Military history


Free Spirits

‘There’s no such thing as a Latin. That is

“Latin” thinking. You are so proud of your

defects.’ Rinaldi looked up and laughed

    HEMINGWAY, A Farewell to Arms (1929)

D’Annunzio and Mussolini: Demagogues for War

Salandra and Sonnino had no more charisma than the King. Incapable of stirring the crowds themselves, and still needing (as members of a minority government) to keep the extreme warmongers at arm’s length, they wanted to turn their conspiracy into a mass movement. Even with the support of the press, the agitators and intellectuals could not reach a broad enough public. Eventually this vital task was contracted to Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Between the death of Verdi in 1901 and Mussolini’s march on Rome in 1922, D’Annunzio became the most famous Italian in the world. Born in 1863, he started publishing verse in his teens. By his thirties, he was the country’s best-known poet, most acclaimed novelist and glittering dramatist. He had a matchless ear for the mellifluous, incantatory qualities of the language. Artistically bold and highly intelligent, he owned all the talents for a brilliant career. An exuberant, insatiably acquisitive personality, he lived in fine villas and had countless love affairs. Magnetised by his reputation, society ladies reserved rooms in hotels where he stayed, hoping to catch his eye. He was a committed dandy; his collars were the stiffest, his creases the sharpest, his buttonhole carnations the whitest. His greyhounds wore livery tailored by Hermès. His correspondence with his jeweller has been published as a separate volume. Even his debts were legendary.

His status was always controversial. Accusations of plagiarism were hard to shake off. In Rome, the Catholic Church placed his works – rife with decadent sensuality – on the Index of Prohibited Books. In Dublin, the student James Joyce claimed that D’Annunzio had broken new ground in fiction. (He would later call him one of the three greatest natural talents among nineteenth-century writers.) In London – where at least one of his plays was banned – Henry James reviewed his novels. In Paris, the young Marcel Proust hailed him as a great writer. His steadiest biographer, John Woodhouse, catches the glitter of his celebrity before the flight to France in 1910: ‘For almost thirty years not a week had passed without D’Annunzio’s name appearing in the newspapers, and for almost as long his name had been held before the public thanks to the undeniable fact that his works had been on display in the windows of every bookseller in Italy.’ In short, he acquired fame, salted with notoriety, on the scale that Byron and Liszt had enjoyed: glamour of the kind now reserved to film stars, rock musicians or footballers.

If this glamour is now hard to convey, it is partly because his work has become almost unreadable. Love lyrics, idylls on classical themes, patriotic dramas, and trashily plotted novels about supermen figures who are transparently the author himself: D’Annunzio’s output was formally varied, but the variety is skin-deep. Mummified at its centre lies an effigy of the poet himself. The hosts of characters in his collected works are, with few exceptions, shadows or silhouettes, denied individuation by the monotonous gaudiness of his language, styled to hypnotise and overmaster a reader. The historical themes and political ideas that he discusses are ciphers of himself, pretexts for rapture. Meanwhile the waves of swooning rhetoric roll on, rising to crescendos of alliteration before subsiding in cycles as incessant and oceanic as the poet’s self- regard. It was an ideal style to promote a policy of ‘sacred egoism’.

D’Annunzio was a spectacular case of arrested emotional development, arguably a natural fascist. The otherness of other people – a puzzle that haunts modern thought and art – could not fascinate him because other people existed as objects of appetite or will, research opportunities in a quest to investigate the effects of denying himself nothing. The lovers he venerated came to repel him when sex led to expectations that limited his freedom. The actress Eleonora Duse, herself an international celebrity, was lavish with inspiration and money for nine years. Among the surviving shreds of their correspondence is an exchange from summer 1904, when the relationship foundered. Reproached by Duse, who was driven to despair by his infidelities and excuses, D’Annunzio found nothing to regret: ‘The imperious needs of a violent, carnal life, of pleasure, of physical risk, of happiness, have kept me from you. And you… can you cry shame on me for these needs of mine?’

