A good friend of mine in Rome, Italy sent me this blog article which struck me in a particular way during this time. In disbelief, I witness the rise of “privileged” defiance, self-absorption—the criticizing, threatening, exclusion of different voices.
I was granted permission to translate and reprint this 2017 piece by Italian journalist Jacopo Giliberto. We are now 3 years away from the date of this article’s original publication and much has occurred since November 2017.
Some thoughts? Honor your wisdom. Feel inside and look to the past for details, clues. Stories are eternal and elements constantly repeat. Recognize all Universal patterns in Nature: environmental, “human,” historical— beneficial AND detrimental. These patterns are not exclusive to one period, culture, group, civilization, or individual, but filter across time and space, and materialize in subjects occupying our today, as they did other yesterdays. Those who recognize them recoil with awareness, while others “follow.”
“It’s November 4, 1917″.
Because of the inability of the arrogant, presumptuous, and ignorant Italian generals, the Austrians have broken through the front at the head of the line. The royal army is in retreat, a defeat; the senior officers – career officers – flee to Treviso and Padova by car with their wives imprisoned or with their lovers bejeweled. The others, however, have been marching for days in the mud without any organization, hungry, smeared to the knee, without weapons, without orders, piled up, with contradictory and false voices. The Casarsa Bridge has been blown up; you have to pass through Latisana. The Casarsa Bridge is open and manned by the Italian military police. The Austrians are traveling by train towards Rome. The destruction is complete and impassable. Go through the impasse. The Austrians blew up the Latisana Bridge.
Last week, November 3rd, at Noventa di Piave in a crowd of soldiers and refugees, General Andrea Graziani, one of the worst, a serial assassin who at the front, had the Italian soldiers shot in the back, tells the driver and his military police squad to stop the car because the state road is cluttered with a pile of mountain artillery. And then the refugees, women and men and children with wagons, cattle, mattresses. It’s about 4:30 p.m. The sky is gray and darkens towards the east where the Austrians advance. It still promises rain before it gets dark.
The soldiers greet the general—stars and ribbons—with his hand to his forehead. But a soldier, Alessandro Ruffini, from Castelfidardo Marche, greets him without removing a cigar from his mouth. Graziani starts yelling at the soldier, raises his baton and beats him on the head and shoulders screaming.
The soldier, Alessandro Ruffino tightens his shoulders without moving, closes his eyes and tries to shelter under the helmet from the storm of beatings from General Andrea Graziani.
Women groan; a bourgeois, these bourgeois who always get in the way of the things of the military, addresses the general and says this is not the way to treat our soldiers. General Andrea Graziani shouts: ” with these soldiers, I do what I like! ” and orders his military police to take poor Soldier Ruffini, put him put in front of a wall, and orders him shot among the women who scream in horror.
Then Graziani orders the dismayed Lieutenant Colonel Folezzani of the 28th battlefield to bury the heart-wheeling body of soldier Ruffini with the excuse, “he is a man who died of asphyxiation,” says Graziani aloud. He climbs in the car and departs. Alessandro Ruffino ‘died of asphyxiation.’
(This story was reported by the newspaper Avanti!) 1 While living in Switzerland from 1902 to 1904, Benito Mussolini cultivated an intellectual image and wrote for socialist periodicals such as L’Avvenire del Lavoratore (The Worker’s Future). He then served in the Italian army for nearly two years before resuming his career as a teacher and journalist. In his articles and speeches, Mussolini preached violent revolution, praised famed communist thinker Karl Marx and criticized patriotism. In 1912 he became editor of Avanti! (Forward!), the official daily newspaper of Italy’s Socialist Party. But he was expelled from the party two years later over his support for World War I. By 1919 a radically changed Mussolini had founded the fascist movement, which would later become the Fascist Party.
General Andrea Graziani takes pen and paper and tells the episode in his own way: “it was necessary to impose himself by extraordinary means, by any means, in order to be right immediately above the dissolving causes that had perverted those misfortunes,” writes Graziani. For this reason, “I had undertaken a real struggle of moral and physical aggression against the hordes of stragglers.”
