assyria are to become independent. Mesopotamia and Palestine are assigned under mandate to the tutelage of the UK, Lebanon and an enlarged Syria to that of France. The Dodecanese and Rhodes with portions of southern Anatolia are to pass to Italy, while Thrace and Western Anatolia, including Smyrna will become part of Greece. The Bosphorus, Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara are to be demilitarized and internationalized, and the Ottoman army is to be restricted to a strength of 50,000 men. The treaty is rejected by the Turkish republican movement in Ankara.

06.11.1920: The Corps d’Occupation de Constantinople (COC) formally is set up, led by French General Franchet d’Esperey (frmr. CinC of Eastern Allied Forces).

03.12.1920: Ankara signs the Gümrü Peace Agreement with the Republic of Armenia.

09-11.01.1921: First Battle of İnönü. Greek advance inside Anatolia halted.

20.01.1921: The first Turkish Constitution is ratified by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

21.02/12.03.1921: London Conference. Representatives of both Istanbul and Ankara governments are invited to the conference which aims to revise the Treaty of Sèvres. It does not achieve any results.

16.03.1921: Bolshevik Russia recognizes the new Turkish State.

27-20.03.1921: Second Battle of İnönü. Greek offensive fails.

25.05.1921: Italians troops withdraw from Marmaris.

21.06.1921: Italians withdraw from the Antalya region.

05.07.1921: The city of Antalya is returned to the Turkish government by Italian military authorities.

10.07.1921: Greek forces launch a new offensive;

18.07.1921: The British General Harrington is made CinC of COC, replacing the French General Charpy; the (British) Black Sea Army is re-named as British COC of Constantinople; the 28th British division is dissolved.

19.07.1921: Turkish forces retreat towards Ankara.

10.08.1921: The Allied Supreme Council declares neutrality with respect to the Turkish-Greek conflict;

23.08/13.09.1921: Battle of Sakarya. Greek forces retreat after a failed offensive.

20.10.1921: Peace agreement signed between Turkey and France.

23.10.1921: Treaty of Kars between Turkey and the USSR. Turkey cedes the city of Batumi to the USSR in return for sovereignty over the cities of Kars and Ardaha.

11.01.1922: Mustapha Kemal proclaims the abolition of the Ottoman sultanate and the establishment of the Turkish Republic; Sultan Mohammed VI flees Constantinople on board a British warship.

31.05.1922: Last Italian troops leave the area of Antalya.

05-19.07.1922: USMC troops from the USS Arizona land to guard the US Consulate in Constantinople;

26-30.08.1922: Battle of Dumlupınar. Decisive Turkish victory against the Greek forces.

09.09.1922: Turkish troops take Smyrna; massive killing of Greek and Armenian populations.

15.09.1922: British government appeals to the Dominions for military support in the Turkish crisis, but the Dominions decline; France and Italy also refuse help.

15.09.1922: Greek occupation ends.

16.09.1922: A British force lands at Canakkale, Turkey.

03-11.10.1922: Convention of Mudania; the Allies agree to return Eastern Thrace and Adrianople to Turkey, and Turkey accepts the neutralization of the Straits under international control.

11.10.1922: Armistice of Mudanya signed between Turkey, Italy, France and Britain. Greece accedes to the armistice three days later. East Thrace as far as the Maritsa River and Edirne are handed over by Greece to Turkey. Turkish sovereignty over Constantinople and the Dardanelles is recognized.

20.10.1922: Peace Conference opens in Lausanne.

01.11.1922: The Sultanate is abolished.

17.11.1922: Sultan Vahidettin leaves Istanbul on board the British warship Malaya.

04.02.1923: Talks in Lausanne interrupted because of Turkish protest about the contents of the Lausanne conference.

23.04.1923: Talks in Lausanne resume.

24.04.1923: Treaty of Lausanne signed between Turkey, Greece and other countries that fought WWI and the Turkish Independence War. Turkey recovers full sovereign rights over its territory.

10.06.1923: Turkey takes possession of Constantinople.

24.07.1923: Treaty of Lausanne formally replaces Treaty of Sèvres.

06.10.1923: Occupation forces begin withdrawal from Constantinople.

13.10.1923: Ankara declared as the capital of the new Turkish State.

06.10.1923: Units from the Turkish 3rd Corps, commanded by Şükrü Naili Pasha enter Constantinople.

23.10.1923: Last allies (British contingent) troops evacuate Constantinople.

29.10.1923: The Republic of Turkey is proclaimed.

Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).

The image shows, “The Flight of the Bourgeoisie from Novorossiysk in 1920,” by Ivan Vladimirov; painted in 1920.

Temporal Power Of The Holy See, A Short History

Origins

When on February 27th, 380 AD, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, and the two “Augusti,” Gratian and Valentinian II, issued the so called Edict of Thessalonica, “Cunctos populos” to all their subjects, stating the Christian religion was to become the religion of all the peoples of the Roman Empire, the first step toward the birth of the Holy See’s temporal power was made.

At that time the emperor was still the “Pontifex Maximus” (which, by the way means “the Supreme bridge-builder,” which links back to Rome’s Etruscan heritage, when technology and religion were one and the same, and the supreme religious chief was also the best civil engineer) – and who had total authority over all religious aspects of civic life. Thus, the Bishop of Rome was an official of an emperor and nothing more.

Damasus, who was then Bishop of Rome, was given added authority when, backed by the Emperor, he asserted the primacy of Rome over all other bishops and patriarchs in Christendom, since the Bishop of Rome alone was the successor of Peter, the first of the Apostles, who had been crucified in Rome, on the Vatican Hill and buried there, and whose grave still lies in the Vatican caves, under the Basilica that bears his name.

The collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century created a political vacuum. Since the bishops and above all the Pope were the only existing officials of the empire who yet remained, it was in a certain sense normal that they should look after local organizational, administrative and thus political welfare. Likely, they started this kind of ruling activity just in that century; as far as we know, from the time of Leo I’s pontificate, but we can’t be sure, because of the lack of sources from that confused period. But we do know for sure that by the end of 6th century, that is to say since the time of Pope Gregory I, who was elected in 590. the Church was already deeply engaged in such activities.

At that time the clash between Byzantium and the Lombards was on-going, and the war especially ravaged Central Italy, where the Roman Eastern Empire wanted to keep at least Ravenna – capital of the Byzantine Exarchate – and the so-called “Byzantine Corridor,” a strip of land from Ravenna, on the Adriatic Sea, to the other side of the Italian peninsula; that is to say to Rome and the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In 712, the Lombard king, Liutprand, decided to affirm his rule over the two southern and semi-independent Lombard duchies of Spoleto and Benevento, on the southern side of the Byzantine Corridor. Thus, profiting from the riots occurring in Italy against the Byzantines, whose emperor, Leo III Isaurian, supported the Iconoclasts, Liutprand attacked.

Pope Gregory II, elected in 715, realized that Liutprand’s likely intention was to seize Rome. Thus, when the Lombards conquered the nearby city of Narni (Narnia in Latin – by the way, the original Narnia whose name was later used for the “Chronicles,” although no speaking lions or other peculiar animals lived there!) – Gregory II said that Liutprand must return the conquered territories to Byzantium.

Liutprand had already accepted the submission of both the dukes of Spoleto and Benevento, and thus he was not so worried about the stability of the Lombard compact. But giving back territories to the enemy was not such a good idea. On the other hand, it was the Pope himself who was asking. So, what to do?

Liutprand found a smart solution. He presented the Pope with the city of Sutri – a strong-point which barred the route from the upper Byzantine Corridor to Rome – because the Pope was still an Imperial, that is to say a Byzantine, official. It is useless here to list all the towns and small castles the Lombards later gave the Holy See. What is important is to stress that such a process was not unusual and normal. It is commonly regarded that Popes Zachary (741-752) and his successor Stephen II (752-757) established temporal power, and this somehow triggered the fake Donation of Constantine.

As things now stand, given the state of philology and history, we still do not know where and when the Donation may have been created. What is certain is that it is fake.

Father Döllinger, in the 19th century, suggested that was created in Rome between 752 and 777. Some scholars think it was aimed to support the Papal claim over Constantinople, with Roman supremacy over all other Patriarchal Sees. Other scholars suppose it to have been made in France. Regardless, when was it made? And who made it?

The Donation exists as a copy in the Decretals by Pseudo-Isidore, and in some 12th century manuscripts of Gratian’s Decretum; and the real author of the Decretals is not known, even though in the past both Isidore Mercator and Pseudo-Isidore were regarded as such. Scholarship tells us that the Decretals were not written by a single person, but by a team, under the direction of one coordinator. And if it is true that the documents used to create the fake Donation came from the library of the French abbey of Corbie, it is possible that the coordinator was Abbot Paschasius Radbertus – later Saint Paschasius – a theologian who served as the abbot of Corbie from 842 to 847. Thus, in 847, the ensemble of forged documents – a couple of hundred – aimed at supporting the Church’s hierarchy and state power, may be considered nearly finished and ready to put to use.

Some scholars think the Donation may have been made earlier, perhaps a century earlier, to support Pope Stephen II when, in 754, he went to France, to negotiate with Pepin the Short. Stephen granted his support to Pepin who supplanted the Merovingian dynasty, in exchange for official recognition of Papal ownership of Italian lands that the Lombards had seized from the Byzantines.

Now, it is important to note that at the time, fakes were normal and widely used, and almost everybody relied on forged documents to support their claims. As the Italian scholar, Federico Chabod, remarked in 1969, almost half of the decrees issued by the Merovingian kings were forged. For example, there is the Privilegium maius of the Dukes of Austria, which makes Austria an archduchy, giving it the same rank as the Princes Elector of the Holy Empire. The Privilegium was forged quoting documents by Julius Caesar(!) and Nero which supposedly granted Noricum, that is to say Austria, special status.

