by GEORGE DE SANTILLANA
IT is often asked: What can we expect of the people of Italy in the event of an American invasion? To this there is only one answer: Coöperation of the Italian people is what we make it— or do not make it. In these critical days, all Europe is stirring. Considerations of the forces are shifting like clouds. At one pole is our military victory in North Africa; at the other is the moral defeat we suffered at the same time, which the Casablanca conference has not yet remedied.
As in France, so in Italy, the shifts are farreaching. To appreciate them to their full extent, we should keep in mind certain basic if not always obvious facts.
This is a people’s war. Hitler has made it such. We cannot expect, the people to value the subtle expedients and equivocations which delighted the diplomat of the past. By now the peoples of Europe can only appreciate consistent behavior and the symbols and evidences of strength. If so much be clear, they will repose their trust in leadership. Failing that, they are left to their bitter suspicions, to the anarchy springing out of years of servitude and frustration.
Remember that the average European has rarely known an American, and has never met that new phoenix, the American statesman. Your average Italian radio listener has become wary and thoughtful through these years of broken hopes, of misery and destructive doubt. In the deafening noise of propaganda and counter-propaganda his only assurance lies in the patient game of private inference.
That is why those early days of our African campaign remain so important.
Let us make it clear that General Eisenhower’s agreement with Darlan left the moral situation intact. Everyone knows what military necessity means. But the whole world awaited the developments that would come from the American state machinery. This, and this only, is what has made a test, case of an episode which otherwise would be open at most to moderate criticism. Any measure of expediency taken by forces like Stalinism or Hitlerism is easily understood and discounted. But here, for the first time, United States policy had to come out from behind the generalities of the Atlantic Charter and show its real intentions.
These months arc the brief, miraculous moment in which the world situation is fluid again, as it was in the fateful days of October, BUS. The faiths and hopes of unnumbered millions are waiting to coalesce into a positive force under the leadership of American principles.
Let us ask ourselves what we have done, up to now, to make this force positive. As one who has lived under Fascism, I shall try to list the definite clews that remain imprinted in the Italians’ memory—the things that will serve to guide their thinking.
There was the recognition of Darlan, not simply as a ranking military man, but as the head of the civil authority. There was the recognition (or worse, reappointment) of several of the most alarming characters of the Vichy rogues’ gallery, such as MM. Peyrouton and Lemaigre-Dubreull and others who made up most of Mr. Murphy’s “invaluable contacts”; there was the announcement that the 25,000 internees had been “amnestied” (another pregnant word), followed by too frequent assurances that most of them had at last really been liberated. To Latins wise in the ways of the dossiers, all this meant only one thing: that local authorities went on doing as they pleased. There was the pointed exclusion of de Gaulle from even nominal participation, an act which stands out in sharp relief and was the pretext for much coarse merriment on the Axis radio. This last feature will mean only one thing to a European public: namely, that America and England had run afoul of each other in the ancient and hazardous game of balance of power.
There is also what we did not do. When we landed in Algeria, a department of France, the oppressed peoples imagined as a natural thing that we should proclaim the French Republic reinstated. This of course did not imply resurrecting the corrupt crew of 1940. It meant simply “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” It meant re-establishing the tradition of legality in the fundamental institutions of France. The constitutional machinery was ready and available in the departmental Conseils Généraux. It meant also going ourselves to free our friends from jail and making a ceremony of it. It meant, in other words, holding fast to certain symbols of action which signified that, wherever American forces land, they land as liberators; there freedom under the lawwill be proclaimed, and democratic principles, whether certain people like it or not.
Nothing of all this happened. No one consulted the Conseils Généraux; their protests remained unanswered. Yet the Conseils would naturally have provided the political authority and the proper legal channels for delegating power to the officials, who would have found themselves back in their traditional position of subordinate executives. Very few fonetionnaires, we may safely say, would have dared to rebel. Instead, we imported Peyrouton.
As time went by, not only the Italians but many other Europeans began to be seriously puzzled both about our real intentions and about our capacity for wielding power. These Americans, they thought, always bring up expediency. Now who ever heard Hitler talk of expediency? Where he appears, people arc left in no doubt as to who has power and what he intends to do with it. Cut these newcomers who are supposed to be backed by the most formidable armaments and air power of all time give a good imitation of a nervous businessman referring you to his secretary. They speak of principles, and yet try to keep on the good side of local bosses and racketeers. It is as if the old world, which was swept out by the whirlwind of 1940, had come back with the ideas and the language of the Non-Intervention Committee.