Duse’s reply still carries a charge:

Do not speak to me of the imperious ‘reason’ of your ‘carnal’ life, of your thirst for ‘joyous existence’. I am tired of hearing those words. I have heard you repeat them for years now: I can neither entirely go along with your philosophy nor entirely understand it. What love can you find which is worthy or profound if it lives only for pleasure?

Her question would have made no sense to D’Annunzio, who found a philosophical alibi for egotism in a selective reading of Friedrich Nietzsche. He had no use for Nietzsche the prophet of radical uncertainty, unstitching the assumptions of Western philosophy, the mocker of ‘profundity’, the ironic psychologist, the teasing critic of repression by grammar. For D’Annunzio, as for the German and Italian fascists after him, Nietzsche was the champion of life as endless expression, the revaluer of good and evil, scorning normal experience, unmasking Christian ‘slave morality’, and the discoverer of the Will to Power as the wellspring of human motivation.

Above all, he was the author of the concept of the Superman. D’Annunzio’s first book to show the impact of Nietzsche’s ideas was The Triumph of Death (1894). The novel’s hero, Giorgio, is haunted by his search for someone who can be ‘the strong and tyrannical master, free of the yoke of every false morality, secure in the feeling of his own power … determined to lift himself above Good and Evil through the sheer energy of his will, capable even of forcing life to keep its promises.’ The Virgins of the Rocks followed in 1895, replete with Nietzschean insights:

The world is the representation of the sensibility and the thought of a few superior men, who have created and adorned it in the course of time and will go on adding to it and adorning it further in future. The world as it appears today is a magnificent gift bestowed by the few upon the many, by free men upon slaves: by those who think and feel upon those who must labour.

D’Annunzio detested socialism. For him the emancipation of the masses was an absurdity, if not a crime.

While the dust settled long ago on the incestuous and sadomasochistic traces in his work, his career in the First World War has gained a power to appal. The whiff of sulphur around his name has transferred from his sex life and steamy novels to his politico-military career. For he emerged in 1915 as the figurehead of the intervention campaign, and went on to become the country’s most publicised and decorated soldier. Daring exploits with aeroplanes and torpedo boats lifted his popularity to new heights; he became a full-blown national hero. The sordid aspects of his past – adulteries, illegitimate children, trails of creditors – were obscured by the blaze of glory conferred by the press, the military and politicians.

D’Annunzio’s embrace of war in 1915 was predestined. An outspoken patriot all his life, he attacked Austria as an oppressor of subject peoples, but his real commitment was to Italy’s imperial mission in the Adriatic basin and beyond. He loved the idea that Italy should control the entire Dalmatian coast. He complained that Austria was crushing Italy’s ‘left lung’ – its north-eastern territories. Economic or demographic arguments against these maximalist claims could not touch him; for his position rested on faith in ‘Latin genius’ and the superiority of ‘Latin’ civilisation.

As Italy was duty-bound to assert itself as a great power, it had to build up its armed forces. In his journalism, D’Annunzio had called since the late 1880s for Italy to develop its navy (‘Italy will be a great naval power or it will be nothing’). Favouring war on principle, he was thrilled by the Libyan campaign of 1911, and wrote a series of commemorative poems for Corriere della Sera, swiping at Austria as well as Turkey. One poem, ‘The Song of the Dardanelles’, was censored by the government, on the grounds that its attack on Austria was dangerous to Italy’s strategic interests. (In a typical flourish, he likened the double-headed imperial eagle to ‘the head of a vulture which vomits the undigested flesh of its victims’.) D’Annunzio did not forgive Prime Minister Giolitti for this affront.

