Sunday, February 26, 2012
II - King Charles Emmanuel IV: A favorite of mine mostly for his own qualities rather than any great accomplishments on his part, which was no fault of his own but due to the fact that he reigned at a time when Revolutionary France was on the rampage and all neighboring states had been occupied. He spent most of his reign in exile in Sardinia and Rome. He was a dutiful man who never gave up the struggle to return Savoy rule to Turin and he was also a very kind and religious man. He had an arranged marriage to a French princess who was mocked in her own country for being overweight and unattractive and she was never able to give the King any children, yet Charles Emmanuel IV loved her and her alone as long as she lived. He did so, not out of duty, not with any hint of sacrifice (indeed he had nothing but praise for his wife) but because they both shared the same deep, sincere faith. He saw the “inner beauty” of her devout soul and felt himself fortunate to have her. When she died he was absolutely distraught and decided to give himself entirely to the service of God, joining the Society of Jesus for the remainder of his years. In terms of character and spiritual devotion, Charles Emmanuel IV was a great man.
III - King Charles Felix: As someone who is proudly reactionary, I cannot help but admire King Charles Felix. He came to the throne in the midst of a revolutionary uprising during which a more liberal relative (future King Charles Albert) granted a constitution. Well, King Charles Felix was having none of that silliness. He returned to Turin, put a royal smack-down on the dissidents and did away with all of that constitution nonsense. King Charles Felix stands out, even among the Savoy, as an ardent and sincere believer in the sacred nature of monarchy. Memories of the French Revolution still lingered and he was determined to remove every last trace of the imposed revolutionary regime from Piedmont -and he was not kidding about that, he really meant every, single, last trace of it. My favorite illustration of this was the restoration of the aristocratic posts at court. When this resulted in “pageboys” including a number of middle-aged men among the usual early teenagers it made no difference to Charles Felix. Everyone entitled to a place would have it back! He was also a patron of the arts, music and theatre and sent a punitive expedition to Tunisia in 1825, strengthening the future Italian claim to the area.
IV - King Umberto I: Although he was a far from perfect man, King Umberto I took a number of actions that earns him high marks with me. He was a very monarchist monarch, joining in the Triple Alliance with Germany and Italy’s traditional enemy of Austria because of efforts by the French republic to export their kingless form of government to Italy. The French seizure of Tunisia also infuriated the court in Rome. Although more realistic than his father, Umberto I nonetheless had high aspirations for the Kingdom of Italy and supported the policies of his Prime Minister, Francesco Crispi, which saw the establishment of the first Italian colony in East Africa in Eritrea. Hopes for further expansion were dashed by the defeat at Adowa but King Umberto responded well, defending his unjustly maligned general and secretly using his own funds to pay the victorious Africans the money they demanded and to release their Italian prisoners. He had no compunction about swatting socialist revolutionaries and was generous and helpful toward his people. The fact that he was assassinated by a socialist revolutionary also makes me view him as something of a political martyr.
V - King Victor Emmanuel III: The most controversial of course, King Victor Emmanuel III was an imperfect man who certainly made mistakes, however, I have always had a soft spot for him. I detest people who make an issue of his size (as I do with those who do the same for Charles I of Britain and other ‘vertically challenged’ royals) and I detest those who ridicule his decisions without ever proposing alternatives or considering the consequences of those alternatives. Despite the sad ending, his reign accomplished many things his predecessors had long sought but never achieved; return of Italian-populated lands in the northeast, Italian dominance in East Africa, a foothold on the opposite shore of the Adriatic, restored friendship with the Church and greater strides in terms of national development. Circumstances aside, Italy reached her zenith of power under his reign with, for the first time in many, many centuries, Rome again becoming an imperial capital. He was also a good man, a devoted husband and was usually on the right side of issues even if few followed his advice when it mattered most. He usually did the right thing but suffered the consequences of often being a little late in doing so.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
For a time this seemed a real possibility as the Pope reprimanded an overzealous Austrian commander for an incursion on Papal territory and organized forces to show them the temporal power of the Papacy would not be violated by anyone. The Austrians backed down and it seemed that the Pope was on the side of the nationalists who went to war with Austria in 1848 when the outbreak of revolution in Vienna seemed to offer a golden opportunity. Pope Pius IX excited many more liberal hearts when he ordered Papal forces to march to the frontier of Romagna when hostilities broke out to ensure that the Austrians did not violate his territory. He chose two men to command that gave the liberals even more encouragement; General Giovanni Durando to command the majority (a Piedmontese monarchist known to favor unification) and Colonel Andrea Ferrari to command the Roman volunteers who was a liberal republican. Most took this as a sign that the Pope might have been, if anything, even more to the left than Durando.
