Page 4, 10th November 1939

10th November 1939
Page 4
Page 4, 10th November 1939 — THE CASE OF ITALY
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People: Hitler, Stalin
Locations: Moscow, Rome

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THE CASE OF ITALY

tinich Ira Fill She Turn?

Helping Her To Decide

OUR Vatican City correspondent describes in another column the attitude of Italy and the Italian people to the war. The various points which he makes include the following : Italians, in press and conversation, are deeply puzzled about where Italy's best interests lie; this argument does not divide the Italian people, but rather furnishes material upon which Mussolini will ultimately base his decisions, decisions which will rally the whole Italian people like one man; one all-important consideration the Duce will never leave out of his calculations, namely, the need to maintain good relations with the Vatican; there exists, despite the pro-German aftermath of the Axis policy, a sentimental affection for Britain, Italy's oldest ally.

This article, written by a close and impartial observer, serves, we think, as a factual basis upon which we can try to think out the best policy to be pursued by this country in helping Italy to her vital decision.

HOW THE TROUBLE STARTED

WE can safely say that Britishers in general are badly out of touch with the mind of Fascist Italy. They think almost wholly in terms of her misdeeds: her Abyssinian war, her coup in Albania, her violence in building up the Fascist regime, and her recent milder imitations of the less delectable features of German persecution. These misdeeds cannot and should not be condoned, but their circumstances should be far better understood.

The whole trouble started at the peace treaties. Italy, which had suffered enormous losses during the war (632,000 killed and two million wounded), felt that she, as the weakest of the big victor powers, was cheated out of her due proportion of reward. In particular she felt deeply the fact that she was unable to secure any Colonial possessions worth having. So much so that the Prime Minister denounced the idea of a national funeral for an " Unknown Soldier " as an " inglorious reminder."

Disillusioned with a democratic Liberalism, financially in a precarious position, threatened by anarchy and Bolshevism, the Italian people were ready for a genuine revolution of ideas. Revived Catholicity could in time have achieved this, as it was later achieved in Portugal, but the less scrupulous and the violent methods of Mussolini swept aside this hopeful development and, for better or for worse, effected the revolution. • Italy was to stand again before the world, a rejuvenated, strong, ambitious country with the hope of reviving something of the historic glories of the Roman Empire.

BRITISH MISUNDERSTANDING

I as well as a man of imagination, built up Italy internally to a pitch whence she could hope to play a full part in the concert of Europe. He, a genuine free-thinker, was wise enough to appreciate the mistake made by the anti-clericals of the past. He saw that in a Catholic country one of the strongest social forces was the. religion upon which European civilisation had been built. It is surely not altogether surprising that the Church, which had been treated with

contempt by others who aspired to much loftier moral ideals than the Duce, should repay the compliment. Unfortunately, the path to imperial greatness was blocked, and the Duce was faced with a much graver problem than any he had bad to face within Italy itself.

What rankled was not so much the fact that the path was blocked by open competitors but that it was blocked by a peace settlement which pretended to be the acme of justice and was certainly intended to be as final as the day of judgment. If Italy was to go ahead as other great empires in the past had gone ahead, she would not only have to win a diplomatic or military game, but stand before the world as a new kind of international cheat. It seemed hardly fair to the exultant Italian spirit, and it was little wonder that Italy worked to break down the very foundations of the peace settlement. In the end, through a combination of imperialism, thwarted national pride and sheer stubborn obstinacy, she faced the music and ran the Abyssinian campaign against 40 nations and moral opinion to a militarily successful issue.

On the principle that you might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb (especially when you believe the whole criminal code to be a piece of " class " hypocrisy), and seeing at last her opportunity of

smashing the whole settlement, she linked her fortunes with those of Nazi Germany.

That is the real story, and it is difficult to believe that Britishers if they had ever found themselves in Italy's shoes would have done otherwise, or considered themselves dishonourable in so doing.

CONTRAST WITH NAZISM

T HERE was a world of moral difference between this campaign of I rehabilitation—even allowing for its violence, its injustice to the unfortunate Abyssinians and its large quota of excessive nationalism —and the later stages of the Hitlerian ambitions. The taking of Czecho-Slovakia, while the very echo of Hitler's solemn oath had not yet died down ; the infamous treaty with Stalin, his arch-enemy, leading to the robbers' loot of Poland; the studied, sadistic persecution of those who were a standing witness to the insanity of his racist doctrines—these were crimes utterly repugnant to the soul of the Italian people. They were, taken together, monstrosities or perversions for which there could be no human or historic excuse.

Yet, by an unforeseen mischance, the Italian policy had driven Italy into close alliance with the perpetrators of these iniquities.

At this point it is easy for the moralist to say that Italy's next step was clear. All she had to do was to renounce her friendship and repair for her error by siding against her former friends, now revealed in their true selves.

But the moral course of nations is not as easy to follow as the moral course for persons. Rulers, by the very weight of responsibility that falls on their shoulders, think in terms of complex national interests—and, since history began, the moral factor has only been one of many. Nor is it necessarily apparent to Italy, after all her experiences, that if Germany has become loathsome in some of her actions Germany's enemies are become angels of light.

ITALY'S SUPREME QUESTION THAT is the situation. Italy has not renounced her ambitions which she considers legitimate—at least as legitimate as our resolution to hold what we have. Fascism and the Duce remain. Just as the Italians in the main have always disliked the Germans (" red-haired Austrians "), so to-day they are repelled by Hitler's conquest of friendly Poland and his pact with the enemy of Europe. For weighty religious reasons, due to the increasing influence of the Vatican and the Catholic revival, this repugnance is given a genuine spiritual character. Above all, perhaps, they fear Russia's aggression, both ideologically and in the concrete Balkan sphere, a fear expressed this week by Gayda, Mussolini's journalistic mouthpiece.

What then, in the light of these factors, are Italy's best interests for the future? That is the question the Italians are asking themselves, the question the Duce is asking himself. Can they afford a benevolent neutrality towards Britain and France, the course which, in their hearts, the Italians would certainly favours What if Germany wins? Italy would then be crushed by the mailed fist once and for all. And if the Allies win? Will it be 1919 over again, and " good-bye " to Fascist aspirations under a new democratic supremacy with international finance once again the king?

CAN WE SEE IT?

THESE are questions we can help Italy to answer, but which Germany cannot help her to answer. For German ambitions are aggressive, and there can be no sort of guarantee that a barbaric Soviet-Nazi conquest, whatever its pledges, would stop at the frontiers of an ancient, Catholic and Latin race. We, at least, have no claims against Italy. But have we the statesmanship and imagination to understand Fascist Italy and her ideals I That is what Mussolini— not without reason—doubts. Can we see this greatest of the Mediterranean countries, legitimately strengthened where her population and her natural influence need space and strength, playing a civilising, peace-making, healing role in this tired and disordered Europe? And if we ourselves can come to see this, do we possess the art of persuading Italy that we understand at last and sympathise?

To state these questions is to realise the progress we have yet to make in perhaps the most vital campaign in the war.

Meanwhile General Goering, we are told, is meditating a visit to Rome, while we meditate sending a Minister to Moscow !




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