We should not take these criticisms lightly.
Hitler can well afford to treat people like things, since his avowed object is to smash up societies. But if our aim is to restore societies as living beings, our means have to be different. Wo have approached the North African affair as a “job” to be muddled through, whereas it is in our deepest tradition that the social body lives on precedents. It is the essence of the Common Law. If we waive these rules of outown, then in the eyes of the world we become the imitators of Hitler, who disregards all precedents, including his own.
Let us consider what we actually suggest in our broadcasts to Italy.
I can describe its effects simply in the words of a message that reached us in July from the Italian underground: “In all conscience,” said the message, “we cannot ask our men to go on risking their lives and their souls when all we get is: ‘Don’t forget to trust your institutions, and remember that if you only get rid of that One Man, everything can go on as before,’”
The style may have improved since last summer, but we are still plugging tw o curiously contradictory lines: the first, “If you don’t revolt right away, we shall treat you as conquered enemies” — which is about like telling a man, “If tonight you don’t write fifty sonnets as good as Shakespeare’s, I will have you shot at dawn”; the second, “Don’t lose your heads; look to the Monarchy and the Vatican to get you out of trouble.” This last suggestion, which is at least a practical one, is clinched in public opinion by Mr. Taylor’s mission to Rome.
The Italians knew Mr. Taylor well before the war, and they were not allowed to remain unacquainted with his political sympathies at the time. They suspect that he is at present trying to establish contact with those very same financiers and industrialists who helped Fascism to power, and who have retained a controlling interest in the regime. These notables are now being organized, it seems, in support of a future Triumvirate made up ot Badoglio, Grandi, and the Crown Prince. In all these negotiations, of course, the Vatican is the indispensable intermediary and adviser.
In fact, the Italians get the clear impression that we are counting on the good offices of the Vatican for weaning not only Italy, but France and Spain as well, from “Axis influence, ” and that we are looking with favor on the formation of a Latin bloc under the tutelage of the Holy See. (“Now can it be,” ponders the listener, “that they really think we like this political intrusion of clericalism? And if they don’t think so, what is it they want?”)
What we want begins to seem fairly clear when the rumor comes through from America of an Austrian battalion in the United States Army, under His Majesty Otto von Hapsburg. One only, among so many groups. “I get it,” thinks the Italian listener. “Their choice is Dollfuss and Franco, all over again.”
If this arouses indignation among us, it is because we do not expect to be judged, but to be taken on faith. Yet we must admit that the scattered clews picked up across the chasm of time and space that separates us from Europe do add up to a plausible picture. Italians cannot be expected to know about our good intentions. In the swift confusion, they try to make sure of some points of reference on which they may rely for analyzing subsequent news.
Now they think they have their bearings. Suppose tomorrow we admit de Gaullists: it will mean that Britain has managed to muscle in on the deal. Suppose we drop an Otto von Hapsburg or a Peyrouton: it will mean they did not deliver the goods. Moreover, as events progress, there will stand inevitably revealed the spectacular amount of skulduggery on the part of Franco-American power groups and the military Deuxième Bureau that led up to the presence of Darlan in Algiers; and this is not likely to increase the unquestioning faith of our friends. It will also appear that those groups do not regard themselves as “temporary expediencies”; they are “rigging” the situation against coming risks so as to make it irreparable. Of that we seem totally oblivious.
The word from high quarters is now: We will make any deal that pays. Pays whom? It does not occur to us that until we have shown the power to have a constructive program of our own, it will look to the other side very much as if the Fascist bosses had imported us into North Africa as a strong-arm squad for their own purposes.
No generalities and no Atlantic Charter will suffice to dispel the idea that we are bent on establishing a set of “good strong” regimes, balanced by mutual dislike. In fact, such a simple and realistic policy will be received with both relief and shame by the populations involved. I say relief, for in our epoch of apprehension each man will hold on to his job as a clam to its shell. This passive all-pervading aspect of Fascism was underestimated by our officials, for they found that even Giraud’s prestige could not budge the swarm of bureaucrats and colons of French Africa (a region that has been ridden with fascists, out of local conditions, since before Fascism), and that it took a man with five stripes on his sleeve, speaking in the name of the Maréchal, to promise them that, whoever won, their tenures and pensions would remain secure.
Such is the behavior that “fascistized ” countries will display as soon as we step into them, if we encourage it ever so slightly. Political carelessness may exact a higher price than actual scheming.