However, this expedition led to a great controversy when General Durando actually engaged the Austrian army in cooperation with the forces of Piedmont-Sardinia (whose army also included many deserters from the Papal service). The Pope angrily denounced the affair saying that he had never ordered his army to cross the Po and fight the Austrians; he had only intended them to stand watch and rebuff any incursion of Papal territory. Neither the Pope nor his general emerged well from the affair. General Durando was defeated by the Austrians and his actions were later blamed for allowed the Austrians to concentrate their forces to overwhelm the main Piedmontese army under King Charles Albert. The Pope, likewise, came off looking either foolish or duplicitous for sending an army to a battlefront under the command of men ardently in favor of fighting the Austrians only to order them not to do so. Some in the army even believed the order was meant to be ignored and had been issued only to provide cover for the Pope if his troops were defeated by the Austrians. Obviously the Pope would never have acted so dishonestly, however his image was still sullied by those who believed him. Given his attitude it seemed incredible to have appointed a Piedmontese general known for his nationalist sympathies and support for Italian unity to organize, train and then command the Papal Army.
Monday, February 13, 2012
The central character is Private Serra, a fresh-faced university volunteer from Sicily who arrives in Egypt pumped full of promises from Mussolini that soon Italian troops will be marching into Alexandria and break the back of the British Empire. He is assigned to the Pavia Division at the extreme southern end of the front. His unit is literally the last in line with nothing below them but the impassable Qattara Depression. As soon as he arrives he sees first-hand the dangers of his new environment as the corporal guiding him to his squad is blasted to nothing by an incoming British artillery shell (a severed ear being all that remains of the man). He is taken in and shown the ropes by his sergeant, Rizzo, (an excellent performance by Pierfrancesco Favino) a veteran soldier from a peasant background with little education but a great deal of real-life experience at war. He had once been a POW of the British and that experience made him determined never to be taken alive again. Serra meets and quickly befriends the other men of his squad, the closest being Private Spagna, Corporal De Vita who, along with Serra and Sergeant Rizzo, form a close circle of friends. Lt. Fiore is their officer, a good man but an exhausted one who is a father-figure in the best sense to his soldiers.
I have noticed that in similar American war movies there are always fights inside every unit, the bullies and the bullied and it was nice to see one where this never really happened (though Serra is warned at the outset to remove his “University Volunteer” patch for fear this will upset his comrades). All share the same dangers and privations and they all pretty much stick together and look out for one another, which was a refreshing change. The first part of the movie shows Serra getting used to life at the front, learning about the dangers of enemy shelling, the environment, mines and dysentery. As he relates in letters home, it is not what he expected with long stretches of inactive boredom punctuated by occasional shelling by an enemy none can see. When the unit comes under attack by a British sniper, shooting medics as well as infantry, enraging the Italians, they call for their expert mortar operator to take out the sniper. This stood out to me as being a good and historically accurate scene. Because the Italian army was often lacking in proper weapons and equipment their mortar teams became renowned for their expertise, an expertise born out of necessity as they often had to do the job better suited to weapons the Italian forces lacked.
Serra is also told about the “three miracles” every soldier gets only to learn that he already used up two within days of his arrival. The first was when the corporal guiding him was “turned to sand” yet Serra wasn’t touched. The second was when he stepped on a mine only to discover it was an anti-tank mine and he wasn’t heavy enough to set it off. So he had only one miracle left, yet, after questioning his comrades, he learned that they all used up all three of their miracles months, if not years, before. However, their biggest problem is a lack of almost everything; food, water, ammunition, new uniforms and replacements for their losses. When a supply convoy is lost they almost eat Mussolini’s horse but the lieutenant cannot bring himself to kill the animal. Again, the scene is illustrative of the wider war. The trucks were carrying shoe polish and the horse Mussolini would ride triumphantly into Alexandria. While the soldiers at the front had next to nothing and felt forgotten, their dictator was using up supply trucks and fuel to prepare for a victory parade that would never happen. Overcome by privation, Sergeant Rizzo and his squad break orders while on a mission to pick up supplies and drive to the coast for a few forbidden minutes of swimming and pretending there is no war.