Thus, it comes as no surprise when Emperor Otto III, living in a world of fake documents, in 1001 issued a decree rejecting the Donation of Constantine because it showed none of the seals and signs it must bear if it were original.

But this mattered little to the Church. For example, in 1440, Lorenzo Valla (a priest and a scholar) analyzed the Donation and realized that it was written in a Latin other than that used in Constantine’s time; and in this way revealed it was fake. But things did not go too smoothly for Valla. His work, De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione declamatio, appeared only in 1517, and was later condemned and inserted into the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Why? Because the Donation of Constantine laid the ground supporting a further donation – that by Charlemagne.

This second Donation stems from the Promissio Carisiaca, or the Quierzy Promise (named after the town, Quierzy-sur-Oise, from which it was decreed), was not given by Charlemagne, but by his father, Pepin the Short to Pope Stephen II. As already mentioned, Stephen had granted papal support to Pepin’s claims to the Frankish crown, and in return had asked Pepin to help the Church by giving to her the Italian lands now owned by the Lombards, instead of to the Byzantines.

Pepin agreed. But nothing happened until 774, when Charlemagne, in Rome, formally accomplished his father’s promise.

Since the original documents of both the Promissio Charisiaca and of the Donation of Charlemagne were lost, what remained was only a detailed account in the biography of Pope Adrian I.

According to the Church the Donation meant that the Church had been presented by Charlemagne with absolute ownership of all territories north of the Tiber up to the Po valley. According to Napoleon, it meant simply that the Pope had been invested as a feudal lord by the Emperor, and thus was a subject of the Emperor, and thus a subject to the Emperor of France, that is to say to Napoleon.

Pius VII did not accept this conclusion. The harsh clash between he and Napoleon over the state of Catholic faith in France and in the empire was made harsher by the Donation. But Leipzig first, and then Waterloo solved the question. The Pope returned to Rome in 1814 and found a new problem: the Italians wanted to unite the peninsula, with Rome as the capital and possibly having no Pope at all in the city.

Dogma, Or Not Dogma, That Is The Problem

After the 1814 Restoration, the Pope and the Cardinals did not intend to abandon a sole inch of the Church’s right and territories. The Church had just lost Avignon in France, and now wanted to lose her one-millennium-year-held Italian lands.

As long as there were only the relatively uncoordinated and weak groups of Carbonari, there was not that much to worry about. But when, after 1848, it became clear that Italian unity was a threat likely to happen, the Church wondered how to react.

The weak point was that there was no mention about temporal power in the Gospels, nor in any of the Apostolic letters or in the Acts of the Apostles. Thus, there was only the legal basis to turn to. But once the Donation of Constantine was deprived of its value because it was fake – as a consequence, the Donation of Charlemagne, though used by Napoleon, held no legal value and was not recognized by the Congress of Vienna. Therefore, by which legal or religious bases could the temporal power of the Church be asserted? Could perhaps a dogma be issued?

This was a very difficult problem and there was not that much room to solve it. The dogmatic validity of temporal power by itself never existed. No Gospel speaks of it. Moreover, Jesus said just the contrary when, as recorded in Matthew 22:21 and confirmed by Luke in 20:25, and Mark 12:17, Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” That is to say the separation of Church and State, each in its own jurisdiction.

Gregory XVI stressed this separation and readily refused to embroil the Church in secular controversies when on August 5, 1831, he issued the Sollicitudo Ecclesiarum; but this dealt with what to do in states and countries other than the Papal ones. The problem the Church faced was quite different. Theologians and lawyers tried to gather as much material as they could, but the result was not that convincing.

Regardless, they began with Saint Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, where, in chapter 9:11, he said: “Si nos vobis spiritualia seminavimus, magnum est, si nos carnalia vestra metamus? Si alii potestatis vestrae participes sunt, quare non potius nos? (If we have been planting the things of the Spirit for you, does it seem a great thing for you to give us a part in your things of this world?).”

The next step was “enhanced” by the Donation of Constantine, whose forgery was silently and conveniently not mentioned or forgotten. Then, further support was provided by way of Pope Nicholas III’s constitution, Fundamenta militantis Ecclesiae, issued on July 18, 1278.

Unfortunately, as the Italian legal experts remarked, it had a vice in its substance, for it relied on the Donation of Constantine and used that as a legal basis to assert once more the Church’s authority on the city of Rome and on Roman government.

Oh well. But there was Saint Thomas Aquinas. The supporters of the Church’s temporal power used his authority, because in his Scriptum super Sententiis, [liber II, Distinctio XLIV, quaestio 2 (o articulus 2) “Utrum Christiani teneantur obedire potestatibus saecularibus, et maxime tyrannis”, ad 4 in fine], where Aquinas says, “Ad quartum dicendum, quod potestas spiritualis et saecularis, utraque deducitur a potestate divina; et ideo intantum saecularis potestas est sub spirituali, inquantum est ei a Deo supposita, scilicet in his quae ad salutem animae pertinent; et ideo in his magis est obediendum potestati spirituali quam saeculari. In his autem quae ad bonum civile pertinent, est magis obediendum potestati saeculari quam spirituali, secundum illud Matth. 22: 21: reddite quae sunt Caesaris Caesari. Nisi forte potestati spirituali etiam saecularis potestas conjungatur, sicut in Papa, qui utriusque potestatis apicem tenet, scilicet spiritualis et saecularis, hoc illo disponente qui est sacerdos et rex in aeternum, secundum ordinem Melchisedech, rex regum, et dominus dominantium, cujus potestas non auferetur et regnum non corrumpetur in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

(In the fourth point it must be said [that] since the spiritual and secular power, both come from divine power, therefore the temporal power is under spiritual power, insofar as it is subjected to it by God, that is to say, in those things that belong to the salvation of the soul; and therefore in those [things] it is necessary to obey more to the spiritual power than to the secular. In those [things], too, which pertain to the civil good, one must obey the secular power more than the spiritual one, according to what Matthew 22: 21: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. If not in the case that secular power is combined with the spiritual, as in the Pope, who holds the top of both, that is, the spiritual and the secular [powers]; this, because they are disposed by him, who is a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek, king of kings and ruler of rulers, whose power will not be removed and the kingdom will not be corrupted forever and ever, Amen).

The fourth, and last, although quite weak, pillar was Saint Robert Bellarmine, who in his Tractatus de potestate Summi Pontificis in rebus temporalibus, adversus Gulielmum Barclay, published in 1610, wrote “Etsi absolute forte praestaret Pontifices tractare solum spiritualia et reges termporalia, tamen propter malitiam temporum experientia clamat: non solum utiliter, sed etiam necessarie, et ex singulari Dei providential donatos fuisse Pontifici aliisque episcopis temporales aliquos principatus.”

But this piece of evidence only makes the claim for temporal power, after “propter malitiam temporum”: “Experience shows that not only usefully but also necessarily and by a singular providence of God certain temporal principalities were given the Pontiff and other bishops.” This meant that temporal power had only been given the Church because of the difficult times she lived in, and that such power had been useful, not that it was an article of Faith.

The whole “legal” structure was quite weak, if not non-existent, as is obvious. Then the Pope added his own argument. On March 25, 1862, speaking to the clergy of the Santa Maria sopra Minerva Church and College, Pius IX said that temporal power was not to be an article of Faith, but that it was necessary to the independence of the Apostolic See. This was a knock out, what to do? Someone, we don’t know who – came up with an idea.

The End Of Temporal Power

The idea, whose author is not known, was complicated: to hold a Council dealing with several issues, and, within it, once the main problems were solved, as a second step, to render temporal power as dogma.

Making temporal power legally or ideally stronger was not easy, especially after that Pius IX’s recent statement. On June 9, 1862, that is to say only two and a half months after his speech to the clergy of the Minerva, the Pope received an address by 390 bishops from all over the world, who convened in Rome for the canonization of the Japanese martyrs. They told Pius IX that temporal power was to be necessary.

In 1863, the most convinced Legitimists strongly supported the idea of making temporal power a dogma. Then, when celebrating in Trent the 3rd centennial of the end of the Council of Trent, with huge participation of the German and Austro-Hungarian clergy, the first idea of holding a council openly appeared.

The Vatican did not say, “Yes,” or “No,” and the proposal was left aside. Then, in the years following, the French left Rome, because of an agreement signed with Italy, in September 1864. Was it by chance that the Pope announced the forthcoming council to the cardinals living in Rome a few months later in December 1864?

Then the opening date of the council was decided, June 1867, but was soon delayed.

Of course, before that date many things had happened: a Protestant power like Prussia deprived a Catholic one, Austria, of German leadership; Queen Isabella of Spain, a loyal Catholic, lost the throne; the Mexicans shot Maximilian of Habsburg; and in Rome the Jesuits’ journal, La Civiltà Cattolica suggested, or seemed to suggest, that a Council after all could be opportune to address and solve some issues that the new order of things was presenting.

The Council had, above all, to discuss papal infallibility, and then, although this was not stated, if everybody agreed, the dogma of temporal power could be discussed and even approved. The papal allocution Pericunda announced the Council, to be opened on December 8, 1869.

But was it necessary? Did the infallibility really need a dogmatic definition?

No one doubted the infallibility of the Pope; and, by the way, Saint Augustine had already clearly indicated the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the obligation to defer to what he stated. But many theologians doubted that it was possible, and conveniently failed to define infallibility in a clear and authoritative way.

There was, however, one aspect that ultimately made that dogma appropriate to the life of the Church. In the first half of the 19th century, the independence of South and Central America had created as many counterparts to the Holy See as there were new independent states. Even in Europe there had been changes of major importance. Britain in 1829 ended three centuries of marginalization of Catholics from public life, allowing them access to civil and military administration, while maintaining restrictions in some areas. Then came the Oxford Movement; and, thanks above all to John Henry Newman and Archbishop Wiseman, in a few years, between 1845 and 1850, there was an impressive return of the British to Rome. The Catholic hierarchy in Great Britain was re-established, and a primate was appointed – Wiseman, now a cardinal – in Westminster. This had also opened up the British Empire to Catholic missions, which, shortly thereafter and until the end of World War II, would include a third of the lands in the world.