So, and “it was precisely in these circumstances that on the afternoon of November 3rd at the Noventa di Piave square, I reached the head of an artillery column.” Graziani forces these soldiers defeated after days without food and without orders tarnished by the march, to frame themselves and parade, guided by their very good lower-grade officers, the lieutenants and captains, who until a week ago had themselves slaughtered on the barbed wire together with their soldiers, parade framed in front of Graziani’s car and the truck with Graziani’s private firing squad of military police. “I stood in the car and answered by greeting each platoon leader as he gave the command to watch left.”
But Graziani, the serial shooter, sees that soldier and his pipe, indeed of the cigar: “I passed a soldier who planted a cigar in his mouth, with his face bent like a laugh, stared at me in an act of defiance.” He stares at him in defiance, says the killer general.” I assessed the full gravity of that challenge to a general who had the courage to impose a return to respect for discipline.” (the severity of the cigar challenge).” I assessed the need, in my conscience, to immediately give a terrible example, designed to persuade all the two hundred thousand stragglers that from that moment there was a force superior to their anarchy, which would bend them to obedience” (my conscience, their anarchy, would bend them to obedience). Again General Graziani: “jumped out of the car and, running, penetrated into the ranks, I beat that soldier on the back, stopped the parade, tied the soldier by my military police escort, I immediately had him shot against the wall of the neighboring house.”
(These excerpts are taken from the letter of clarification of General Andrea Graziani published by the newspaper Il Resto di Carlino.) Soldier Alessandro Ruffini’s father, Anselmo, reports the General for murder. Graziani is acquitted and indeed promoted.
Today, in the crowd hundreds of thousands of stragglers without orders, dressed with what they found in the march, without food, without weapons, without orders or indications or help, in the crowd that drags in the mud of Friuli towards the Veneto, today 4 November 1917 General Graziani gives his military police squad his personal proclamation: “in the name of the powers conferred on me, all soldiers, officers and troops, must bear on the headdress the number of the regiment or body to which they belong. The number must be of the regulatory size sewn of cloth or written with indelible pencil or ink. From 9 am on November 5, any military man without the number or without headgear will be shot.” None of the crowd of hungry, tormented stragglers without a cap or jacket ever knows of this order.
Another personal proclamation written in the midst of the wave of soldiers without orders and without information that moves indistinctly towards the Veneto: “they will have to walk only the assigned roads”, and anyone who does not move on the assigned roads “will have passed for weapons.” There are no assigned roads. No order, no plan ever assigned the transit roads to the indistinct mass of soldiers retreating towards the Veneto.
In a few days, on November 6, 1917 in Margreid, General Andrea Graziani has Sergeant Adalberto Bonomo from Naples shot, guilty of having answered “in a forceful way.” On November 10, 1917 Andrea Graziani on the bank of the Tagliamento River has two men tied to a tree and shot by his military police; one of whom had a bulging military haversack full of two kilos of flour—which they had not been able to explain. On November 16, General Graziani exposes a proclamation on the walls of village houses in which he writes that he had shot 19 other soldiers for different reasons that morning and other serial shootings along the wall of the cemetery of San Pelagio di Treviso.
Andrea Graziani makes a lightning career, and when fascism arrives in 1922, he joins enthusiastically and becomes its leader of the militia—until February 1931. Andrea Graziani was found dead at the foot of the ballast of the Bologna-Florence railway line. Fallen — concluded the investigation quickly – from the moving train because he had incorrectly opened the coach door — of the car of a train that he had not taken, fallen on the ballast at a point where it wasn’t possible. Who knows what the autopsy could have revealed, but it was kept very secret, even to Graziani’s family.
Reprinted with permission from author, journalist Jacopo Giliberto – Blog: Il Sole 24 Ore. com. 11/5/1917.