by Nesta de Robeck
I A M often asked what my eaperience of Italians has been.
1 have spent more than forty years in Italy: with the exception of :Thom six months I was there front NOV to 1939. •I he little I know of its people has been learnt from contact with
Italians of all classes.
It seems to roe that many Lnglisit people misunderstand the strength of Italian national feeling, althouge the, is superimposed on extremely ettong regional patriotism.
Modern Italian nationalism does not dale from the March on Rome, but from the early nineteenth century when the first stirrings towards national unity were felt. It was seen with satisfaction by Byron. In the eighteen forties it was already aggressive with Gioberti as its prophet, and with Garibaldi. to thunderous English applause, it established the kingdom of United Italy. This same feeling was strong and vocal when the fiftieth anniversary ot the Union was celebrated in 1911, and the majority of patriotic Italians were be hind Crispi when he claimed a share of Africa.
Patriots natui ally became expansionists in a world of great European colonial expansion: they felt that Italians had as good a right as anyone else to colonial spoils. Pride in the past achievements of their race made them feel their position of economic subservience as an intolerable humiliation. This feeling helped to bring Italy into the war in 1915; the cry then was the liberation of Trento and Trieste, and the final overthrow of Austria. The was was fought, at great cost, for a nationalist victory, and during the campaigns on the Isonzo and the Carso Italian soldiers fought with great valour.
" Dynamic " Italians This stirring " ltalianita " produced a patriot (or, from the Austrian point of view, a rebel) such as Cesare Battisti, and men like Carlo Delcroix, who lost his eyes and hands. Delcroix has been used as a symbol by the Fascist regime; he is a man of whom any nation could be proud and his persuasive eloquence was of great value to Mussolini. Men like Delcroix wore the party badge, they were ready to cry " Evviva jI Duce " because the Duct and his party. with " dynamic " as their favourite adjective, seemed ready to push forward Italian national aims. When Delcroix made his stirring appeal to the Italian nation not long ago, he used much the same words as Mr. Churchill did in 1940: indeed, when Mr. Churchill himself in 1927 made flattering remarks about Mussolini it was because he admired him as a nationalist, patriotic l l
Mussolini. like D'Annunzio, appealed to the public on a filibustering patriotic note; he was able to do so beeause the Government he supplanted had conducted the war with what seemed to Italians very small success. He has fallen because he has conducted a far more perilous war far worse, and has caused Italy to lose all she had gained since 1870.
Much has been said of how badly Italians have fought in this war; they have been taunted as cowards; an unfair taunt to people who lack neither courage, fortitude nor patience. One reason why Italian arms have failed has been the distaste to tight against England; as an Italian wrote to me in 1940. " When one fights unwillingly, one fights badly "; the war against us
was always unpopular, far more than that against Hance, for the cry for Nice was started not by Mussolini hut by Garihaldi. Some of the young Blackshirts wished to fight England—youths brought up on windy Fascist propaganda, which presented England only as the decadent democracy or as Jack Horner.
The latier is the older view, and Italions have often bitterly resented their own small portion of the cake;
it was not helped by the purse-proud attitude of some British and Americans, an attitude which seemed to imply that Italy was negligible because she was weak, and Italians inferior because they were poor. The uncritical sentimental devotion of other foreigners in no way made up for the general lack of understanding of, and sympathy with, Italy's genuine needs. For one thing many Italians did not like to consider themselves " tillers of other men's soil " and to see numbers of their people forced to emigrate.
German propaganda worked patiently and for many years with no success. One hears now a great deal of the similarity of Fascism and National Socialism. There was a likeness, as there is a likeness between any totalitarian outlook, and all totalitarian methods, but it took a long time to forge the Axis and no papers and spokesmen have denounced Hitler and his Nazis more virulently than Mussolini and his mouthpieces did after the Dollfuss murder. Then Hitler's threats and bribes succeeded: power had gone to the Duce's head ; he was carried to the peak of his popularity by the imposition of Sanctions, and his suirender to Germany was the betrayal of every Italian tradition and interest.
Could it have been avoided by the other Powers? It seems toeme it might have been.
Mr. Churchill has stressed that Mussolini only, Fascism only. were responsible for Italy's disastrous and disgraceful attacks upon her neighbours; he clearly fastened the responsibility on to a gang and not on to the nation at large. Now the gang has gone, and rhe first great opportunity for the United Nations has opened; to many of US it scented that General Eisenhower's proclamation struck a better note than any other, directed as it was to a people acutely susceptible to worda and to the appearance of things.
For Us to Help
Italy has to choose her own Government : in the name of liberty she cannot he forced to accept any of foreign suggestion : at the present moment Italians are in no position to choose, and it will be our business to help towards a state of stability in which reason can reassert itself.
Will the historical tradition of democracy again come to the fore? Will something be evolved out of the Corporative State? The first attempt to put this into practice was made by D'Annunzio at Fiume, but a Guild State had been talked of in Italy as tar hack as 1908; Socialism will surely have a bid for power : it would not be difficult for one tyranny to be succeeded by another.
It is easy to think that Marshal Redoglio is slow at taking the plunge into what must look like very uninviting water, but we in England can have no idea of the difficulties with which he is surrounded and the threats overhang1518 him. He may well consider Germany a more dangerous enemy than England.
My own hope—perhaps I should say prejudice--is in favour of the monarchy remaining. just as I hope that now the many evils of Fascism are being swept away, the good that has been done may survive. Fascism did riot only appeal to bad instincts, but also to good ones, some of which it used well, some badly. The good, in my experience, lay chiefly in the social and welfare work, in all that was included in the word " Boniflea." Al! of this Fascism inherited from previous regimes: the first " bonifiche" are to the credit of the Etruscans and the Ronians; they have gone on through many centuries and thanks to the initiative of many individuals. Mussolini wisely laid great stress on it, and work has been accomplished which is human and stable and good. That must continue and more must be done.
Will this crisis kill Italian Nationalism? It does not seem likely. and the national resistance may harden before it cracks. II remains to he teen whether the United Nations sacc,eed in allaying the restless striving r c-' If ia Nritina elosniaitlis ita.11 riarinid itojcafninfdlionigissaner Demands Co-operation
The future demands British and Italian co-operation, and if we have learnt to our cost what it means to have Italy as our enemy, Italians will learn that it costs them ten times the price to be at war with us.
Presumably the Germans will come out of this war the best fed people of Europe: unlike many others their children will not be riddled with tuberculosis and rickets; on a tong view it looks as though Germans might be strong when other peoples are still struggling with the results of debilitation. Therefore it is to our interest to work everywhere, including in Italy, for stability, and for those opportunities of free development which are dictated both by generosity and commonsense. The pictures of our soldiers with the Sicilian civilians are a promise of the future,