At the same time, in the 1840s, the famous Irish potato famine increased Irish emigration, pushing hundreds of thousands of Catholic Irish to the United States, which at that time was still almost completely Protestant and anti-Catholic. The Church therefore faced a world changed profoundly in a generation. Meanwhile, the problems of Latin America, which previously could only be solved in Madrid and Lisbon, had now to be dealt with in eighteen different overseas capitals. Then there was the legal denial by the British of any direct or indirect political authority of the Pope, an authority that in the United States continued to be feared and suspected until the Second World War, and even beyond.

All these were new elements presented the problem of a new form of obedience – and which also meant that a Catholic could no longer view politics and Faith as two sides of the same coin, or as the same thing, because now even in Catholic countries the altar could no longer be the companion of the throne.

The Enlightenment had traced the first furrow between the two. Eighteenth-century jurisdictionalism had deepened it but, no matter how jealous of his prerogatives, no 18th century Catholic ruler would have ever acted against the Faith, and very few against the Church.

The French Revolution, however, had broken that binomial of altar and throne, pushing declared atheists to power. The 1814 Restoration tried to recompose the union between throne and altar, but now the expansion of Catholics into Protestant lands made that union dangerous. If Catholics wanted to exist in certain areas of the world, Rome must not try to impose her political vision there, but must limit herself to protect religious liberty. And thirty years earlier, Gregory XVI had already understood and said that.

The presence of Catholics was no longer vertical. It was becoming horizontal, that is to say, it was evolving from being institutionally parallel and similar, and interlaced with the structure of the State in which Catholics lived in – to a now scattered presence, not necessarily connected to the institutions of the country in which Catholics lived, as it had been in the Roman Empire after Constantine and before Theodosius I.

Deprived of the support of secular power, Rome now had to take care of spiritual obedience much more than in the past; and, to do so, it had to explicitly and dogmatically stress some points that in the past were assumed as givens, starting primarily with the Pope’s infallibility.

It is hard to say to what extent Pius IX realized the transition that the Church was experiencing, in a world whose speed of change was proportional to the speed of the news, and therefore increasing day by day. Of course, like everyone in the Curia, in the Papal court, had the Pope been able to keep things as in the good old days, he would have been happy. But, since he knew something about the world beyond the Papal States (he was the first Pope who in his youth had been in the Americas, namely, Chile), and since he had to ensure the continuity of the Church and the transmission of Tradition and of the Gospel in their integrity, he fell relied on more spiritual positions when he called the Council, in which bishops were informed of all the transformations taking place in the world, and thanks to which the Truth would continue to live and spread. He had no doubt that they would approve such spiritual positions of the Church.

I do not think it was a coincidence that the Council was announced to the Curia cardinals in December 1864, the year of the September Convention. To anyone making the slightest, impartial assessment – and the Pope had made much assessment, no matter how impulsive he could be – it was clear that external protection of the Church, whether French, Austrian or whatever else, would sooner or later end, and thus the Church could lose its State. If the opening of the Council, originally scheduled for June 29, 1867, was delayed until December 8, 1869, it is likely that it was because of what was happening in Europe and in Italy.

The discussions in Rome were carefully followed by all the nation-states. Discordant voices raised among the Council fathers, precisely regarding infallibility. But the European powers were hardly concerned about what, at the moment, was a purely doctrinal question, and they held back any intervention to when and if the Council would touch the temporal sphere.

Britain could only be an obstacle; and from Britain came some perplexity. But London was kept calm by the skill and social relations of Archbishop Manning, the next primate of England.

On July 18, 1870, the Council approved papal Infallibility. The next step could be temporal power. But on the following day, July 19, 1870, France declared war on Prussia. The telegraph immediately reported the news in Rome, and in the blink of an eye the city emptied, and whatever examination and proclamation of the dogma of temporal power that might have been forthcoming vanished with the French, Belgian, Austrian and German prelates running back to their seats.

Then, two months later, on September 20, 1870, the Italians seized Rome. The Pope retreated into the Vatican, and the Council was officially declared “suspended” on October 20, 1870, and was formally closed by John XXIII in 1960 before the opening of Vatican Council II.

Thus, it was that the story of temporal power, before collapsing in front of the oncoming Italian army, became the instrument by which in fact Papal infallibility was approved and became dogma. No matter what men do, nobody can stop the Spirit.

Ciro Paoletti, a prominent Italian historian of military history, is the Secretary General of the Italian Commission of Military History. He is the author of 25 books, and more than 400 other smaller works\, published in Italy and abroad, and mostly dealing with modern and contemporary Italian military history and policy.

The image shows, “Jacopo Pesaro Being Presented by Pope Alexander VI to Saint Peter,” by Titian, painted ca. 1508–1511.

Why Did Italy Declare War In 1940?

Scholars and lay readers often assume that Italy joined Germany in 1940 because “the end of the war appeared to be on the horizon, Mussolini concluded the best choice was to join the Germans in their war against France and Britain, in order to seize territory in the Mediterranean. Malta, Corsica, Savoy and Nice – the Italian territories possessed by foreign powers – and Tunis; and along with other African lands, these were meant to compensate Italy for the the ‘disloyal behavior’ that London and Paris had exhibited in 1919.”

I had this opinion too, until by chance, in late 2009, I had to prepare a detailed paper on the Italian point of view about the French 1940 Armistice. I should mention that the subsequent paper I wrote on this topic achieved remarkable success when presented – in Paris at the Ecole militaire, on January 15, 2010. Later, I developed the idea into a book, which was published in 2014, in Italian.

Back in late fall 2009, in order to understand the French Armistice clearly, I began with the war itself, and with the plans – if any – made before the war. So, I began from secondary sources, mainly official publications, such as, the accounts of the Italian Alpine campaign of 1940, and the Italian military occupation of France, along with the addition of Galeazzo Ciano’s diary and some other sources. While collecting all the data, I found some things which clashed with the commonly held view, and which, when brought together, yielded a new perspective that should at least be revealed and discussed.

The problem of why Italy entered World War II was at that time, in 2009, still unclear. Traditional historiography tends to give Mussolini the simple desire to gain some territory at the lowest possible price; while other authors suppose that war was declared only because the Duce wanted to demonstrate that the Italian people were warriors. Both these major explanations are not so convincing, unless one is firmly believes that Mussolini was completely devoid of cold judgement and reason and was playing a sort of poker with the worst cards. Now, apart from any kind of consideration about Mussolini’s mental faculties, when gathering all the strands of the economic and political situation in Italy in 1939-40, the mosaic that results is very different than the one proposed till now by Italian and non-Italian historiography.

While it is certainly true that the person who decided the Italian involvement in war was Mussolini, the question we need to answer is: How did things appear to him? What was his – and the Italians’ – perception of the situation, which could be quite different from how matters actually stood. This question is never answered; or, at least, this question has never had a really satisfying answer, one which might allow us to understand why Mussolini took that fatal decision. The problem has certainly been discussed in Italy and outside Italy, in various ways – but nobody has to-date offered an explanation which might lead us beyond mere suggestion, or a bias, or a notion.

There is an astounding lack of documents from Mussolini about this question. There are many memoirs and journals by other people, but one must be very careful with these, because they were all published after the war, when their authors wanted above all to try to justify themselves to the people and to history. Ciano’s Diary, The diary written by Giuseppe Bottai, one of the smartest men of Fascism, appeared only after his five-year service with the French Foreign Legion in 1944-49.

There are also books and memoirs written by civil and military officers, sometimes top officers, but none offer anything substantial, other than an occasional detail. And, thus, the problem remains always unsolved: Why did Mussolini, who had no intention of going to war, suddenly decide to declare war in June 1940?

It is also clear that given the above caveats, one cannot pretend to demonstrate the truth. It is only possible to suggest an hypothesis, a tentative answer to the afore-mentioned questions; and it will up to the reader to decide whether the hypothesis can be accepted or not, fully or in part, or totally rejected.

When seeking to understand the reason why a certain decision was made, the only doable thing is to gather all the information about the man who took that decision. Then, one can see if, by chance, after having considered the facts, there is anything which may be helpful in finding an answer.
Therefore, what was Italy’s situation during this period, militarily speaking? Was Italy put under any kind of pressure? And if so, what kind of pressure, from where and by whom? Could Italy sustain a war, and, above all, a war as an ally of Germany? What outcome could Italy expect?

Now, in view of contemporary military, diplomatic anad economic documents, the answer appears to be quite complex, and most definitely surprising and very different from what is commonly supposed.

The first facts to consider are economic data, because money defines and determines what the military can do. Italy’s financial situation, in the Spring of 1940, was terrible. This is very well known by Italian economic historians, but is normally not taken into consideration by Italian military historians, and appears to be completely ignored by non-Italian military historians and by lay readers, whether Italian or not.

In fact, actual sources are really very few. Apart from the well-known (in Italy) book by General Carlo Favagrossa, Perché perdemmo la guerra (Why We Lost the War), published in 1946, and by the former Mussolini Finance minister, Felice Guarneri’s Battaglie economiche (Economic Battles), published in 1953), a scholar can only look at basic sources, such as, the figures given by the Central Institute of Statistics in Rome, the reports and official publications by the Ragioneria Generale dello Stato (State General Auditing Board) about the Italian budget, that is to say, Il bilancio dello Stato negli esercizi dal 1930-31 al 1941-42, and Il bilancio dello Stato negli esercizi finanziari dal 1942-43 al 1947-48, and the annual reports of the Governor of the Bank of Italy to the shareholders from 1939 to 1946.

