venerdì 28 novembre 2008

Italy and the American Civil War

In the beginning it was just Raimondo Luraghi.Until 1966,little or nothing was known in Italy about the American Civil War,until this scholar and former soldier in the WW2 raised the interest in it.During an interview released at the national Radio he stated that when he was a boy,in the '30s he ventured in the pages of a German encyclopedia ,that had been translated into Italian,which devoted 5 pages to the Irrepressible Conflict.In 1959 he watched the Ford-Wayne THE HORSE SOLDIERS . This movie gripped him and as for a kind of magic he was thrown into a world from where in his words there was no going back.He was bound to USA where he stayed about 6 years and when he finished his research and travel he came back in 1966,with a 1200 pages book:STORIA DELLA GUERRA CIVILE AMERICANA,the History of the American Civil War.More than 40 years have passed by ,but also if the author has piled on more and more titles in his output, this job has remained unsurpassed,but above all has found no heir.Nobody after Luraghi wrote about the American Civil War.Why this?It is difficult to give a satysfing answer to this question and probably even if one succeds to do so this will not prevent us from asking further questions.The time when Luraghi wrote the book was ripe in Italy for the topic,American movies were raging on the scene and it's no case that the Professor himself was in a cinema bewildered by the deeds of the yankee horsemen destroyng an important Confederate depot and station vital to the defense of the Vicksburg stronghold.Comics and books for young people were full of heroes coming from the "Other side of the Pond" and toys shared the same lot.Yet the book had no warm reception,I mean it was sold and the editor RIZZOLI ,was forced to print a paperback version,but the success was not outstanding at all.It’s rather to say that buffs in Italy were at time very few and the level of book was and remains higher than that of the average readers.In other sectors somebody else tried to start the fire with a new spark,like Sergio Bonelli,the editor of Tex Willer,the famous comics.He had some books translated by very popular American authors,such as Fairfax Downey and Bruce Catton.It was all to no avail. At the end of ‘60s came Vietnam,the wave of protest especially in our universities,and in the largest part of the quarters of our culture,raised by left –wing ideas,U.S.A. were seen like the Enemy Number One.Needless to say,that the market was affected by this blow whose aftermath caused a sudden collapse of the timid work in process.It’s possible to say that it was needed to wait until the Internet Revolution turned up to solve the problem and revive the interest into something which less than 20 years ago seemed set for ever.Yes it was the Internet Revolution,thanks to sites and message boards built up by buffs,the new Millenium saw again the flame thriving and what had been left in a drawer was before the very eyes of hundreds of readers who eagerly awaited this moment.It is true that one must take carefully what occurs on the web and that it is easy to create a controversy here,but we must recognize that this item has a doubtless merit to have made possible what otherwise would not be.Let's try to figure out: what if you could not purchase books through the Internet?About 20 years ago I purchased my first book in English about the American Civil War.It was a rather good,but very old one:Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War,by G.F.R. Henderson.I could trace it while reading a biography of Lawrence of Arabia and informed that it was one of military books much adored by "Orens" when he was a student.The book was written by an Englishman in 1898,all right,but DA CAPO PRESS has its site in New York. So when I went to the sole bookstore in Naples that at time being bargained books shipment from USA,I had to wait about 4 months to get it! I am referring to 1989!!!.
Nowadays virtual stores like IBS or LIBRERIA UNIVERSITARIA,have scores of these books in their warehouses or if you wish to purchase them directly,without go-between,you can go on Amazon and Abebooks and you are set. Same speech must be applied to magazines,which can be found in profusion at same addresses.To make a bibliography,unless you would not trust the lavish one drawn up by Luraghi in his book,was really impossible. I overcame the problem when I was in UK several times in the beginning of '90s, a nation notoriusly very interested in the CW.There I bought for the first time the magazine MILITARY ILLUSTRATED,which contained many titles about the conflict and so I had the opportunity to reckon on them and make my choice,according to reviews,but more than that to what I liked most.Today I have more than onehundred selected books about the American Civil War in my own library,it's not too much according to American standard,but it's so much if we consider where I live.By the way ,I was forgetting,STORIA DEL WEST,as the image you can see above FIAMME DI GUERRA(Flames of War),always by Sergio Bonelli,it's rather intriguing story of rebel soldiers captured at Antietam,who were sent on frontier in blue uniform,the so-called "galvanized yankees" to fight the Sioux.Why I say this? there always was a trend to mix the War of Rebellion,with the conflicts with Plain Indians.It was like a gigantic cocktail that was served at cinema too.Maybe or not maybe,it was the myopic concept,not to see the CW in its true core and to pile up everything that was in regard of America,like something so pictoresque,so colorful,but in the end without specific gravity.If many European generals,rather than readers had correctly evaluated the lesson of the American Civil War,the manslaughter that WW1 was,was never to occur.I was old enough to meet my mother's granduncle,who was a War veteran and I still remember with awe his words full of fear when he was forced like hundreds, thousands of his comrades,to charge with a bayonet fixed on his musket against the Austrian machineguns in the open field. He was still startled when he recalled that after a shell-outburst,about 15 shrapnels were thrust into his flesh,allowing him to leave the conflict prematurely in 1916.When I was some years later in those places near the border to Austria and Slovenia I was wondering how was possible that generals were so foolish or simply criminals,to order head-on assaults against artillery barrage or even a machine gun nest.There is no single city,town or even hamlet in Italy which has its monument of WW1,on the other hand the price we paid 650000 dead and more than a milion wounded,would be enough to dry up the male population of our country so the memory of that massacre is more than justified.And it was not only Italy and Austria.France,Uk, Germany and Russia were involved into this madness. How was that? As I was sayng the tactics of war were the first to pay the price of not taking heed of the lessons that might have been drawn from the American Civil War,and it's no commonplace to repeat what general Fuller wrote about 80 years ago that Lee and Grant were like two children playng with a new complicated toy, and that they are more than justified since 50 years later,marshal Foch didn't fare better than them. What is my purpose here? Surely I am not willing to lecture on generalship and strategy,just tryng to make a comparison to what later happened in the field of culture.Oblivious of the spins that so much changed in our history,the heir of our tradition tryed to wipe out from schools and university programs the tale of those events.They simply assumed that military history was useless and they banished it from every spot. As far as America was concerned,well it was not the case to look after so little events from such a distant corner of the world. "Corner",I mean which had to stand a comparison to European culture.This created dismay,confusion,depriving many people that might have been aroused in this topic of the pleasure to be lectured on this.This is the common question I am always asked not only by my students,but also by so many who have written or periodically write to me.They simply confess their ignorance and they are like children who must be taught in this field.Obviously,this is not my attitude,I do believe that they deserve certainly much more than a simple lesson. This is the main reason why 3 years ago I accepted to moderate a message board,switching from one to another according to circumstances,but the common denominator was :convey to them that what happened in America 150 years was a modern conflict ,something that changed for ever the course of history.

2 commenti:

Kevin ha detto...

Wonderful post Giuseppe. I learned a great deal about the international perspective on the Civil War from reading this post.

giuseppe ha detto...

Thanks to be here Kevin