Not long after returning, Serra discovers a camel which he shoots for his comrades to feast on. This leads to the discovery that certain areas have been de-mined which makes the men think the British are planning an attack. Later, Lt. Fiore informs Sergeant Rizzo that a scouting party of bersaglieri had gone missing in the Qattara Depression and that he has to take a man to go look for them and see if the British might be trying to pass through the impassable sea of sand. Rizzo chooses Serra to go with him since he is new and he doesn’t want to risk the lives of other men who have served so much longer on what could be a dangerous assignment. After an epic trek through the barren wasteland they find the bersaglieri all dead and bury them and hurry back to camp as they hear artillery fire in the distance. Little did they know, they might have saved their lives by being away as the missed the main British attack of the second battle of El Alamein. They return to their pit to find everything in shambles, Corporal De Vita suffering from shell shock and Spagna shaken but unhurt.
The group then learns that they are pulling back to another defensive line where they deal with another British attack and then are told the army is retreating again. This begins the primary “story” to this movie which is the real-life experience of the Italian X Army Corps which was abandoned during the Axis retreat after the battle of El Alamein. They have no transportation, no relief for their wounded men and as they trudge through the desert soon have nothing at all. Attrition wears them down and their numbers dwindle as they cross a seemingly infinite expanse of desert. This is historically accurate as the X Corp, including the Pavia Division, was abandoned during the retreat, most being captured by the British or dropping dead of their wounds or exhaustion. It is one of the most terrible but often overlooked disasters of World War II.
The famous German Field Marshal Rommel had been absent during the British attack at El Alamein and when he returned and found things in a mess he ordered an immediate retreat, not just out of Egypt, but ultimately all the way back to Tunisia. This greatly upset the Italians (many of whom had disapproved of the offensive in the first place as being too reckless and foolhardy) for a number of reasons. Among these was the fact that, whereas the German Africa Corps was highly motorized, the Italian army was severely lacking in transportation and, as was the case with the X Corps, many men would have to be left behind. Also, the Italians wished to at least attempt to defend Libya, which was their land, but which the Germans had no interest in. These brutal historical facts are illustrated in the film in a couple of scenes; one in which a column of haughty Germans speed past the Italians in trucks, cars and half-tracks, refusing to help and shouting insults at them. Later an Italian truck comes by but, while somewhat more sympathetic, is already overloaded with men and has no room for any others.
So, the remnants of the X Corps struggle on. Lt. Fiore leads the way, soon he, Sgt. Rizzo and Pvt. Serra are all that remains of his command. Each time they reach what would have been their destination they find out that the army had already retreated to another point hundreds of kilometers away. Passing vehicles promise to send a truck back for them but none ever arrive. Although our focus is on this little band, it is made clear that there are many more just like them, thousands of men who have been left to their fate, left to the mercy of the desert of their British enemies. It was a shameful page in the history of the German Africa Corps which stands out all the more because, unlike other fronts in the war, the German army in Africa was usually noted for behaving in a humane and professional manner. In the film, almost by chance, Fiore, Rizzo and Serra avoid being captured with the rest of the Italian forces they were traveling with while camping for the night at a small Muslim shrine. Lt. Fiore, badly wounded, becomes weaker and closer to death when they finally discover an abandoned motorcycle and get it working.
At the very beginning of the film, Serra was taken to the front by a Bersaglieri soldier on a motorcycle. It is when he first sees North Africa, and finds it beautiful. In a scene meant to mirror the opening, Fiore says he cannot make it and the loyal Sergeant Rizzo will not leave him behind. So, Serra is sent alone to take the motorcycle in the hope that he can escape to safety and perhaps send back a rescue for the two others. From what we have seen so far though, it does not look like Lt. Fiore will live very long. Serra seems to sense this as well as tears stream down his face as he races away on the precious motorcycle, leaving as he came, but full of sorrow where he had arrived with so much optimism. With no more resolution than that we fade to black as text appears on the screen relating the historical facts and the stunning statistics of the Pavia Division and the X Italian Army Corps which was abandoned and totally lost in the aftermath of El Alamein.
