Archive for November 8, 2008


I have been reading The White War:Life and Death on the Italian front 1915-1919 by Mark Thompson. 

It is a long book and I am about two thirds of the way through this fascinating history of an almost forgotten conflict between Italy and her former allies in the Triple Alliance, Austria Hungary and Germany. The Western Front and the horrendous losses there dominated the Great War, therefore we are inclined to forget what happened in Italy and the terrible consequences of that conflict. 

Italy’s enormous losses in men, the social upheaval and disruption following the war combined with dissatisfaction with the peace settlement among nationalists lead to the collapse of democratic government and the rise of fascism. [A very simplistic explanation]
That part of the world has an interesting history and among the  victor’s spoils Italy wanted the port of Fiume on the Adriatic. 

Fiume was given separate statehood under the League of Nations and Gabriele D’Annunzio, an ultra nationalist poet, and a band of war veterans seized it and set up the ‘Italian Regency of the Quarnero’. He was chased away and eventually Fiume was annexed by Mussolini’s regime, the world’s first fascist dictatorship, in 1924. 
Today Fiume, now named Rijeka, formerly part of Yugoslavia after the second World War, is in the successor state of Croatia, with another new country Slovenia intervening between it and Italy.

Those who took part in the war on the Italian front as soldiers or medical staff or visited this front to write about it included the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Rudyard Kipling, H.G.Wells, Enzo Ferrari, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway, author of A Farewell to Arms.

I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain……..I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory.

Two participants in this conflict who took a much more prominent part in the Second World War,  were Erwin Rommel and Benito Mussolini.  While a stretcher bearer and chaplain in the Italian Army named Angelo Roncalli become quite well known many years later. 

‘The White War seems to capture the soul of a nation: explaining the nationalist dreams that drove Italy to war; and narrating the terrible consequences and costs of that decision. It’s a book which is central to any understanding of Italy’s twentieth century.’ 
Tobias Jones, author of The Dark Heart of Italy