Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Italian Front

Saltareback Saturday continues our tutorial on World War I. In my opinion, the War to End All Wars gets short shrift in American history lessons, considering how pivotal it was in revealing European monarchies as sclerotic and dysfunctional. The Italian campaign of that war is ignored all the moreso; but I've married into an Italian-American family and been fascinated by the history of the place during visits to the Old Country. So indulge me a little, would you?
"Clouds That Will Pass" by Rollin Kirby in New York World, November, 1917
Russia's withdrawal from the war had allowed Germany to come to Austria's aid in the Battles of Isonzo. Greatly outnumbered as a result of this turn of events, Italian forces surrendered the line at the Tagliamento River and retreated to the Piave. Austro-German forces employing chemical weapons captured the highlands of Asiago and the Brenta valley, pressing toward the Venetian plains.

As far as some Germans were concerned, this was just desserts for Italy's having deserted the Triple Alliance when war broke out in the summer of 1914 and subsequently having declared war on its erstwhile allies in May of 1915.
"Vittorio der Meineidige" by Olaf L. Gulbransson in Simplicissimus, Munich, November 20, 1917
Olav Gulbransson's cartoon of King Victor Emmanuel III fleeing buxom furies includes a notation that the cartoon is based on a work of Franz von Stuck, "Orestes Erinyes." There is no record that the royal family was ever considered to be in danger, but given the situation unfolding in Russia, Simplicissimus's cartoonists delighted in imagining the Vaterland's conquest of Rome.
"Wenn die Not Am Größten" by Erich Schilling in Simplicissimus, Munich, November 20, 1917
Allied commanders prepared for a worst-case scenario of losing everything north of the Adige. Many priceless statues, paintings and ivories, as well as the famed horses of the Basilica of San Marco, were spirited away from Venice in case that city were to fall to the Germans.
"When 'Kultur' Reaches Venice" by W.A. Rogers in New York Herald, November, 1917
Jubilant German cartoonists depicted the removal of art and artifacts somewhat differently.
"Furchtbare Panik" by Karl Arnold in Simplicissimus, November 20, 1917
Most American cartoonists accepted their role of cheerleader for the Allies, either drawing cartoons of Germany and the Kaiser as menacing evil despoilers of civilization...
"The Progress of Kultur" by Oscar Cesare in New York Evening Post, November, 1917
...or encouraging readers not to give up hope, belittling the enemy's successes.
"Maybe There's a Nail in the Boot" by Billy Ireland in Columbus Dispatch, November, 1917
It is worth noting that when Italy entered the war, its army had significant numerical superiority over Austrian forces in the Alps. Italian military leadership relied, however, on strategies that were 100 years out of date. Italy's casualties in the eleven Isonzo offensives were huge yet yielded negligible results, and troops brought in to replace soldiers killed were severely under-trained. Supply lines were stretched beyond their limits, and low morale led to desertions and mutinies. The newly appointed Italian commander in 1917, General Luigi Cadorna, was widely despised by his troops, but you wouldn't know that from Allied cartoons.
"No Touchdown!" by Homer Stinson in Dayton News, November, 1917
No, American readers were more likely to see disparaging assessments of Germany's partners in the war...
"Und Only Mein Unselfishness Iss Safing You" by Bill Sykes in Philadelphia Evening Ledger, October, 30 1917
...And, above and below, thanksgiving that Great Britain and France were coming to Italy's rescue.
"In the Nick of Time" by Bert Blessington in El Paso Morning Times, November 13, 1917
By the way, there is much to see and do in Venice. If you ever visit, which you ought to do before climate change puts it all under water, don't miss those gleaming bronze (well, probably mostly copper) horses at St. Mark's Basilica. The ones you can see from the Piazza di San Marco are modern replicas, but for a modest fee and a trip up a very old and worn staircase, you can look at them up close and personal. You can also see the originals, which date from antiquity, in the museum up there. Only then can you fully appreciate how much they've traveled, from ancient Greece to Constantinople to Venice to Paris and back to Venice again. And wherever they were hidden in 1917.

No comments:

Post a Comment