The ending some may have a problem with. Nothing is really resolved, we don’t know for sure what happens. Do Fiore and Rizzo survive? Are they rescued? Does Serra even manage to get to the Italo-German lines? We don’t know and, as the closing shots show the marble blocks for the remains of all those marked “unknown” perhaps this was to make an intentional point. It does drive home the realism of the whole piece, which is a tragedy, that in real life, you don’t always get the happy ending, sometimes you don’t get an ending at all. In that sense, it is a fitting way to end the film but it certainly is not satisfying in the typical way most are used to. The acting in the movie is top-notch all around. Pierfrancesco Favino as Sgt. Rizzo particularly stood out, which is not surprising given his record as an award-winning actor.
This movie won three Italian Academy Awards and all due credit should go to Enzo Monteleone for making a movie that feels like an epic on a very restricted budget. Using night battles, swirling sand and strategic placement of extras, he is able to convey the feeling that a much larger war is raging all the time in the background even without an army of extras. Paolo Briguglia, who played Pvt. Serra, won a Golden Globe for best actor debut with this movie and I have to give credit to someone new to me, Emilio Solfrizzi who played Lt. Fiori. He gave a very powerful dramatic performance which impressed me all the more when I found out afterward that the man is a comedian. All I can say is that he definitely has what they call in the acting world “range” and that is impressive. The attention to detail throughout the film seemed pretty good to me. I’m no expert to quibble on such things but I did notice they were wearing the correct collar patches for soldiers of the Pavia Division.
This movie will not be to everyone’s taste. However, it is very well done and tells an important story that few have ever heard. That is probably what I liked best about it was simply the subject matter. I like that this story was told and told so well. In truth, the Italian commander in North Africa, Marshal of Italy Bastico, was against the invasion of Egypt, even German Air Marshal Kesselring was against it but Rommel, perhaps over-confident from his string of victories, pushed ahead. Marshal Bastico predicted that they would stretch their supply lines to the breaking point and these would already be over-stressed since the conquest of Malta was postponed in favor of the Egyptian campaign. Everything came out as he predicted. The British were victorious and the Italians were left high and dry, even after putting up truly heroic resistance. The Folgore Division was particularly cited (and this was mentioned in the film) for stopping a major British attack with little more than their bare hands. This movie tells an important story, a story of brave Italian soldiers who did all that could be expected, who were brave, determined and hard fighters but who were sadly abandoned. Their courage and sacrifice deserves to be remembered.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Those who believe that his unequal marriage (and other reasons mentioned) invalidates him as the rightful successor to his father have looked to HRH Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta for leadership. Each have their adherents and both can present evidence for their claim and point to flaws in that put forward by the other side. However, regardless of which side one may take, there is no denying the fact that Prince Vittorio Emanuele is the only son of the last King of Italy and therefore holds a special significance in the very long history of the Savoia dynasty. Whether the future of the Italian royal legacy resides with his son, Prince Emanuele Filiberto, or the son of the Duke of Aosta, Prince Aimone, is something every individual must decide for themselves at this point. For now, I only point out that the last son of a King of Italy was born 75 years ago today.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
The movie was filmed in Libya and financed by the brutal dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and I have a big problem with this. Akkad never admitted to Gaddafi trying to influence the film in any way but he did not really need to. Gaddafi was eager to lift up Omar Mukhtar as a Libyan national hero and this was exactly the portrayal the film would make and what Akkad intended anyway. But, as the old saying goes, he who drinks the King’s wine must sing the King’s song and I doubt anyone would be kind to a director who accepted vast amounts of funding from someone like Hitler or, perhaps more to the point, Mussolini. Gaddafi loved the movie, which was filmed in English and Arabic language versions, and it became widely shown to young fanatics as part of their training to become Islamic terrorists, specifically because a hopeless fight unto death was being glorified in it. It also did not hurt their cause than an Islamic, desert people were portrayed so righteously heroic and Europeans were portrayed as villainous and cruel. It is no surprise that the movie was a flop considering that, especially in 1981, Europe and America were the biggest markets for the film though the people who love the film will still defend it by pointing to some positive reviews by critics. The fact remains that, regardless of what the critics said, most people did not like this movie.