Totalitarianism, by drawing every form of social activity into the orbit of a centralized party-state machine, makes any breakdown of government all the more terrifying to envisage. Power is indivisibly at the center. If we come to terms with the group that holds it (and I am not thinking of the men that hold a “philosophy of conquest,” as we have tried lamely to define them; I mean the hierarchy of Noguèses and Peyroutons on all levels down to the smallest local boss), then all talk of reform or elections becomes a sinister joke; yet four fifths of the population will take it with resigned passivity.
Let us not say again that we have found a confusion. We shall have helped to make it. Who cares to think of the immense relief of the Italian generals and officials who were only yesterday quaking in their boots; of the police who by tradition knew they must be quick to betray five minutes before anyone else; of the attentistes everywhere, waiting in anguish to find out on which side their bread is buttered — and who discovered that all that is asked of them is to follow the safe habitual path of subservience and vicious discipline?
It appears that we want order (the kind of idea they get with a wink), and only they are competent to deliver it. So they can name the price. The right way then is to make a great show of zeal around the “smart” chiefs who can be trusted to fall on their feet, to keep the population well in hand by firing it with patriotic unity, to shoot up American task forces vigorously, as Darlan has shown you must do if you want to raise the ante, and when the right moment has come, the safe moment when Hitler can get at them no longer, lo and behold, an American general will be produced at the Palazzo Venezia sitting behind a battery of telephones, and all will be well. And even if worst were to come to worst, thinks the fascist “hierarch,” — if these uncouth Americans should really insist on a democracy, — why at least it would mean not ending up before the execution squad.
Thus in two easy moves, surely easy and surely realistic, for we can well count, as Hitler did, on all the reserves of open and hidden cowardice of demoralized nations, we have carelessly precipitated the brooding cloud of Europe’s future, and the situation has begun to crystallize. On one side, there are those who are in a condition to rig a deal with us; on the other, the cheated and heartbroken.
Such a statement, I know, may arouse incredulity among us who feel that there is nothing to warrant it in our intentions. We forget, however, that it is not our good intentions that operate in these critical moments, but only what is understood and discounted over there.
Unless we make our intentions clear, when we arrive brimful of brave resolve we shall find people who think they have already figured out what we mean. In 1936, at the height of the Ethiopian crisis, the British Foreign Office established contact with the Italian Crown Prince and asked whether it could not assist discreetly in a coup d’état in favor of the Monarchy. After consulting with the loyalists and the Vatican, Humbert replied that unfortunately they could not see how they could keep control if Fascism collapsed. Today the Italian concludes that we still are in the same frame of mind, and even though those “institutions” are weaker than they were in 1936, now we can come in with tanks to uphold them. And surely everybody knows that the Red Danger is very much on our minds. So in the eyes of anyone, including ourselves if wo stop to think of it, the logic of our course would appear uncscapable: we must at all costs have authoritarianism in France and Italy; we must also, obviously, have a strong military Germany for the new cordon sanitaire, and a balance of power to keep it in place. Any other consideration has to go by the board. And if the common people apprehend this, Stalin will not be slow to grasp it either.
Is this really what we want? Is it true that we have no other policy except a Balkanization of Europe? Is it possible that we should see no solutions except such as must revive confusion, class hatred, and internal strife? Do we really intend to drive away from our own camp our natural allies in all submerged countries, the common people and the workers, and compel them to look to Russia as their last hope?
We still have open before us the other way, that of a policy based on firm democratic principles of behavior and friendly understanding. The common people still are not committed beyond hope. But we must be willing to face the choice. It would certainly be less risky than to go on muddling along toward a third conflagration, on the time-honored principle that You Can’t Be Too Careful.
Even Mr. Lippmann, who came out courageously for de Gaullism, does not find a way out of the vicious circle, as far as Italy is concerned. “What we have to build upon,” he writes, “are those elements in each country who have proved by their actions that they have the character and the strength to remain true to their country’s institutions and to its engagements, and have cared more for honor, and loyalty, and freedom than for their lives and their fortunes.”
Right. But when we land amid the gushing zeal of those career men who did indeed stick by the “institutions,” how are we going to find the “men of character” we need? Do we think the decent people of Italy will thrust themselves forward to outdo their rulers in servility and brazen “democratic” patter? Our attachés and Army intelligence officers will be able to report that the rabble is clamoring for the Pope’s intercession; that after scanning the situation on the spot, they have not been able to find the so-called opposition, and that probably there never was any.
So of course we shall turn to the Vatican, and ask them to “suggest some names.” Some good safe names. Q. E. D.
