by Alex Fontana
"Had I a dozen sons — each in my love alike, and none less dear than thine and my good Marcius — I had rather had eleven die nobly for their country, than one voluptuously surfeit out of action." Coriolanus
A few days ago, on April 25th, Italy celebrated a national holiday, La Liberazione d'Italia. This anniversary marks the end of fascism and the Second World War and the liberation from Nazi occupation. Many Italians of the Left rejoice, while many on the Right see it as a “communist holiday.”
The date was chosen by convention, as it was the day when the National Liberation Committee of Upper Italy (CLNAI) officially proclaimed the insurgency in a radio announcement, announcing the seizure of power by the CLNAI and the death sentence for all fascist leaders (including Benito Mussolini, who was shot three days later).
Two major issues arise when dealing with this “holiday.” The first is the Orwellian use of language, such as “liberation,” which obscures historical nuance and is partisan by nature. One cannot think of “liberation” in Italy, the same way one could think of the liberation of France, in so far as Italy was not “liberated” it was defeated. To celebrate this as an Italian is to be a masochist, a traitor, a defeatist, or all three. You might be able to celebrate it as a liberal, humanist, or capitalist, but definitely not as an Italian.
Italian fascism and Italian fascists were the first to proclaim that fascism was a uniquely Italian experience and expression bound up in the historical nuance of the country; that it could be imitated but not duplicated, copied but not exported. The project of fascism in Italy was a much needed re-affirmation of national identity, following the Risorgimento ("The Resurgence," the unification of Italy in the 19th century).
|Uniting the past and the future.|
There was a need to create an identity as Italians, and to connect this sense of affirmation, pride and unity in both forward-looking and backward-looking ways.
The Futurist art movement, the fascist project of renewal of the will, and the political policy of colonialism looked to the future. But Italy’s rich and proud history – represented artistically in Novecento Italiano and its neo-classical aesthetic and politically in the policy of irredentism and the accommodation reached with the Vatican – were also embraced.
But back to comparisons between French liberation and Italian: Italy was an Axis power, while France, even with its Vichy puppet government, was at best neutral. France was formally a Republic with a long history of liberal thought until Petain dissolved it, while Italy was only briefly democratic and then only provisionally and ineffectually so.
In effect, we are discussing the overwhelmingly bourgeois liberal decadence of France, which admittedly had some pockets of traditionalism, such as those expressed in writer Jean Giono’s “retour a la terre” (back to the land) aesthetic, which was endorsed by the Vichy government. But in France, this was the exception. Compared to this Italy was a much more overtly peasant society, characterized by political serfdom and hierarchical traditions, in which the liberal, democratic, and cosmopolitan pockets were the exception. This was the foundation of the European phenomenon of Fascism.
|Death from above.|
One cannot discuss the “liberation” of Italy without whitewashing these fundamental historical differences between disparate nations. Italians overwhelming welcomed fascism and deified Il Duce. Although flawed and ultimately tragic, Mussolini was a great national hero and more importantly an expression of the country’s essence. For this reason he should be revered and have a holiday in his name.
The second major problem with this national holiday is the conflation of the end of fascism with the end of the Second World War and the general liberation from Nazi occupation.
The language, while being biased and historically inaccurate, is also simplistic and propagandistic, creating a false chain of causality that exonerates the Allies of their fundamental enmity towards Italy. This chain, with quite a few links missing, goes like this:
Fascism→ War→ Liberation.A more objective and accurate, but still reductionist, chain of causality would look like this:
Fascism→ Nationalist Renewal→ Anglo-American/German War→ Allied destruction of Italy→ defeat→ democratic-puppet government.
Whitewashed from the historical record are, of course, Anglo-American war crimes committed against Italy. As Allied threats at the time made clear:
“And what has happened so far is nothing compared to what Hitler and Mussolini will trigger in your country. When we say to you that Italy has become a no man’s land, we say it in earnest. Your country will be exposed to bombardment, constant attack, and the worst disintegration. The number of houses in flames will be enormous; the dead will pile up in the cities and the country.”
Of course, the myth is rigorously maintained that Allied barbarism only acted against demonic forces, rather than being demonic itself. Amongst the Allied war crimes omitted from the historical narrative, is the completely amoral civilian bombing of Italian cities. The strategy of “morale bombing” employed by the RAF against Italy and Germany, (Dresden, Hamburg), had more of an effect on Italian capitulation than on the steadfast Germans.
There are a number of reasons for Italian “flip-flopping” during the war, not least because it was never really their war in the same way that it was for the Germans, who faced much greater animosity and demands for “unconditional surrender.” The Allies gave the Italians an option. Their propaganda assured them:
"Remember that the only reason for the bombing attacks on Italian cities is your alliance with Germany."
|Allies Dindu Nuffin.|
Amongst the most egregious Allied war crimes swept under the rug by this liberation holiday, is the morale bombing which indiscriminately and purposefully attacked civilian targets for the purpose of turning the general population against Italian involvement in the war. This was because of a general theoretical and practical shift towards a “total war” model of warfare, in which the civilian population was complicit in the effort and was to be engaged as an enemy.
In the case of Italy, this resulted in the Gorla Massacre, as well as the bombing of Foggia, Frascati, and Naples, amongst others. Further crimes include the mass rape at Monte Cassino, in which the Allies allowed French Algerian, Tunisian, and Senegalese troops, attached to the French Expeditionary Corps, to rape and slaughter an entire town. We must also not forget the green light they gave to Tito’s partisans to massacre ethnic Italians and Germans in Yugoslavia, nor how the Anglo-Americans replaced the government of Mussolini in the South with mafia crime bosses, leaving them in charge after the invasion so that they still lord it over their regions like African warlords today, retarding the development of these regions through corruption.
April 25th is not a day that Italians should celebrate liberation, it is a day they should say they will never forget the crimes committed against them and they will always remember the great dream of true national liberation, the great dream of fascism, which was taken from them. Viva Italia!