The acting was fine throughout, even excellent in some cases. Anthony Quinn starred as Omar Mukhtar, Oliver Reed co-starred as his nemesis the Italian general Graziani. Other minor parts were filled by Irene Papas, Raf Vallone and Rod Steiger who played the part of Mussolini. Irene Papas and Anthony Quinn were both favorites of Akkad and had both starred in “Mohammad, Messenger of God”. Anthony Quinn played his part masterfully, though there was not much to the part as written, but it certainly shows the extent to which he loved the character and immersed himself in the role. Oliver Reed gave a show-stealing performance as Graziani and Raf Vallone did his usually good job at portraying one of the two “good” Italians in the whole movie. Rod Steiger was a great actor, I loved him in “Waterloo” and he has turned in some excellent performances in numerous movies and numerous great historical films. However, I just did not buy him as Mussolini. It is hard for me to put my finger on, perhaps that he is simply too refined a man to play a bombastic socialist revolutionary turned Fascist dictator. Again, I like Rod Steiger, I just didn’t like him in this. John Gielgud also makes an appearance as the token “bad” Libyan, a local prince who works with the Italians. Maybe I’m making too much of it but it just seemed rather funny that the one Libyan who is not portrayed in a heroically righteous way is played by an English actor.
The movie is pretty basic in its layout. From the start we see the Italians invade Libya, we see Italians executing Libyans, shooting them, hanging them but we are told that there is a guerilla war going on and the Italians are losing. So, Mussolini sends General Graziani, a really tough, brutal guy we are led to believe, to stamp out the rebellion so that, “the military logic of Fascism will not be compromised”. Whatever that means. Meanwhile, Omar Mukhtar is a peaceful, grandfatherly old school teacher instructing village children in the mercy of God (it is always God and never “Allah” in the movie) and the wisdom of “the book” (it is only referred to once as the Koran and that is by an Italian). However, when Graziani arrives his reputation has preceded him and Mukhtar takes action, ruining a welcome party for the general with news of another Italian defeat. Graziani sends one of his best officers out on a retaliatory strike, complete with mass executions, but Mukhtar outwits and defeats the man (Gastone Moschin who also played Don Fanucci in The Godfather Part II). However, Mukhtar is merciful and stops his men from killing the last two Italians left alive and allows the young lieutenant to return to his general.
An incensed Graziani retaliates by putting Libyans into concentration camps. He is still defeated by Mukhtar. He then agrees to peace-talks with Mukhtar but only as a ruse so that he can land more reinforcements for an attack on the holy city of the Senussi Islamic sect at Kufra. Mukhtar still eludes and harasses him so he obtains the permission of Mussolini to “fence in Libya” to starve the rebels into submission. This finally begins to work and, after the Italians deploy poison gas, Mukhtar is separated from his men and stumbles into the Italian army which takes him prisoner. After a dramatic meeting with Graziani he is taken out and hanged with the film lingering on his words that, ‘We will never surrender. We win or we die, and don’t think it stops there. After this generation you will have the next to fight and after that the next, and so on.’ Despite all the alleged historical accuracy Akkad claimed in making the movie, the biggest problem it has is simply being so biased as to be unbelievable. The Italians are portrayed in the worst light possible, though, as Akkad said, he does not portray all Italians as being bad -he gives us a grand total of two “good” Italians, one of whom is murdered by his own people. What is most obvious though is the over-sanctification of the Libyan side. So hard is it hammered into the viewer that these are the “good guys” that it quickly becomes preposterous.