Books too are quite few concerning this topic of Italy’s economic situation during the years under consideration. These books include, Giuseppe Mayer, Teoria economica delle spese militari (Economic Theory of Military Expenditure), published in 1961; Epicarmo Corbino, L’economia italiana dal 1861 al 1961 (The Italian Economy from 1861 to 1961), published in 1962; and Giuseppe Toniolo, La Banca d’Italia e l’economia di guerra (The Bank of Italy and the War Economy), published in 1989. The most recent, and perhaps the best work about this issue, is Luciano Luciani, L’economia e la finanza italiana nel secondo conflitto mondiale (Italian Economy and Finance in World War II), published in 2009.

The economy was not going well at all in the 1930s, and unemployment was common. Studies about this aspect are still rare and seldom published; and one is tempted to ask how much Fascist propaganda had the lingering effect to convince people that all worked well. Anyway, one can find something in Enrico Cernigol and Massimo Giovanetti, Ricordati degli uomini in mare (Reminiscences the Men in the Sea), published in 2005), which consists of interviews with survivors of submarine crews. When answering the question, why did they enlist, most of the answers are more or less “because of the lack of work in the Thirties.” Something similar is found in personal accounts or memoirs of people who did not have important positions at that time and who were interviewed; or this reason is indirectly admitted in some contemporary documents.

Wars in Ethiopia and Spain, and the short campaign in Albania, were a huge financial drain on the Kingdom of Italy. Since 1935, two thirds of the annual state expenditure had been on armed forces. Italy’s global expenditure rose from 33 billion liras in 1935–1936 to 60 billion in the fiscal year 1939 – 1940; and the deficit progressively and constantly grew from 13 billion liras in 1935–1936 to 28 billion in 1939 – 1940. And when considering the disagreggated data, we find that military expenditure, because of war, was solely responsible for the deficit.

There was also another problem. The Italian state’s income depended on only 28 percent taxation, and 72 percent on revenue. This meant that given the normal diminishing of commerce in the time of war, the state would never have been able to retain the 72 percent, and thus a consistent reduction of income had to be foreseen. At the same time, it was clear that if limited wars like those in Ethiopia and Spain had been so expensive, a World War against France and Britain would be harder, if not impossible, to sustain.

So, here we have the first fact that Mussolini was well aware of: The impossibility of managing a medium- or long-term war against great powers because of lack of money. And Mussolini knew this well, since minister Guarneri clearly warned him, and soon was forced to resign.

The second aspect to be considered is that of the Armed Forces; and this was strictly linked to the lack of money. If the State had no money, and Italy lacked raw materials to achieve a general rearmement, it was impossible to fill the need for ordnance and restock the depots emptied by the recent wars in Africa and in Europe. The standard interpretation concerning the state of the Italian Armed Forces in 1939 is that they possessed old equipment, useless in a modern war. This is a fallacy. Their equipment was as good as other European armed forces in 1939, except perhaps the Germans. The problem was that the Italian Armed Forces lacked sufficient equipment to carry out the operations with which they were tasked. They did not have enough vehicles, weapons and ammunitions. And they could not acquire the material it needed in sufficient quantities because Italy lacked an effective industrial system.

Comparative figures for war production of high-technological ordnance, such as, aircraft are quite revealing. For example, in 1939, Italy produced 1,750 aircraft; in 1940 3,250. The next year, 1941, marked the highest point of production with 3,503. Then, Italian production slowly decreased: 2,813 in 1942 and 1,930 in 1943, for a total of 13,523 planes throughout the entire conflict. In 1942, Japan made 9,300 planes, Soviet Union 8,000, Britain 23,671, United States 47,859 and Germany15,596. That is to say, in only one year, Germany produced more aircraft than Italy did in four years of war. German aircraft were faster, more effective, powerful and modern than Italian ones. During the period 1939-1945, Japan produced 64,800 aircraft, the Soviet Union 99,500, Germany 125,072, Britain 125,254 and United States more than 300,000. These figures have been officially published by the Italian Air Force in Rodolfo Gentile, Storia dell’Aeronautica dalle origini ai giorni nostri, (Florence, 1967), and in Vincenzo Lioy, Cinquantennio dell’Aviazione italiana, (Rome, 1959).

So, lack of money, weapons and automotive transports meant the impossibility of managing a modern war, such as the Germans carried out against Poland. In fact, according to the report presented by Graziani on May 25, 1940, the divisions of the Italian army were too lightly armed. They had 23,000 vehicles, 8,700 special vehicles, 4,400 cars and 12,500 motorcycles. Tanks numbered some 1,500 useless light tanks, and merely 70 medium battle tanks. This meant the that Regio Esercito possessed only half the number of vehicles it needed to manage something similar to the German “Blitzkrieg.” It was impossible – as Graziani said – to fill the gap, because the country simply did not have enough cars and trucks. Artillery was old and had little ammunition. Fuel was sufficient for only a few months. Italy produced 15,000 metric tons of crude oil annually. Albania provided 100,000 more metric tons. Normal Armed Forces consumption was 3,000,000 tons in peacetime; in war it increased to 8 million. Libyan oil had been discovered, but it was too deep to of use.

All this is fairly well-known. But what seems rather unknown, or little evaluated, comes from an official document, quite a relevant and reliable one, published quite long ago, namely, the minutes of the meeting held at the General Armed Forces Chief of Staff’s office in 1939. The first volume – from January 1939 to the end of December 1940 – begins with very interesting statements. During the first meeting – which included only the Army, Navy and Air Force Chiefs of Staff and the General Chief of Staff, Marshall Badoglio – held on 26 January 1939, that is to say soon after Monaco, but eight months before the war, Badoglio opened the meeting stated: “Above all, His Excellence, the Chief of the Government, declared to me that, concerning rivendicatons against France, he has no intention to mention Corsica, Nice and Savoy. These are initiatives taken by single persons, who in no way enter into his plans of action.

He declared to me, moreover, that he has no intention demanding territorial cessions from France, because he is convinced that France is unable to accept – for, by doing so, he would put himself in the condition of drawing back a possible demand (and this would lack of dignity), or to enter into a war, (and this is not his intention).”

When speaking of initiatives taken by single persons, Mussolini meant something rather well-known at that time and quite recently as well. We know about this through the memoirs of one of the most important personalities of Fascism, Baron Giacomo Acerbo, a World War I hero, who had joined Fascism before the March on Rome. He was the leader of the Abruzzo region and who was not only a remarkable world-renowned expert in economics, but an expert in agriculture too. Plus, he was a member of the Great Council of Fascism and one of the only four members of this Council who voted against the issue of the anti-Jewish racial laws. At that time, he was going to be appointed President of the General Budget Committee in the Chamber of Deputies, and in 1943 he was the last minister of finance Mussolini had before resigning in July.

Acerbo wrote:

“Mussolini’s obstinacy not to deprive himself of the cooperation of his son-in-law [Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, who had married Mussolini’s oldest daughter, Edda] appears more incomprehensible and deplorable when thinking of what happened on November 30th 1938. I mean that sitting of the Chamber when, during a speech by Ciano, and as soon as he [Mussolini] heard Ciano’s voice, stated the ancient territorial claims which Fascist Italy did not intend to renounce – all while some thirty deputies shouted, “viva Nizza,” and “viva la Savoia” and “viva la Corsica,” etc. And this happened while the new French ambassador, François-Poncet, was in the diplomatic seat and who had arrived after just a week in Rome, and after the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries… At the end of the session, a hundred people in Montecitorio Square shouted the same things. It was a comedy prepared by Ciano himself, with the cooperation of the Party Secretary, Starace. And at that moment, we thought that it did not lack the preventive consent of Mussolini, who attended the session. On the other hand, just that evening, Mussolini, when opening the work of the Great Council censored what had happened with a curt tone: “I take exception to the scene which occurred today in the Chamber (these were almost exactly his words), and I take exception both because it was done without my knowledge and because those who organized it did not reflect that it was at least unsuitable, seeing that only a few days earlier we had resumed full relations with France.” The two responsible remained indifferent as it did not concern them… Everybody expected the resignation of the two responsible, but they conserved their places more firmly than ever.”

So, territorial claims against France was Ciano’s and Starace’s idea – and it was so far from Mussolini’s mind that he wanted to make sure Badoglio knew this, and, through him, the Chiefs of Staff. This is the first surprise: Italy – Mussolini – deprived of the supposed desire for getting into a war, and, above all, a war against France. If one might wonder whether this document is reliable, the answer is: 100%. Minutes were written and later submitted to each of the partiipants, who signed them. Only later they were submitted to Mussolini in person, and – especially in this case – there was no negative reaction, no correction, no change. In other words, Mussolini implicitly admitted that his opinion was just as Badoglio had reported.

It is certainly true that Italy was not overly friendly with France, but this was due to problems born in 1919 and never resolved. Italy perceived France and French policy toward, and in, the Balkans as a threat. That is why, for instance, the first operational plan made by the Italian Air Force in 1929 was the “Ipotesi Est, Ipotesi Ovest, Ipotesi doppia” – “Hypothesis East, Hypothesis West, Double Hypothesis” – where “East” meant war against Yugoslavia, “West” war against France and “Double” war against both nations. But all this was intended in a purely defensive way, as becomes evident when reading the plan itself.

In fact, the most important and general doctrine was the Directives for the coordinated employment of the Army Air Units. “Directives” were divided into three main parts. The first contained general issues and orders for actions above the ground; The second was about fighting at sea; the third concerned antiaircraft defense, reconnaissance, emergency airfields, emergency redoubts, and so on. The only known copies are those owned by Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff De Pinedo. These now lies in Rome, in the Army Archive, fondi acquisiti, non catalogato. The “Ipotesi Ovest, Ipotesi Est, Ipotesi doppia, considerazioni generali” exists as an incomplete copy in the same Army Archive, in fondi acquisiti, non catalogato. A complete copy, however, has been found by John Gooch in the same Archive. The only study existing about the Directives is my own, “The First Air War Doctrine of the Italian Royal Air Force, 1929,” a paper presented at the 67th annual conference of the Society for Military History – Quantico (VA), the U.S. Marines Corp University, on April 28, 2000.