By this point, Corriere was his preferred outlet in Italy. Its editor, Luigi Albertini, became a confidant. He paid off some of his debts, and warned that his creditors would take every penny if he returned. During 1913 and 1914, D’Annunzio wrote desultory pieces for Corriere, trying to fend off his French creditors. He had tired of his current principal mistress, a Russian countess. In short, he was hankering for change when Germany attacked France, a clash that he saw as ‘almost divine’ in scope, a ‘struggle of races, an opposition of irreconcilable powers, a trial of blood’. He wrote to Albertini at the end of August that ‘destiny’ appeared to be shaping events ‘like a sublime tragic poet’. He refused to leave Paris, instead laying in a stock of tinned food, filing articles to Corriere and seeking official permission to visit the front. He hailed the successful French resistance on the Marne as a miracle.

Italy’s rightful place, in his view, was with the Allies. He told friends that he would end his ‘exile’ when Italy declared war, but his confidence in this longed-for outcome wavered. Then, out of the blue, in March 1915, a letter held out an opportunity to return in proper style, giving the countess and his creditors the slip. He was invited to speak at the unveiling of a monument to Garibaldi and his volunteers, on 5 May, at the spot near Genoa where the heroes had set sail to conquer Sicily in 1860. The King and his ministers were to be present. At the same time he was contacted by Peppino Garibaldi, grandson of the great man. Peppino had led a brigade of Italian volunteers fighting with the French. After heavy losses, the brigade was dis banded on 5 March. D’Annunzio was contacted by French govern ment figures to assist with a propaganda project: the surviving volunteers would be re-equipped, given new red (Garibaldian) shirts, and sent back to Italy to shout for intervention.

Providence was taking a hand. He would lead the volunteers home and be flanked by them when he made a glorious speech at Genoa, reclaiming the place in national life that was his due. He recorded his excitement in a notebook: ‘To arrive not as an ordinary speaker but as the leader of Youth, mediator between two generations!’ Everything ordinary carried a pejorative reek, while youth was a token of every thing vital and masterful. He arranged for Corriere to publish the oration on the day of its delivery. The text was also sent to the Prime Minister. Under pressure from the Vatican and the German embassy, which was still hoping the Italians could be bought off, Salandra and his ministers kept a prudent distance from D’Annunzio’s calls for the ‘enslaved lands’ of Trieste, Istria, the Adriatic and Trento to be liberated. Excuses were found for the King to break his engagement.

On 3 May, D’Annunzio boarded a train in Paris. Although Albertini subsidised the trip, he raised more funds by pawning emeralds that Duse had given him. His Italian biographers still see his arrival in Italy in the poet’s own grandiose terms: cometh the hour, cometh the man.1 At the time, however, D’Annunzio expected to return to France after a round of banquets in Genoa. The trip was to be an excursion, not the start of a new life. Unsure of his reception, he hoped for one outcome but was equally prepared – with the resilience that was one of his less obvious qualities – for disappointment. Warming up for the following day, he spoke to the crowd that welcomed him in Genoa. ‘Is it a gift of life that I bring,’ he asked, ‘that you should surge to meet me?’ Without spelling it out, this gift was himself, come to assure his compatriots that ‘doubt cannot touch us. We shall not let Italy be dishonoured; we shall not let the fatherland perish.’ He tells the crowd that they want ‘a greater Italy, not by acquisition but by conquest, not measured in shame but as the price of blood and glory’.

His speech the next morning was relentlessly purple. Churchill at his most orotund was prosy beside D’Annunzio in full flight. Citing the ‘holy bronze’ of the monument as warrant for claiming Garibaldi’s approval, he invoked the spirit of self-sacrifice, rising to a pastiche of the Sermon on the Mount, shot through with his hallmark prurience.

O blessed are they that have, for they have more to give, they can burn more brightly. Blessed are the twenty-year-olds, pure of mind, well-tempered in body, with courageous mothers. Blessed are they who, waiting with confidence, do not dissipate their strength but guard it in the discipline of the warrior. Blessed are they who disdain sterile love-affairs to be virgins for this first and last love. Blessed are the young who hunger and thirst for glory, for they shall be sated. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall have splendid blood to wipe away, radiant pain to bind up.