For example, the Libyans all fight on horseback armed only with old, single-shot rifles. The Italians have tanks, machine guns, armored cars, airplanes and, finally, chemical weapons. Yet, the Libyans win virtually every battle! That is simply not realistic. The only Italian victory shown is the capture of Kufra and, we are told ahead of time, this should not really count since Mukhtar was not even attempting to defend it. He basically let the Italians have it because it would have been impossible to defend. This makes it seem rather ridiculous and anti-climactic when Mukhtar is finally captured. How could he have lost the war when he won every battle? In fact, it staggers the imagination to think that this, as the film tells us, could have been going on for decades without Italy giving up Libya and going home. The truth, of course, is that this movie is not historically accurate in the least. It has become popular to criticize Italy for having forbid the movie to be shown in the country because it was an “insult to the Italian army” but, the movie is an insult to the Italian army. Sure, most of the dastardly deeds are done by the black-shirted Fascist militia rather than the regular army but, seriously, are your average film-goers going to know the difference between an army uniform and an MVSN uniform? Are they even going to know what the MVSN was? No, all they see are Italians wearing uniforms, carrying guns and doing bad things.
Omar Mukhtar is portrayed in such a way that he is too good to be true and just comes off as unbelievable. Part of this is because he is made to embody values that were not those of the period in question. We also never see any of the Bedouin attacks on Italian farmers that are mentioned. The Arabs do not deny making them, they justify them in fact, but we never see them. We only ever see them portrayed positively as righteous heroes or pitiful victims of Italian brutality. The whole thing is set up as a country fighting for its independence from a foreign conqueror. It makes for stirring propaganda but the truth is that Libya had never been an independent country. In fact it had never been a united country at all until the Italians grouped three formerly Ottoman provinces together and named them “Libya” which was the name used by the ancient Romans for the region. The Senussi Islamic sect, of which Mukhtar was a part and which dominated at least one of the three provinces of Libya, had previously been just as troublesome to the Ottoman Turks who had ruled the area before the Italo-Turkish War when the area that became Libya was ceded to the Italians as part of the peace settlement.
The Libyans in the movie stress, over and over, that their rebellion is justified because Italy has “no right” to rule the country. However, this assumes that Libya had always been a country, which it never had been. It begs the question of what “right” the Ottoman Turks had to it? Prior to 1951 the area we now know as Libya had never been independent. It had belonged to the Italians, before them the Ottoman Turks, before them the Umayyad Caliphate out of Damascus, before them by the Byzantines and before them by the Romans. This is actually mentioned in the film, though scorned as being of little importance, but the fact remains that Libya had belonged to the Italians long before the Arabs ever swept across North Africa and long before the Islamic religion ever existed. If one is to speak of “rights” as Mukhtar was so fond of doing in the film, one must concede the point made by General Graziani that, “Italy has hundreds of years of right here”. Or as he put it more simply, “We’re back here, that’s all”. If you’re going to bring up the issue of one group of people having a “right” to a country that another group of people does not have you better make sure your people were there first before making it; and if you are anywhere around the Mediterranean basin the people you are dealing with are the Italians then you’re probably out of luck in any event. This would be like a group of English colonists who are attacked by Native Americans telling them that they have “no right” to the land that colony was established on. It’s ridiculous.
The truth is that the Libyans had not been totally peaceful under Ottoman Turkish rule but generally accepted it just as most generally accepted it when Ottoman rule was exchanged for Italian rule. In fact, some Libyans profited considerably from Italian rule, some joined the Italian army. In another example of the historical inaccuracy of this movie, in fact Omar Mukhtar was not captured by Italian soldiers at all but by a troop of Libyan cavalry who were on the Italian side and blamed Mukhtar for causing trouble and making life harder on everyone. The fact, as is inadvertently shown in the film, that the Italians are coming in with trucks and motorcycles and airplanes while all the Libyans are still riding horses or camels everywhere shows that prior to the Italian colonial period the Libyans were living in a backward state of near total stagnation. It was only after the arrival of Italian rule that the region began to progress toward modernity with the first modern roads, bridges, hospitals, airfields and infrastructure in general being established.
It is also stated, in the “trial” of Omar Mukhtar at the end of the film, that he had never accepted Italian rule, never took subsidy from the Italian government and therefore should have been treated as a prisoner of war. It sounded nice from a propaganda point of view, but this too is totally false. Mukhtar had recognized Italian rule. At one point, he had made peace with them and laid down his arms. However, once his forces were replenished he went on the attack again. And how could he be a POW? No one had declared war on anyone else nor was he part of any recognized army. This would be like Great Britain giving Ulster to the Republic of Ireland and a northern Irish Unionist then waging war against the government in Dublin because he never recognized the “right” of the Republic of Ireland to rule in Ulster. Well, I’m sorry folks but governments rule and make decisions on behalf of their people and law and order does not depend on the free consent of absolutely every individual person involved. When the Republic of Texas joined the United States someone couldn't start carrying out their own war against America just because he did not approve of the annexation and never recognized the change in sovereignty. Again, this goes back to the false assumption that Libya was a sovereign nation conquered by Italy which it was not.