French policy also gave Mussolini a lot to worry about. From the Italian point of view, France appeared to have a peculiar ability to act in such a manner as to draw the ire of other countries. In those years, not only did Italians view French attitudes as hostile toward Italy, but also premier Leon Blum made two policy errors, which further alienated Italy. The first was a Franco-Spanish pact, where Spain allowed French troops transit through Spanish territory to reach North Africa in case of war against Italy. The second was France’s announcement of sending weapons, ordnance and men to support the Spanish Republic. Mussolini did not care about Spanish affairs, but if French intervention rendered Spain a sort of French protectorate, or strategic ally, Italy could find both the exits from the Mediterranean closed to Italian shipping. The Suez was owned by a French-British company. The Straits of Gibraltar were passable because Spain owned the African side, despite British possession of Gibraltar. What if France indirectly controlled the African side as Britain controlled the European one? This could pose a threat to Mussolini’s and Italy’s strategic interests.

Errors made by politicians could occasionally be made worse by blunders made by a single official. So, it was with great astonishment that the Italian press, in spring 1939, reported that, while speaking to a meeting of French Army non-commissioned officers, French general Giraud thought it a great idea to state that a war against Italy would be “a simple walk in the Po valley” for General Gamelin’s Army. After such a declaration, made by a prominent French general, how could Italy not consider France to be a concrete threat?

But did Italy really believe a French offensive was possible? Did Italians really suppose this possibility was real? The answer is, Yes. Leaving aside unfriendly French attitude during 1935 to 1939 period, the possibility of French aggression had been carefully considered by the Italian General Staff – but always from a defensive point of view. We never find, during the whole 1939 and during the first months of 1940, anything other than putting up a defence against French attack. There is never an intention to carry out an attack against France, in Africa or across the Alps, nor any consideration of landing in Corsica or in Provence. On January 26, 1939, Badoglio told his colleagues that Mussolini, in case of war against France, had ordered: “Absolute defensive on the Libyan front, and that there was nothing to fear from Yugoslavia, and not to worry about Egypt, that is to say,the British. A bit later, during the same meeting, when speaking of possible action on the Alps, he added: “The Duce decided on only some defensive concentrations, on both the Alpine and Libyan borders.”

There was no further mention of war against France till April 1940, when, during the meeting held on April 9, Badoglio presented the “strategic rules given by the Duce,” and said, “So: defence, and no initiative on the Western Alps. Surveillance in the East. In case of collapse, exploit it. Occupation of Corsica is possible, but not probable. itis foreseen the neutralization of the air basis of the island is foreseen.” Then, action against England in Africa and in the Mediterranean was discussed. But, about the French, Badoglio remarked that “the real risk for Libya is the Army of Weygand.”

General Weygand was, at that time, considered by his Italian colleagues as the best French (even worldwide) general of his time. And this good opinion reached the man in the street through the press. This was a symptom of something different and quite more complex than the simple admiration for a good commander.

It is quite interesting, and revealing, to read comments published in the Italian press, in Spring 1940, especially given that Italy was under a dictatorship, so that what appeared in print was approved by official censorship. In effect, if something was published, it was substantially approved by the Fascist regime and reflected the regime’s mind. Thus, comments published in Spring 1940, about the military situation in Norway, and, later in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, by one of the most well-known and most fascist Italian reporters, Mario Appelius, spoke of Weygand with a deep respect, although Appelius was quite harsh about other Allied generals, such as, Ironside, Lord Gort, or Gamelin.

Appelius covered the war since early opearations in Poland. Then, he was in Finland, and, on May 9, 1940 he was in Amsterdam. The following day, he reached Brussels under German bombardment, and soon left the city by the last train out to Paris. He vividly described what happened in those days, after his own experiences.

And, on May 15, Appelius wrote about the French: “Nobody doubts the bravery of the French Army. Summoned by the mistakes of its own politicians to sacrifice itself once again to defend England, the French Army will surely fight with the same bravery of 1914.” This is revealing of a certain propensity towards France by the Italians. In 1940, of course, one could not help but bear World War I in mind: It was the same French Army that had stopped the Germans on the Marne, in Verdun and, in 1918, in Arras and Reims. The same French Army had demonstrated during the Great War that it could lose some battles, but win the war, emerging victorious from the most desperate situation. In other words, Italians were France-friendly.

But were the French Italy-friendly? Considering the Italian “coal affair” of 1940, one could very much doubt it, at least in Italy. Mussolini and the Italian top generals, in Spring 1939, were well aware of the joint military conferences held by the British and the French in Europe, Africa (in Djibouti), and Asia (in Singapore) to define a coordinated action against the Germans, the Japanese and the Italians in case of war. And Italian top-brass knew very well that the main problem was that of maritime warfare.

Italy could sustain for a short-term, a land war, with resistance in the Alps. Air war was sustainable too, but African colonies could not be kept without maritime communications. This led to another big problem that Mussolini was aware of – the Italian fleet was not yet ready – and Allies knew it. And this problem was dire, for it hinged in the fleet, and on which depended ultimately national survival. It was the problem of coal.

As it is well known, as soon as the war began in late summer 1939, Italy announced it was “not belligerent,” which meant something similar to neutral, but was not exactly the same. What is often forgotten is that as soon as the war began, Britain and France, but above all Britain, imposed an official blockade on German goods, which evolved into an undeclared blockade of Italian merchant ships – and which above all else was against Italian coal imports.

It was a real disaster for Italy, because 75 percent of the coal needed for daily life came from other countries – by sea from England, Belgium and above all Germany. Normally, Italy needed 17-18 million metric tons of coal per year. In 1940, Italian production was 5,355,000 tons for the 17,882,000 tons needed for the year. In 1941, 17,945,000 tons was needed, while only 6,363,000 was produced, forcing Italy to reduce its import to 11,582,000. In 1942, one third of the needed 16,504,000 tons came from national sources, whilst the remaining – 10,793,000 – was imported. The Royal Navy did its best to make the blockade against Italy as strong as possible, especially from December 1939 onwards. After having met the British ambassador Sir Percy Lorraine in Rome on 30 November, Foreign Minister Ciano wrote in his Diary on December 5, 1939 that Sir Percy was going to Malta to push the British Admiral to soften the blockade and control of Italian ships. Thus, from August 1939, 847 Italian ships were stopped and their goods confiscated, for a financial loss of more than a billion liras; and ships were forced to stay in French or British ports up to one month. There was no alternative, because railway traffic was impossible without locomotives.

The same situation affected other fuels. On June 10, 1940, Italy had a 2.4 million ton reserve of liquid fuels; and in the period of June to December 1940, Italian and Albanian production did not exceed 80,000 tons, with an annual consumption of 2 million, whch, during the war, and up to September 1943, came to 8,799,000 tons. Italian production was clearly insufficient, and thus Italy depended upon imports (from June 1940 to September 1943 amounted to 3,572,000 tons from Germany, 2,150,000 from Romenia and 53,000 from other countries).

And the Allied game appeared clear when, in the winter, England officially announced that it would provide Italy the coal, if Italy accepted to provide the Allies with aircrafts, cannons, weapons and heavy equipment. In other words, Italy would receive coal, if it accepted to deprive itself of weaponry entirely and become the Allies’ arsenal. This would have been paid with coal. No mention was made, or seems to have been made, of crude oil.

The Allies did the same kind of blockade in World War I, especially in 1916-18, to pressure Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark; but that time they asked for “loyal cooperation,” which consisted of organizing local trusts that gave their word to the Allies that what was bought by their own countries would be consumed in their own countries, and not sold to Germany. Thus, the Dutch Trust, the Swiss Economical Surveillance Society and the Danish Merchants’ Cooperative were established. All worked very well, especially in Switzerland, where the Swiss agreed to stop buying abroad and selling to Germany, and bought raw materials producing goods for Allied powers. Basically, in 1940 Britain seems to have looked for a similar arrangement with Italy.

Italian industrialists were quite interested, because Italian societies were selling a lot of trucks and weapons to the Allies in that period. But for the Italian government to officially accept such a proposal would mean exposing Italy to the risk of a German attack with no possibilities of defending the country, given the lack of heavy weapons, and no possibility of moving and manoeuvring troops, given the lack of oil. And this had to be done by accepting British conditions and receiving coal at a price fixed by England. Could Italy risk its integrity to receive coal to be paid in weapons at British fixed price? It was suicide. It was absurd.

So, in autumn 1939 Mussolini substantially had the alternative between the war against the Allies and the acceptance of the Allied ultimatum, that is to say an immediate war against Germany with no possibility of defence. And how could Mussolini hope to receive any help from the Allies, seeing what they gave to their friend and ally, Poland?

Some authors say that the Allies wanted to gain Italy’s help simply to turn German resources from the western front against Italy. If they failed, and Italy entered the war together with Germany, this would only weaken the German war effort, given that Germany would have been obliged to support Italy. As said, there are some Italian authors who suggest it. The most important is the late Franco Bandini, who introduced this idea in his book Tecnica della sconfitta (Technique of Defeat).

The situation appeared quite grim, especially because in that same period British and French fleets began deploying a number of their vessels in the Mediterranean. In the autumn of 1939, the Allies had seven battleships (five British, two French).