People caught the gist: now is the time for all of you to find the courage to die for your country. Croce called the speech a piece of buffoonery. Others agreed it was vulgar and grotesque. The big false intimate words that had embittered Duse’s heart had yielded to big false political words. More speeches followed ‘in a species of lyric frenzy’, keeping up the pressure. That evening, toasting ‘the martyred cities’ on the other side of the Adriatic, the poet told his audience – students for the most part – that they were pilgrims of love, messengers of faith, the intrepid arsonists of the great fatherland, the impetuous sparks of a holy blaze!

After dallying with admirers in his hotel, D’Annunzio travelled on to Rome, where his first speech – from his hotel balcony – invoked the spirit of Garibaldi ‘the Liberator’ against ‘the odour of treachery that has begun to stifle us’. He contrasted Italy’s present shame with the glories of the Risorgimento:

No, we are not, we do not want to be a museum, an inn, a holiday destination, a horizon touched up with Prussian blue for international honeymoons, a delightful marketplace for buying and selling, for swindling and bartering. Our Genius calls us to put our stamp on the confused material of the new world.

The roar of acclaim drowned the rest of his words.

His speech the next day to another tumultuous crowd was more sharply focused:

If it is a crime to incite the citizens to violence, then I boast of committing that crime. Today the treachery is blatant. We don’t only breathe in its horrid stench, we feel all its appalling weight. And the treachery is being committed in Rome, city of the soul, city of life.

He called on the people to form patrols, a ‘vigilant militia’, and hunt down the traitors, above all Giolitti. Mixing mystical nationalism with appeals for vigilante violence against liberal opponents, this speech begs fair to be counted as the first fascist oration.

The irony hanging over these blasts against the government’s cunning and incompetence is that this government – in which Giolitti played no part – had committed Italy to join the Entente by signing the Treaty of London on 26 April. When Salandra’s cabinet resigned, D’Annunzio seemed to believe he had brought down a neutralist cabal singlehandedly. Next morning, a member of the cabinet took him aside and told him about the Treaty of London, and that the government had already disowned the Triple Alliance.

D’Annunzio, rarely nonplussed, adjusted at once. That evening (14 May) he told an audience in a theatre about the nullification of the Triple Alliance, assuring them he had known all about it before leaving France. He then resumed his attacks on Giolitti and neutralism. Giolitti, ‘the chief evil-doer, whose soul is nothing but a frozen lie’, was betraying the King and the fatherland. D’Annunzio was not the first to accuse the neutralists of being nemici interni, ‘internal enemies’, but nobody else gave the accusation such prestige.

In the run-up to parliament’s crucial vote on intervention, D’Annunzio intensified his attacks, denouncing the treacherous politicians who had spent months parleying with the enemy, ‘clowns camouflaged in the flag’. Who has saved Italy in these dark days if not the genuine people, the profound people? ‘Long live our war! Long live Rome! Long live Italy! Long live the Army! Long live the Navy! Long live the King! Glory and victory!’ He wrote in his diary that the rabble had been ‘sublimated’ by its delirium at his words.

On 19 May, he was gratified by an audience with the King. On the evening of the 20th, after parliament voted for war, he spoke triumphantly to the swelling crowds:

The honour of the Fatherland is saved … We do not fear our destiny but move to meet it, singing … In each of us burns the youthful spirit of the two twin Horsemen who guard the Quirinale.2 They will descend tonight and water their horses in the Tiber, beneath the Aventine Hill, before riding towards the Isonzo that we shall turn red with barbarian blood.

If that sounded ominous, it was mild beside remarks he made at dawn on the 25th, after celebrating the first day of war:

Our vigil is ended. Our exultation begins … The border has been crossed. The cannon roars. The earth smokes. The Adriatic is as grey at this hour as the torpedo boat that cuts across it.