The fact that, for a time, this movie was considered too offensive to be show in Italy is not surprising. It is extremely blatant anti-Italian propaganda. The Fascist regime was certainly not known for being kind and gentle but this rebellion was going on before Mussolini came to power. During World War I the rebels even allied with their former overlords, the Ottoman Turks, to fight against the French and British as well. Some bad things happened during this period, in reaction to the rebellion it must be said (they would not have happened otherwise) but the fact remains that the Italians did not occupy Libya as brutal conquerors. They did not destroy cities, massacre people and force everyone to convert to Catholicism (the same could not be said when the Muslims took the region in the 7th Century by the way). The movie is so one-sided and biased as to be laughable, the characters are unbelievable and in the end you are left with something that is not so much trying to entertain you as much as indoctrinate you. A big thumbs-down from me.
Monday, February 6, 2012
Today everyone is talking about the 60th anniversary of HM Elizabeth II becoming Queen. An historic accomplishment without doubt, but this was also the day in history that the last Catholic King of Great Britain, James II, came to the throne (a good man despite the popular image of him). As such, it was also on this day in 1685 that Britain was given an Italian queen in the person of James II's wife Mary of Modena. She was the daughter of Duke Alfonso IV of Modena and was given a very cold welcome when she arrived in England as the wife of the then Duke of York because the country was so dominated by Protestant bigotry. She was demure, tall, very beautiful and quite pious, in every way the ideal consort. Many were won over by her but for many more she would always be disliked; her charm, virtue and good qualities meant nothing to those who could see no farther than her faith. When King Charles II passed away and James II and his lovely Italian bride became King and Queen of England, Scotland, Ireland and France there were great festivities as theirs was the first joint-coronation of a King and Queen since that of King Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon.
She was a great queen but when she gave birth to an heir to the throne the Protestants rose up in rebellion, aided by the King's son-in-law the Prince of Orange. As a result of the so-called "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 King James and Queen Mary were forced to relocate to France. Efforts by the King to reclaim his throne were unsuccessful. Queen Mary sold her jewels to help finance these expeditions and spared no effort in supporting her husband and his cause, which was the cause of Catholicism and royal legitimism in Britain and Ireland. When James II died the Queen wore black the rest of her life and acted as regent on behalf of her son who the loyal Jacobites declared King James III. She put out a manifesto and when Scottish lords came to convince her to give up her boy so that he could convert to Protestantism and be all but assured of success in retaking the throne from the still unpopular usurpers she remained strong and defiant. She would not give up her son nor see him renounce the Catholic faith for any earthly gain. She agreed to religious freedom and to make no move against the Church of England but the faith of her own family was non-negotiable.
When James III turned 16 the regency ended and the devoutly religious Queen Mary spent much of the rest of her life in the Convent of the Visitations (she had wished to become a nun in her youth) devoted to prayer. She died in poverty in 1718, having sacrified all in the cause of her family and faith. She was buried with the religious sisters she so admired and was considered by some contemporaries to be a saint. Certainly she was a great Queen, devoted, pious, beautiful and attentive to her family even under the most difficult circumstances. Few consorts in British history could match her quality.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
|Emperor Menelik II|
Of the four Italian brigades, one was annihilated and another already close to the same fate when General Baratieri realized none of his messages had gotten through or if they had, lack of knowledge of the terrain meant they had not been properly followed. He tried to organize a strong defensive position in the center of his intended battle line but, for the most part, by that time it was too little and too late. Fleeing troops overran these positions with Ethiopian warriors hot on their heels and despite some heroic stands the Italian position began to totally disintegrate. General Vittorio Dabormida, commanding the brigade sent to the relief of Albertone, was trapped and wiped out by Ethiopian forces. Virtually the entire brigade was destroyed and again, the commanding general was among the dead, struck down while using his saber in close combat after being surrounded and overrun by enemy warriors.