According to official information, at the end of December 1939, France had eight battleships (the Courbet, Océan, Paris, Bretagne, Provence, Lorraine, Dunkerque, Strasbourg) and England fifteen (the Queen Elizabeth, Warspite, Valiant, Malaya, Barham, Ramillies, Resolution, Revenge, Royal Oak, Royal Sovereign, Repulse, Renown, Hood, Nelson, Rodney), not considering the Richelieu, first (and only) of a class of four, which was going to join the fleet, as well as the British King George V, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Jellicoe and the Beatty. Germany had at that time the two old battleships the Schlesien and the Schleswig-Holstein (soon declassed to school-ships) and the more modern Deutschland, Admiral Scheer, Admiral Graf von Spee, Scharnorst and Gneisenau, with the Bismarck under construction. So the Pact of Steel had nine scattered battleships, against twenty-three concentrated battleships; and it could hope to have – that is after the end of construction and with no further losses in battle (after having lost the Graf von Spee in the Rio de la Plata on December 17th, and if the Tirpitz could be had on time) to a maximum of sixteen against thirty-two, (and not considering the just sunk Royal Oak, by a German U-boot in October 1939). Thus, the Allies had a one to two advantage.

The Italian fleet, at that time, numbered only two old refurbished battleships – the Giulio Cesare and the Conte di Cavour. By June 1940, two more old refurbished ships (the Caio Duilio and the Andrea Doria), along with the first two super-dreadnoughts of the «Littorio» class (the Littorio and the Vittorio Veneto).

It was clear that under such conditions, in case of war against the Allies before the end of Spring 1940, Italy would have had its fleet immediately destroyed and all its coasts devastated, with annihilation of its merchant traffic, and of many of its major cities, such as, Palermo, Naples, Genoa, Trieste, all along the Leghorn, and up to Venice.

As admiral Romeo Bernotti, the most important Italian naval strategist and theorist, stressed in December 1940, six months after Italy’s declaration of war: “In August 1939, during the period of diplomatic stress, and because of the possibility of the Italy entering the war, the Anglo-French concentrated in the Mediterranean most of their naval forces. At the same time, merchant traffic was displaced from that sea. The displacement ended during Italy’s not-belligerence period, but was presumed three weeks before our intervention. In Anglo-French plans, it was foreseen that the displacement from the Mediterranean would have had a provisional character, would have been a short-termed one, supposing Italy would have been forced to collapse, as a consequence of its naval inferiority and of the quick economical asphyxiation.”

Hitler came to the rescue, and Germany promised, giving its word to Italy, to supply all the needed coal, sending it by rail, and also providing wagons and locomotives. But how do the Germans really feel about Italy? Could Italy trust them or not? Here was another problem.

When Mussolini signed the Steel Pact with the Germans, he signed from a fully defensive position; and the same thing happened at the time of the Antikomintern Pact. Mussolini felt surrounded and isolated and he choose the only alliance he was offered. It was not the best possible alliance Italy and Mussolini could hope for – it was the only one possible. It was far from the best, especially because the German behaviour was not very encouraging. Hitler greatly admired Mussolini, but his staff did not. And, if there was any admiration, it was only for the Duce – it did not extend to Italy and the Italians.

In Berlin, Rome had two quite good officials, in the persons of Ambassador Bernardo Attolico and military attaché General Efisio Marras. Neither one was enthusiastic about the Germans; both were clear-eyed and objective. Attolico was hostile to an alliance with Germany; or, at least, of an alliance as strong as the Germans desired at that time. Attolico’s official correspondence to Rome was filled of warnings. On September 10, 1939 Ciano wrote in his Diary: “Attolico reports that… great popular masses… begin to demonstrate an increasing hostility and that words such as betrayal and perjury are frequently uttered.”

Germany expected – pretended to have – complete Italian support for its policy, right down to the last man and the last drop of blood – but with no independent decision-making power left to Italy. Here is one clear proof: Mussolini was not informed of the invasion of Poland before the attack began, despite what the Steel Pact clearly stipulated. According to the Germans, Italy could only follow the Reich and its policy, as evidenced by Attolico’s reports.

The Germans, Ribbentrop, did not like Attolico at all, and often asked that he be recalled, which happened in Spring 1940, because he was very ill and thus forced to leave the embassy and go back to Italy, where he died soon after.

But if Attolico’s reports were always dimly viewed in Rome, because of Attolico’s well-known attitude, it was not the same with Marras’ reports. General Marras was quite well liked by the Germans, who held him in good regard. He was also considered as being attuned with official policy than Attolico. That is why his evaluations were carefully considered by both Ciano and Mussolini. And we can easily see the results that his reports had.

On August 25 and 26, 1939, Marras he wrote to Rome about the atmosphere within German high command and political circles as, “Decisively close to breaking-point” with Italy, largely thanks to Ribbentrop who had done his best to convince everybody that Italy was ready to march along with Germany at the first shot.

Thus, the “non-belligerence” declared by Mussolini had a terrible and negative impact in Germany, and it was immediately reported to Rome from different sources that it had been described as “the second betrayal,” (the first betrayal being the change Italy did in 1915 when it entered the Great War on the side of Allies).

Apart from Marras’ reports, there were many other signals that could be cause for worry. All these are reported in Ciano’s Diary; and it would be onerous to repeat them all here. On September 9, 1939, Ciano reported that the Hungarian minister in Rome “…spoke clearly. He said which threat would hang over the world, Italy included, should Germany win the war… Anti-italian hatred is always alive in the German spirit, also if the Axis for a short time chloroformed it. The Duce was shaken and very upset.”

Then, there were rumors from Austria of annexing Trieste, or the whole of the Po valley. A Czech reporter described a harsh anti-Italian speech by a Nazi official in Southern Germany in 1939. There were similar reports and warnings from the Hungarian ambassador. All these added up to a hostile and wide-spread anti-Italian sentiment in the German population. It is possible that Mussolini did not care at all about these minor bits if information. But what certainly made him quite worried was the oral report Marras made directly to him in Rome, on March 4, 1940.

Ciano was there and later reported in his Diary that Marras was rather pessimistic about the German attitude toward Italy: “In spite of formal respect, he is convinced that the Germans have unmitigated hate, and worse, contempt, for us, for what they call the second betrayal. No war objective would be as popular in Germany, for the old and new generations, than an armed descent to the blue skies and warm seas. These and other things Marras honestly told the Duce, who was quite badly shaken by this.”

So, it was surely not by chance that Mussolini ordered the construction of the so-called “Alpine Wall of the Littorio,” that is to say, the mountain fortified system which was supposed to stop every entrance into Italy. The order was issued in the winter of 1940, and people worked 24 hours per day, under the artificial glare of photoelectrical light of the Army during the night, and using up all the iron and concrete available in Italy. At the same time, the Army staff concentrated Italian armoured units in the eastern part of the Padana Plain, to guard against an attack from Austria by the Reich.

Eyewitness geometrist Angiolino Savelli (in his talk with me in 1989), who had director in winter 1939-1940. In spite of all the efforts, the result was not very impressive. Engineer Corps Colonel – later Brigadier – Guido Lami, who directed a portion of the works on the eastern alpine border at that time, angrily commented: “The Germans have the Siegfried Line, the French have the Maginot and we have the Dull Line,” as Mrs. Elda Lami told me in 1990.

After the war, an author questioned the reason for such a double measure – standing and mobile defence, respectively represented by the Alpine Wall and the tanks unit – and some critics said that it was proof of tactical uncertainty and a waste of resources. But, apart from the fact that it had clearly been done after the 1917 experience, when, after Caporetto, the standing defence had been unable to stop the amassed and fast-moving enemy, and there had been nothing on the rear-line to stop them – now, in 1940, it was not a mistake, but the only way to stop a motorized German offensive able to pass through the fixed mountain defences.

And what was the German reaction, if any? Marras reported that the German general staff, in Spring 1940, long before the attack on the Netherlands and Belgium, had hinted that it had increased the forces in Southern Germany and, as Marras wrote, perhaps as a silent response to the rumors published by the press about the Alpine Wall.

When considering all these factors, it is most interesting to follow the evolution of Mussolini’s attitude toward the war during winter 1939-1940, according to what Ciano reported in his Diary. In early 1940, Rome warned Brussels and Amsterdam that Germany was planning an attack on them. By doing so, it meant to stymie the path that the Germans had chosen. And on January 3, 1940, Mussolini sent Hitler a friendly and decisive letter, which was received on 8 January 8th. In it, Mussolini suggested that Hitler reach a negotiated peace with the Allies, leaving Poland as a demonstration of good will, and he told Hitler that Italy reserved the right to enter the war only at the most favourable moment.

Ribbentrop summoned Attolico and asked for an explanation. Did Italy think, or was Italy insinuating, that the Reich was not able to win the war? And what was that “most favourable moment?” It was clear that Italy had no intention of remaining fully allied with the German plans and desires. Unfortunately, it was too late to change Italy’s position.Mussolini’s mistake was made back in 1938, when, after the so called “Easter Accords,” where England officially recognized Italian rule in Ethiopia, and until the signing of the Steel Pact, Italian foreign policy had the opportunity – a 10 months long opportunity – to leave the rigid trap in which Germany was putting Italy, and it was mainly because of Mussolini that this opportunity was lost.

And later? One can easily imagine how the “Italian betrayal” would be repaid by the Germans.

Here, I think there is room to open a broader discussion, as to whether or not this was the major and most probable reason for Italian engagement in World War II. According to what has been discussed here, one may conclude that it was not to gain territories (by the way, Mussolini had foregone all that in January 1939), although the new situation could permit to take something, and even permitting Mussolini to think of territorial acquisition. It seems also more than possible, if not probable, that Italy declared war because Germany was going to win the war, and England was going to lose, while the United States could not enter the war because American public opinion rejected this possibility and their President had first to think of his re-election in the fall of 1940.

The American Presidential election in 1940 was gearing up to be the harshest ever had in the USA, because the Democrats had nominated Roosevelt for the third time, and the Republicans opposed him saying that no Presient had ever ruled for more than two terms. In order to win, Roosevelt inserted two Republicans – Stimson and Knox – in his cabinet, giving them the War and the Navy Secretariates, and, above all, promising the people not to involve the USA in the European war. The result was quite good in terms of State ballots – Roosevelt gained 38 out of 48 – but inferior to the previous election in number of ballots, because in Autumn 1940 Roosevelt received 27,243,466 votes and his adversary 22,304,755, that is to say, Roosevelt got 54,98%, whilst in 1936 he had received 24,751,597 against 16,697,583, that is to say, 59,71%, and he got 46 out of 48 States. Under these conditions, it is obvious that nobody in Winter and Spring 1940 could be 100% sure about the prosecution of Roosevelt’s policy after December 1940, because there were some doubts about his victory in the Presidential election in November; and, above all, it was quite hard to even suppose an American intervention after what Roosevelt had promised.