Companions, can it be true? We are fighting with arms, we are waging our war, the blood is spurting from the veins of Italy! We are the last to join this struggle and already the first are meeting with glory … The slaughter begins, the destruction begins. One of our people has died at sea, another on land. All these people, who yesterday thronged in the streets and squares, loudly demanding war, are full of veins, full of blood; and that blood begins to flow … We have no other value but that of our blood to be shed.

The author of these psychotic remarks was a national hero. Has any artist played a more baleful part in decisions that led to violence and suffering on the largest scale? Yet, however clinical his obsessions now appear, there is a sense in which he truly was – as he claimed – a mouthpiece of the ‘national will’, defined as the preference of a minority with the power to shape policy. Some of the artists in the Futurist movement anticipated the mass slaughter with equal relish, as we shall see, but none of them had D’Annunzio’s rhetorical skill or the megaphone of his international fame. Other interventionists could be withering about D’Annunzio as an artist and personality, yet they were all working to bring about his vision of smoking blood. The decadent fantasist was more perceptive about the coming war than those who took pride in their lucid realism.

At the end of May, Cadorna promised D’Annunzio a commission in the Novara Lancers. Assigned to Third Army headquarters near the Isonzo front, he was authorised to visit any corps and ‘witness any action’. As well as his officer’s salary, he cajoled a retainer from Albertini. He became a freelance warrior-reporter, quartered privately in Venice, dipping in and out of battle as he chose, dosing himself with enough danger to pique his appetite, and writing up his adventures and exhortations, as well as penning inspirational odes. Styling himself ‘a poet of slaughter’, he became the nation’s foremost propaganda asset. War was his extreme sport, or extreme therapy. Sometimes the stunts came off; often they led to the death of his associates; and at least once, as we shall see, they led to a fiasco that cost many Italian lives.

 Among the crowd in Genoa on 5 May 1915 was a lantern-jawed journalist. The fact that his report did not even mention D’Annunzio or his speech is not as odd as it seems, for Benito Mussolini still insisted he was a socialist. Beyond ideology, the omission may also have been intuitive, hinting at the rivalry that would develop after the war, when D’Annunzio was mooted in proto-fascist circles as a contender for national leadership, and before Mussolini rewarded him lavishly to stay out of politics. (‘Two things can be done with a bad tooth,’ he quipped. ‘Pull it out or fill it with gold.’) Mussolini, too, had venerated Nietzsche, whose glorious ideals would only be understood by ‘a new species of free spirits’ who would be ‘fortified in war’. Mussolini wrote that in 1908; in 1915, he was not ready to apply these concepts to the inter ventionist debate, and he balked at D’Annunzio’s erotics of racial bloodletting.

In summer 1914, Mussolini was the Socialist Party’s rising star, a journalist and agitator on the extreme left of the party, committed to revolution. He was passionately militant, anti-bourgeois, brave though not reckless, and highly ambitious. When Italy attacked Libya in September 1911, he called on workers to block troop transports by blowing up the railway lines. Sentenced for inciting violence, he used his four months in jail to write racy memoirs that nurtured the image of a wild, uncalculating revolutionary. When Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece attacked Turkey in October 1912, in what became known as the First Balkan War, Mussolini ardently supported the threat by the Socialist parties of the Second International to start a general strike if a European war broke out. Taking over the party newspaper Avanti! in December 1912, he almost doubled the circulation within a year. Party membership boomed.

He was disillusioned by the party’s prudence during ‘red week’ in June 1914. Publicly, he respected the party’s refusal to support an unlimited general strike; privately, he shared the anarchists’ frustration. He was likewise respectful of the Socialists’ anti-war position. On 26 July, he thundered that Italian workers should give ‘not a man, not a penny’ to the cause of war, nor spill ‘one drop of blood’ for a cause that had ‘nothing to do with it’. If the government failed to declare neutrality, the proletariat would force it to do so.

