Sunday, November 23, 2008


In between my crime fiction reading I have managed to finish The White War; Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919 by Mark Thompson.
 I use the expression 'manage to finish' not because it is a difficult book to read but because it is such a sad story of wasted lives.
The book covers the whole story of Italy's involvement with La Grande Guerra from the grand strategy and politics to the poetry and individual accounts of the soldiers. 
The story is even more tragic looking back from our perspective today knowing that Italy turned to Mussolini and Fascism, and reading passages such as that below. 

For Wilson, Yugoslavia's birth proved that anti-imperialist ideals could prevail; it was self determination in action. He was adamant that the infant must be protected.

The book is full of interesting comments from a very different world such as:

... he wore a fez, showing he belonged to a Bosnian regiment. The fez had the same effect on Italians that the Scottish kilt had on the Germans: it meant primeval savagery. 

The conflict has largely been ignored by English speaking historians although at the time Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G.Wells and Rudyard Kipling toured the front and wrote 'articles and instant books'. The future novelist John Dos Passos spent time in Italy as a volunteer with the American Red Cross and of course Ernest Hemingway served in Italy and his experiences were told in the semi-autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms.

The White War is very good history, a sobering book and a necessary reminder that the Western Front was not the only killing field of the Great War. 

'A dirty trick which had been played on me and my generation' Siegfried Sassoon

'The most colossal, murderous, mismanaged butchery.' Ernest Hemingway 


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