And, above all, because June 1940 was the month when the Italian fleet got four battleships the Caio Duilio, the Andrea Doria, the Littorio and the Vittorio Veneto, with a fifth one forthcoming, the Roma. This ensured naval parity in the Mediterranean, the safety of the coasts, the protection of maritime traffic with the colonies the end of the British threat, which had begun in September 1939. In effect, Italy was looking at equalling the British in weaponry, siding with the indicative winner of the war (Germany), and in order to give Germany no possibility of attacking and destroying Italy after the victory over the Allies.

It may all seem absurd now, but only because all are accustomed to think that Mussolini declared war to gain something as a jackal and no more. But if we carefully consider the situation as found in the documents and as seen in the Italian economic, political and military situation of that time, I wonder whether any doubt can still remain. Mussolini feared German victory and was practically sure that Germany’s next move would be, soon or later, against Italy; and Italy was too weak to resist. Russia was allied to Germany, the United States – better, the American people, except for their President, who was ending his second term by the end of 1940 – were far removed from the idea of going to war to support England. And, as for England – hostile – was beaten on land and sea, France was invaded and destroyed. What remained for Italy? Who would and could support Italy? Franco? Salazar? Japan? Against Germany? Unbelievable.

Let’s go back to Acerbo’s rather rhetorically written memoirs, where we find a confirmation, which, errors excepted, is the only existing one: “In taking his decision, it is also possible that he [Mussolini] feared the Teutonic dragon, which he himself had fed and which would swallow the whole of Europe, and damage, in the process, the interests of Italy which had already lost its traditional position of influence. As an effect of the incredible German victories, which embodied the Nazi concept of the ‘Lebensraum,’ Mussolini, attracted by the sound of this concept, also quickly inserted it into the list of our claims, not caring if this concept suited our specific needs, or if it strengthened the Reich’s pretension. But ‘Lebensraum’ was inherited from the Second Reich, that is, the need of the German nation to have a way down to the Mediterranean through Trieste. And one must add that the exalting of that people’s super-nationalism, grown red-hot by of the military victories, now menaced to undo the agreements concerning the Upper Adige… So, according to Mussolini, it was better not to linger anymore in taking sides with the winner, if we wanted to avoid irreparable misfortunes on us, and, at the same time, to participate in the sharing of the booty. It is not to my knowledge, by the way, that Mussolini, during military meetings or occasional talks in the days before the intervention, pointed out this argument, to support his decisions. One began talking about it only later, when the fortunes of war were taking a turn for the worse for us, to justify the irreparable step taken.”

So, according to Acerbo, the fear of what the Germans could do after their victory existed, but how should we be surprised if Mussolini does not mention it in 1940? For a long time, he had glorified Italy’s power, exalted Germany’s friendship, and attacked France and Britain. Thus, how could he now say that he was joining Germany in war because he not only distrusted it, but because he feared it? Would he not cut a very poor figure? So, it is no surprise that these two reasons are never mentioned, not even in the slightest of conversations. Mussolini did not say these reasons, because he could not lose face.

As for everything else, all that Acerbo reports is true and can be verified through, for instance, Ciano’s Diary. Thus, it is true – and Ciano reports it – that in Austria and in Germany people, from the lowest level up to some Gauleiters, openly spoke of taking Trieste and the Friuli. It is true – and Goebbels wrote it more or less clearly in his journal after September 1943 – that the Reich liked the idea of pushing its border south of Venice. And it is true that, despite the formal agreements about transferring people (those who chose to do so) from Upper Adige to Germany, the Germans were involved in chicanery, in the autumn of 1939, so that it seemed that everything was delayed until the end of 1942, while in actuality, the transfer was to proceed a lot faster.

Therefore, Mussolini chose war. Again, Acerbo reports that he was made aware, by Marshall Rodolfo Graziani, after the war, while they were both in jail, on Procida Island, awaiting trial: “…of a briefing Mussolini held on April 10th [1940] with the commanders of the military (including the Crown Prince) and the Army Corps, and that he secretly announced that Italy was going to enter the war, specifying, ‘not together with Germany, nor for Germany, but on the side of Germany.’”

Immediately thereafter Acerbo comments that it was: “One of those alliterations he loved so much, and with such clumsiness, he was sure, in his last years, to unravel however an intricate a matter might be, and thus to overcome every obstacle and pass over the steepest position!” Acerbo knew Mussolini quite well and spoke about him carefully. But we must admit that this phrase may also be explained that Italy entered the war because of the fear of Germany – thus, not allied to the Reich, not to give the Reich advantage, but on the side of the Reich; and, we might add, in order not to give the Reich a reason to attack Italy afterwards.

Was Acerbo the only eyewitness? No, there is further evidence, starting in the spring of 1939. On March 15th, Ciano and Mussolini were concerned and worried about the German annexation of

Czechoslovakia. Quoting Dante Alighieri, Mussolini told Ciano that the thing to do was “To accept the German game in order to avoid being ‘unpleasant to God and to His enemies.’” In the days that followed, Mussolini and Ciano talked about this issue. Ciano wrote: “Egli thinks the Prussian hegemony in Europe is already established. He thinks that a coalition of all the other powers, including us, could slow the German expansion but could not stop it… I asked whether in such a condition it is convenient for us to make the alliance; or, instead, to keep our full liberty of choosing in the future, according to our interests. The Duce shows himself to be clearly in favour of the alliance.”

This is not exactly an admission, but there is more. News about the bad attitude of the Germans toward the Italians came through many channels, and on August 18, 1939, five days after having seen Hitler in Berchtesgaden, Ciano wrote that Mussolini “fears Hitler’s wrath. He thinks that a denunciation – or anything similar – of the [Steel] Pact convince Hitler to abandon the Polish issue get Italy to foot the bill.”

But this too must be considered carefully, for it could be a sort of self-defence by Ciano. However, it becomes additional evidence when you we place it in context with what Acerbo wrote. Regardless, we have more.

On September 9, 1939, the Hungarian ambassador told Mussolini that, should Germany win the war, a terrible threat would descend upon the whole world, including Italy.
On September 10, the Italian ambassador to Berlin visited the Duce and told him that the German people, when told of Italian non-intervention, started speaking of betrayal.
On September 30, according to the minister of National Education, Giuseppe Bottai, when speaking of fuel supply-chains needed by the Army and the Air Force, Mussolini said that he did not want to start the war until he had them: “With whom and against whom? A quick hint: ‘… until these reserves are met, we shall not engage – not with group A, nor with group B.’ The possibility of a choice between two rivals yet existed.”

On December 8, 1939, there was a long meeting of the Great Council of Fascism about the Italian position. After an order by Mussolini, Ciano detailed the whole situation. Ciano related all the tricks and lies of the Germans up to that moment. In his Diary he briefly mentions this, but Bottai reported that Mussolini said: “Italy? She declares her loyalty to the pacts (“don’t we have, by the way, also a pact with England?”) – and waits the outcomes. Here there are two empires in a fight, two lions. We have no interest in an overwhelming victory of any of the two. If England should win, she will not leave us other than the sea for taking a bath. If Germany [should win she will not leave us] even any air to breathe. One can only wish that the two lions tear each other to pieces, leaving just their tails on the ground. And that we go and pick up their tails.”

A few more rumors of unfriendly German attitude were reported in the next few weeks. Then, on March 4, 1940, the Duce met General Marras, the Italian military attaché in Berlin. Ciano reported: “I accompany the Duce to General Marras, who is rather pessimistic about the German mind toward us. “In spite of formal respect, he is convinced that the Germans have unmitigated hate, and worse, contempt, for us, for what they call the second betrayal. No war objective would be as popular in Germany, for the old and new generations, as an armed descent to the blue skies and warm seas. These and other things Marras honestly told the Duce, who was quite badly shaken.”

According to Ciano, on April 10, 1940, after the German occupation of Denmark and landing in Norway, Mussolini said: “The King would have us join in, just to pick up the broken pots. Hope they will not break them on hour heads!”

Who were “they?” Ciano does not say; nor does he say whether Mussolini later was clearer about it. But when considering the contemporary situation at that moment, it’s hard to think that “they” could be the Allies.

It is true that after August 18, 1939, Ciano never wrote that the Duce feared the Germans. But he told other people, at least Bottai, who, on March 29, 1940 noted in his diary that Ciano, when speaking of Mussolini, told him: “Germany winning by herself alone frightens him.” Said this way, this may mean that Mussolini was frightened, as he thought that Germany could act against Italy after having won in the West. But this may also mean that if Germany won without Italian help, Italian diplomatic situation would be weaker. Which of the two? We don’t know. But there is additional evidence of Mussolini’s fear, and we get it from Filippo Anfuso who, at that time, was the Chief of the Office of the Foreign Minister Ciano. Anfuso wrote in his memoirs that when, in Spring 1940, Mussolini noticed that Goering asked the new Italian ambassador in Berlin, Dino Alfieri, the date of the Italian intervention, he said: “… if Goering spoke that way, it seems clear that we cannot back down. After France, one day, it could be our turn, and it would beat everything to have signed a Pact called a Steel Pact and then to be invaded by Germany and be on top of the anvil.”