When the executive committee of the Socialist International met in Brussels on 29 July, the Austrian Social Democrats refused to support a general strike. The workers in Vienna were clamouring for revenge on Serbia, they said, and it was better to be wrong with the working class than right against it. Other parties, too, refused to condemn their own governments. The German Social Democrats held out longest against the war, but in early August they buckled under the pressure. Only the Italian party stuck to an anti-war position. Holding firm, in mid- September 1914 Mussolini lamented (admittedly to a female comrade whom he hoped to get into bed) that his Socialist comrades were switching sides, becoming ‘apologists for war! It is a contagion that spares no one. But I mean to hold the rampart until the end.’ He drafted a manifesto on the ‘profound antithesis’ between war and socialism. For war ‘amounted to the annihilation of individual autonomy and the sacrifice of freedom of thought to the State and militarism’.

He abandoned the rampart in October. When the party reaffirmed its commitment to neutrality, and denounced the betrayals of socialism in Germany and elsewhere, only Mussolini voted against the resolution. In mid-November he resigned the editorship of Avanti! and launched a new newspaper with French and Belgian money. Il Popolo d’Italia (‘The People of Italy’) called for intervention on the Allied side. The other party leaders denounced his treachery, and he was expelled on 24 November.

This switch did not come out of the blue. There was a wobble in his neutralism from the outset, for he always divided the warring countries into aggressors and defenders. This proved to be the thin end of a wedge: by mid-October, he was close to arguing for pre-emptive action against ‘possible future reprisals’. As the historian Paul O’Brien argues, Mussolini was latently pro-intervention and – like the government – waited for the outcome of the Battle of the Marne before declaring himself for war. With Germany bogged down in France, the odds had shifted far enough in the Allies’ favour for intervention to look sensible.

In the end, Mussolini’s about-face was ordained by character. When the balance of energy and likely success favoured intervention – with its inspiring vistas of limitless political tumult – his switch of allegiance was only a matter of time. A former comrade in the Socialist Party later alleged, rightly, that the only cause Mussolini ever recognised ‘was his own’, and his

only use for ideas was to enable him to dispense with ideas … The whole object of his intellectual researches was to collect everything which detracted, or appeared to detract from the reality or binding nature of principles … Only action counted, and on the plane of action betrayal did not exist, only victory or defeat.

At first, he claimed to be rescuing Socialism from the ‘docile herd’ in the party. Defining his position as national but not nationalist, he denounced Salandra’s appeal to ‘sacred egoism’ and continued to invoke anti-imperialism as the basis for intervention. Even for a man with Mussolini’s power of self-conviction, anti-Socialist socialism was an uncomfortable stretch. This is why Filippo Corridoni was so important to him. For Corridoni was a trades union leader who wanted Italy to intervene because war would create the best conditions for socialist revolution. The July Crisis found him in prison for fomenting a general strike. Released in August 1914, he threw himself into the pro-war campaign. Italian workers should support the ‘revolutionary war’. Only neutered men wanted neutrality, Corridoni cried, for we who oppose the bourgeoisie, the dynasties and the capitalists of all countries – we are ready for battle! When this effort failed, he and others founded the breakaway Italian Union of Labour and borrowed anti-imperialist language to try to stir the masses.

‘This is not a dynastic war’, he bellowed at the thousands who packed into the cathedral square in Florence on 10 May,

… it is not a war to save a ruling house, it is a war of liberty and revolution, a war of the people. And the Italian people, once the old men in Rome have stopped delaying and called it to arms, shall not sheathe its sword before the Austrians have been hunted all the way across the Alps.

He took care to add that this was not a war of hatred against the German and Austrian people. After the war, the masses would have to rejoin the class struggle. For the time being, this struggle was best served in uniform. In fact, politics as such should be suspended. ‘For now, there is only one party: Italy. Only one programme: action. Because Italy’s salvation means the salvation of every party.’

Mussolini warmed to this millenarian rhetoric. He trailed Corridoni on his later appearances around the country, sometimes joining him on the platform. He was slower to emulate him when war came: Corridoni volunteered at once, whereas Mussolini waited to be called up. In 1933, Mussolini’s regime built a monument on the Carso where Corridoni died in October 1915. If the Duce never stopped exaggerating the other man’s significance – turning him into a Fascist martyr – it was because he had shown him how to argue that not he but the Socialist Party had betrayed its ideals.