But what is happening, meanwhile, to the living body of Italy, to those who in some degree still cared “for honor, and loyalty, and freedom”? I am not speaking now of the born dissenters, the avowed revolutionists. I am thinking of something nearer to our familiar lights and shadows, of the many who stuck to their obscure jobs in silence, asking for no favor and receiving none; of those who were debarred from service to the “institutions” by their refusal to take the Party badge; of the many from high to low who tried at least to save the inner man from compliance. All of these knew they were sacrificing something, for their tepidness was carefully noted.
I am thinking of those Italians who are marked men because they refused to make the gesture expected of them; of the scholars, the houghtful aristocrats, the liberal and cultivated minds which kept themselves intact under punishment as the last reserve of their country’s civilization — all those whom we still expect “to ride the storm and to shape the future”; of those who Struggled to keep alive in obscure retirement rather than collaborate; of the men who fought in Albania and Russia and Libya, the “smiling prisoners” of our rotogravures, thinking of fhe time when they would come hack with the vested right of calling their tormentors to strict account.
I am thinking of the workers who tried to struggle along without, a Fascist union card, and stood among their fellows as a living reminder: of the ferment in the universities, of the comrades of those young instructors who shot them sol vos in a death pact rather than go out and teach as they wore bidden. I am thinking of the “underground ” that may well stay underground for good; of that rebirth of opposition from within the ranks of the Fascist youth after 1937, which gave anti-Fascism its modern meaning and content, and spread like wildlife to prove for the first time that all the clever theories on conditioning did not work.
I am thinking of the new contact between classes: not only of the political chiefs who have fought since the beginning, but of all those newcomers, students and professional men who had gone in for underground activities as a kind of limited liability, assuring each other in a joshing way that if they were caught they were not going to be heroes and suckers, no sir, they were going to sign any kind of submission and get out; and once they were behind bars, they realized with what awe and gratitude the imprisoned workers looked upon them, the men who had agreed to lead them and share their fate; and they discovered they had to live up to it.
How are we going to assess all this? Hundreds of thousands might be our future associates in the reconstruction job. Wherever there was still a man with a conscience, he was our hidden ally. How many shall we find now? It is truly the seed beneath the snow, which we are burying under the rubble of practical logic.
We are still in time. Of course. There is always time before the end. But it will take heroic decision and clarity to do what we must do.
Reconstructing the enemy will certainly be a staggering job. But it is also one of the greatest experiments in history, and if we want real peace we have to face it.
What we should keep in mind is the totality of totalitarianism. The legal and administrative institutions are still there, several of them have to be preserved, and yet nothing will be done until we have purged them of the spirit of death. Institut ions mean men, but if you look for the smallest book in the world today, it will be the Italian “Who’s Who.” How can we bring back life into the institutions except by means of the people? And how can we get to the people except by way of at least some of their institutions?
It looks like a vicious circle, but it is not. The solution does not lie in this or that local remnant, it does not lie in fencing olf the nation or in giving it some more of its corrupted juice to stew in. It rests in us. It rests in the pervading and ordering influence of a sound international order.
Have American statesmen decided that, of the possiblest matures of order, that one is best filled for Latin countries which has survived many centuries of trial: namely, the Catholic Church?
It is time someone broke the dire taboo of silence that hangs over this question, and faced it openly. It is important to know how this stupendous misapprehension has taken root, unsupported by any historical evidence, that the Italian people would adjust easily to a political supervision by the Vatican. Italian civilization has been essentially Catholic, in the highest sense of the word, and I believe that no order will be really congenial that does not embody the abiding values of Catholic Christianity. But it is also a verified fact that throughout their history the Italians have been inflexibly anticlerical, and have revolted again and again against the political encroachments of the Curia.
Since the Middle Ages, Italy has been, literally, fighting for breath. All the struggle for culture, for political maturity and responsibility, has been directed, even by strict believers, against the weight of a world-embracing Church, nourished on Italian substance, that was too big for the country. Even in the most liberal times before Fascism, under most able leadership, the Progressive Catholic Party was never able to enlist more than one fifth of the electorate. If we believe in facts, these are the facts. Behind the facts are compelling motives. In their resistance, the Italians were actuated by the essent ially religious idea that it was had for the Church, as well as for them, to have the Faith mixed up with power politics. Nor were the Italians alone in thinking so. Part of the clergy, especially the small clergy, will side with the people against the hierarchies — the same small clergy who in France are now de Gaullist. In this respect I should like to quote one of the greatest French Catholic writers, Georges Bcrnanos:—
Whoever tries to deal with the Church in a realistic spirit for realistic ends, will always be a dupe in t he deal. In the exact measure in which you think you have tied her down through clever bargaining, you will have detached her from what, makes her true force. Never did the clerical parties in our country have more means and power available than during the last years before the war. They had a foot everywhere, as they used to say. How many feet! The coming liquidation of their puerile Pétaiuist revolution will show that their chances were never worth a farthing.