That should be enough, but we have more. General Roatta, who had been the military attaché in Berlin before Marras and later became one of the foremost army commanders, wrote that Mussolini, during the period of neutrality: “… considered the possibility if not to enter the war on the Allied side, the at least to have to face some excessive German demands and prevarication. He perfectly realized, at that time, the German mentality and the dangers she could pose for us. In November ’39, when I was back from Berlin – where I had been military attaché – to be appointed Army Deputy Chief of Staff, Mussolini asked me what I thought about the future intentions of the Reich, and about the countries occupied during the war, and I decidedly answered that, in case of victory, the Reich will annex, in one way or in another, not only the occupied countries, but also the states nearby, excluding none, and introducing in all of them what in Berlin was called “die deutsche Ordnung,” that is to say “the German order.” This assessment the Duce heard without any surprise.”

This is important, but not definitive, because it took place about November 1939. Although this is less important, or had lesser influence, than what Marras said in March 1940, nevertheless, together with the others, it too provides additional evidence for the larger view, and underlines a continuity between what Roatta said and what Marras confirmed six months later.

The second source is provided by general Emilio Faldella, in his L’Italia e la Seconda Guerra Mondiale, first published in 1959. Faldella was a veteran who had been in the military intelligence and then was the chief, in 1937 to 1939, of the Italian Military Mission in Spain to General Franco. Later, Faldella was appointed to many important posts, and had deep inside knowledge about a lot of things. In the first chapter of his book, he wrote three times that Mussolini (in 1939 to 1940) feared German revenge or retaliation. Faldella wrote that on May 11, 1940, after having received the message dated on May 9th, announcing to him the German attack on France, Mussolini “revealed to Sebastiani his intimate thoughts: ‘If we continue with neutrality, as many would like, we too will get a nice Pope’s indignation telegram to be flapped in front of the occupying Germans!’ The fear of German revenge increased as time passed.”

The second mention of Mussolini’s fear is made by Faldella quoting the already mentioned witness by Anfuso. The third is Faldella’s own opinion. He writes: “The more the possibility of a German victory appeared certain, the more Mussolini feared Hitler’s revenge.” We have two problems here. The first is that the latter assessment, if Faldella’s own (and whoever has dealt with Italian military history knows how reliable and cautious he was), he wrote, one can easily assume, by way of personal knowledge, derived from his position before and during the war. The second problem is about Sebastiani’s quotation. As is known, Osvaldo Sebastiani was Mussolini’s personal secretary from 1934 to 1941. Unfortunately, Faldella, as was normal at that time, did not mention the source of that Sebastiani’s quotation. Sebastiani mysteriously disappeared in 1944 when some unknown people picked him up at home. It would be very interesting to know where Faldella found that information. But that is now impossible find. But we can admit that given Faldella’s uncontested reliability, what he wrote must be true indeed.

The last eyewitness is the former Minister of Colonies Alessandro Lessona, who, in his memoirs, wrote twice that Mussolini entered the war because he feared the Germans.

Here, we have an additional reliability problem, Lessona left the ministry by the end of 1937, and in 1940 was simply a professor at the university of Rome. His memoirs appeared only in 1958 and must be taken cautiously, for he could have modified facts here and there. Of course, one of Lessona’s cousins was General Pirzio Biroli, an army commander, and Lessona was on very good terms with many prominent people of the Regime, including Badoglio, Balbo and Bottai. Thus, he could have known from one or some of them about what he wrote; that is to say that in 1940 Mussolini felt the victory to be on the German side and. “Thus, convinced of serving Italian interests, he intervened in the war to prevent the winner getting his revenge on Italy, when the winner was disposing the future of Europe.” Many pages later, he says, “The tragic decision of entering the war (I, who was absolutely against it, must say that) has a moving reason: That of having thought to give the Italian people at last the hoped-for prosperity, and to safeguard the people against revenge in case of a German victory.”

It is impossible to assess whether what Lessona wrote was due to what he knew from a first- or second-hand source; and, if the latter, we do not know which source it was; nor we can determine whether (in case it was only his personal opinion) it was grounded in political reality, or was simply an attempt to justify Mussolini. Regardless, when added to other evidence. Lessona’s witness is validated, whose reliability is indirectly confirmed by all the others I have already quoted. Thus, it is an additional brick in our construction,

In order to avoid the war with Germany, the only thing Mussolini could have done was to join Germany, thus calming the Germans and depriving them of the possibility of complaining and protesting for the lack of any Italian commitment. Thereafter, he would fight a parallel war – as it was called – by continually avoiding German involvement with Italy, and to gain whatever was possible. But most of all to wait, and keep Italian forces as much intact as possible, in order to resist German encroachment, and, if possible, meet the clash with Germany which one could predict was not so far off in the future. Italy did not want such a clash and had done what it could to avoid the war. But now neutrality was no longer possible. It was either war alongside the Germans, or war against the Germans. But absolutely, war. Thus, on June 10th. Mussolini made the announcement to the world.

We know that Mussolini imagined that peace talks would begin shortly; with only a few weeks of war and a few casualties. The few casualties, however, had their own political and military impact. Moreover, as said and as an appalled Marshal Enrico Caviglia remarked in his journal, Italy had practically no money, as the competent minister admitted in front of the Chamber of the Fasci and Corporations – the new name of the Chamber of Deputies.

The situation remained critical and Mussolini decided to safeguard Italian military power in case of a German-Italian clash in the post-war era. In the best-case scenario, the current war would weaken Germany so much that Hitler would prefer not to attack Italy. In the worst-case scenario, Italy would at least have the power to resist. Conversely, the Germans looked with suspicion and derision at Italy. Marshal Caviglia wrote that under these circumstances, Italy undertook a very strange strategy – to declare war on France and Britain but only move forces when the end of the war was near. This way, Mussolini could demonstrate that his troops were fighting and it would be sufficient to claim territory as compensation for participation.

Additional proof of this approach by Mussolini may be given by the armistice with France. As is well known, the Italian offensive on the Western Alps was a failure; and it is also well known that no attempt was made against Corsica, Provence, or the French colonies, such as, Tunisia and French Somaliland. It is true that a landing in Provence would have been difficult, given the French stronghold of Toulon. But one must also remember that if Italy did nothing against France, France had a lot against Italy, despite the brief shelling of Genoa and some other irrelevant shelling along the Ligurian coast.

What happened after ceasefire ceased well known too. Italy was on the winning side but asked for only 83.271 hectares, that is to say 832 square kilometers and three quarters. It was definitely not much, especially when discovering that during the Italo-German meeting held on June 18, 1940 in Munich, Hitler recognized the right of the Italians’ demand to occupy continental France up to the Rhône, as well as Corsica, Tunisia and Djibouti. But this was not enough for Hitler: He also advised Italy to widen the occupation to a belt along the Swiss border, to link the German occupation zone to the Italian one, thus isolating non-occupied France. Hitler hoped to extend the Italian occupied zone right up to the Saône, including any good railway line which the Italians were free to take. General Mario Roatta, the former commander of Italian volunteers in Spain, who spoke excellent German, on June 20th chose the line linking Chambéry, Dijon, and Bourg-en-Bresse and submitted his project to Hitler in person, who then also approved the project of giving Italy another similar railway into Spain, such as, the Avignon-Nîmes-Perpignan line, consequently widening the Italian occupation of Southern France.

But Mussolini refused. In fact, Roatta and the Italian mission had achieved a great result, far more than what one could expect after what was done on the Alps. So, why did Mussolini not accept it? And, above all, why did he not accept, when considering that on June 23 German military attaché Enno von Rintelen gave Roatta a personal telegram from Hitler, in which Hitler asked Italian troops be sent to a zone twenty kilometers from Geneva, in order to join the German forces, and when considering that the Wiesbaden Italo-German agreements of June 29, 1940 left to Italy a portion of French territory up to the Rhône?

This seems to be quite different from what is normally known after the surviving draft of the minutes written by P. Schmidt. But while German documents were mainly destroyed during the war, practically all the Italian documents survived. So, both the Italian official accounts published by the Italian Army Staff’s Historical Service were written after a careful and long consideration of the original documents, still conserved in the Army Archive in Rome. Further details could come from General Roatta’s private archive, which is still the property of the Roatta family, and remains inaccessible. The only point the Italian documents have in common with Schmidt’s draft is that Hitler asked Mussolini not to ask the French for their fleet, explaining that he feared this could push the French to give the British all their ships.

The reason is given by the official Italian account about the occupation of France, where is highlighted an aspect previously remarked upon in other official accounts about the Western Alps campaign. When Mussolini asked Roatta how many divisions were needed to garrison occupied France, Roatta answered that, before the foreseen disarmament of the French Army, Italy must keep there at least fifteen divisions, which later could be reduced to ten, but never less than ten. Mussolini replied that he could demand from France nothing more than what had been already been taken. that is to say, nothing or a just little more. This has always been seen as a bad conscience and the acknowledgment of the poor performance by Italian troops on the Alps. But, as both the official accounts underline, in June 1940, the Italian army had in Italy only fifty-three divisions; and sending fifteen divisions would seriously deplete the army. That is, or at least could be, a concrete reason to explain why Mussolini refused. And it a far more concrete reason than either conscience or shame.

Hitler would use a widened Italian occupation as a way to reduce the number of German troops garrisoning in France. But Mussolini probably looked at it as a problem. Having a huge number of troops far from their supply points, close to the Germans and separated from Italy by the Alps meant too many troops, too far away – thus, too much risk, too many problems. Thus, best to do nothing at all. Both official accounts suggest that Mussolini acted this way because he was thinking of further conquests and needed troops. My opinion is that this was added demonstration of what was probably Mussolini’s fear – he considered the Germans more a risk and potential enemy than as an ally, and thus he preferred to keep in hand as many troops as possible. The discussion – if any – is open.

Ciro Paoletti, a prominent Italian historian of military history, is the Secretary General of the Italian Commission of Military History. He is the author of 25 books, and more than 400 other smaller works\, published in Italy and abroad, and mostly dealing with modern and contemporary Italian military history and policy.

The image shows An Italian of Mussolini, an aerial portrait by Mario Carli, painted 1931.