Italy’s part in the Great War obsessed Mussolini for the rest of his life. After 1922, he used his dictatorial power to mould and polish a mythical version of events, with intervention marking Italy’s birth as a dynamic, self-confident state. Maintaining this version involved much censorship and distortion, yet the Duce was not incapable of uttering blunt truths about the war.

At five o’clock one Saturday afternoon in July 1943, the Fascist Grand Council convened in Rome. Italy had reached a turning point: Allied forces were overrunning Sicily; an attack on the mainland could not be long in coming; and Hitler refused to send more troops. The previous weekend, Allied bombers had struck Rome for the first time. High-level dissatisfaction with Mussolini was growing, and Italy’s dithering king – still Victor Emanuel III – was for once not inclined to stand by him: he foresaw his dynasty being dragged into oblivion along with the regime. Mussolini had ignored rumours that a momentous challenge was brewing, so was taken aback when the meeting passed directly to a proposal that the King should replace him as commander-in- chief and prime minister. When someone blamed him for the unpopularity of the war, he saw an opening. ‘The people’s heart is never in any war,’ he protested. ‘Was the people’s heart in the 1915–1918 war, by any chance? Not in the least. The people were dragged into that war by a minority … Three men launched the movement – Corridoni, D’Annunzio and myself.’ Far from being bound in sacred unity, Italy in 1915 was divided ‘in an atmosphere of civil war’. Not even the defeat at Caporetto in 1917 had healed this rift. ‘Was the people’s heart in a war that produced 535,000 deserters?’ he asked.3 ‘It is a law of history that when there are two contrary currents of opinion in a nation, one wanting war and the other peace, the latter party is invariably defeated even when, as always happens, it represents the numerical majority.’

He could have added a second law of history: in Italy, the pro-war minority takes no serious interest in the military calculus (tasks-to-resources) that determines actual performance on the battlefield. It was a law that General Cadorna learned the hard way in 1915.

Source Notes

THREE Free Spirits

1For almost thirty years’: Woodhouse, 240.

2 an exchange from summer 1904: Woodhouse, 218, 219.

3 he was thrilled by the Libyan campaign: Woodhouse, 263, 264.

4in a species of lyric frenzy’: According to Thomas Page, the US ambassador to Italy.

5 did not even mention D’Annunzio or his speech: O’Brien [2004], 57.

6a new species offree spirits”’: O’Brien [2004], 57.

7 He drafted a manifesto on theprofound antithesis’: O’Brien [2004], 32

8 Mussolini was latently pro-intervention: O’Brien [2004], 34.

9 A former comrade in the Socialist Party later alleged: Rossi.

10 Mussolini waited to be called up: O’Brien [2004], 68.

11The people’s heart is never in any war’: Mussolini, 59–60, 110, 111.

1 Here is a wartime propagandist’s hilarious account: ‘Almost in voluntary exile, and rapt in his sublime visions, he seemed to have forgotten his beautiful fatherland. But no, as soon as the first signs of the new dawn appeared in the skies of the fatherland, he arose proudly and his heart inflamed his mind with a shudder of love, and he ran to the breast of the great Mother.’ Did the author, Stefania Türr, pen this passage before, after, or even while being pleasured by the Bard?

2 Colossal statues of mythical twins Castor and Pollux, on horseback, in the piazza in front of the Quirinale palace, then the residence of the royal family, now the seat of the President of the Republic. 

3 During the war, 162,563 soldiers were court-martialled for desertion and 101,685 were found guilty. Either Mussolini made up the figure of 535,000 on the spot, or he referred to the propaganda myth – discussed in a later chapter – that most of the 600,000 Italian prisoners of war, taken by the Austrians and Germans, were ‘deserters’. 

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