These things, surely, must be known to our political strategists. What is it then that urges them to push through, against wind and water, such a cynical plan? One of the simpler reasons may be that suggested by an American Catholic, G. C. Paulding, in the Commonweal. He writes: —
It is possible that Franco some day may seem less fascist if he recalls a King; fascism in Italy less fascist if it deposes a Duce. ... It is possible that we can win the war and hand over the peoples of Europe — with their freedom gone and their social hierarchies intact—to any collaboration their leaders may choose with Germany.
I do not say that this is what we are doing, and it is certainly not what wc are planning deliberately to do. I say that it is possible, that such a disaster is possible, for the reason that in America, we have not suffered under fascism and therefore cannot feel an entire solidarity with people who, because they have suffered in this particular way, seek a revolutionary solution, and can seek nothing less. And I say this also. If such a betrayal takes place, it will bo for the convenience of the dominant classes in America and abroad.
There is a little plan, a dirty little plan, to spread the word that any concession to conservative Frenchmen, Spaniards, Italians, Austrians (and to Otto) will be made to the Catholic Church, and to American Catholic opinion. That plan will not work.
So this way out, too, will not work. The reader may feel at this point, with Mr. Hull, that what we need is less criticism and more constructive suggestions. My excuse is that I fear, above all, that blind and ant-like “constructiveness” which wastes irretrievable treasures of good-will in piling up materials on a foundation of mud and muddle. If we leave to the dictators alone the privilege of being ruthlessly clear and consistent in action, we must resign ourselves to a comeback of dictatorship.
What the poisoned nations need above all is the feeling of infrangible and concrete principles of behavior, of a moral intention which will not unload its responsibilities onto shady intermediaries. Fascism springs from an assumption of international anarchy which points to the monolithic bloc of a centralized nation as the only way to survival. The only solvent for such a bloc of fear and aggression Is a strong international magnetic field of order and justice. People’s minds are sensitive needles.
On this first necessity for an international order, even the most national-minded underground has been most explicit. The Italian underground has reached through sacrifice a spiritual level above our average, but it knows how limited is its political experience. The country as a whole has lost respect for parliamentary democracy; critical faculties have become preternaturally sharp; they know only too well what makes men tick, but their grasp of what makes a society work has become terribly feeble. It is either millennialism or cynicism. If we show them that realism does not mean having to be a crafty scoundrel, that decency can still get rewards, we can still bring them into line as our friends and allies.
But, it is often asked, cannot we expect also some initiative from the Italian side? The answer is yes, if we do not destroy it ourselves, and if we do not ask them to achieve with their bare hands what we find difficulty in doing with all our tanks and airplanes. We cannot even know who will be the chiefs. It is only action that will bring them out. What we know is that there are groups who have reached cohesion and political maturity. They surely would be competent to bring back a democracy. But we cannot expect them to pull an order out of a hat.
If we want to give our Italian friends a chance, we should keep the country occupied for a year or so, and protected from extremist coups, either fascist or communist. This would allow local and provincial bodies to constitute themselves, and perhaps to organize directly a national representation.
But the decisive action must begin right now, before invasion. We must establish what we mean and get it across. It is certainly a breathtaking experiment, to offer for the first time to a distraught and hard-working population an order that need not look for stability in international provocation, in police machines, or in foreign adventures. Nothing less is needed. To undo an abnormal history, you have first to restore the self-respect and the inner integrity of the victim of that history.
If, on the other hand, we persist in the present course; if we nip democracy in the bud while we proclaim self-determination, then of course the European idea and the common reason of Europe will pass into the hands of the “groups of resistance.” In the end, what the hard-bitten French workers have to say, who had perhaps more to do with resistance to Germany than Mr. Hull seems willing to concede, and the fervent French boys who have grown overnight into embittered men, and the Yugoslav insurgents — what they will say and do will mean more to the Italian people than a dozen local stuffed shirts, even if backed by slick police experts. If we cold-shoulder them the Italians may find more solidarity among the Czech democrats, among the Austrian workers (who do not forget how they were bombed out of their homes by their Catholic government), among the communists everywhere, than among the chiefs of American labor.
On that day, America may indeed be isolated.