David Warren finds the Italian municipal election scene to be suddenly fascinating:
Curiosity kilted the cat, or however that saying goes: I have been reading too much news again, and must cut back. This morning’s excuse was curiosity over the results of municipal elections in Italy.
It seems they went well. The progressive types were turned out of office all over, and the country’s Five Star Party, founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo a few years ago, has won 19 of the 20 cities in which its candidate stood for mayor. Starting with Virginia Raggi in Rome, many of these mayors-elect could pass for fashion models. She, for instance, will try to improve upon a record that has “Left” the city indebted to more than twice its annual revenues, and its officials enthralled to organized gangsters.
Naples was the only exception, where a mayor already deeply loathed by the Left (a tireless public prosecutor) won re-election by a landslide.
The idea of electing comedians and comedy teams to office seems very attractive to the Italian national character. I have praised them for this before. It shows a maturity of understanding rare in the annals of modern democracy. Given the omnipresence today of po-faced progressive parties, the alternative cannot be po-faced “conservatives,” whom the po-faced Leftist media will methodically smear and slander, as for instance in Canada and USA. They accept that verdict, and agree to lose. Rather one needs people with a sense of humour and no political past. I suppose this is the argument for Trump; though I would argue that he takes himself quite seriously, and doesn’t see the joke at all.
Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf had a plan to finally force a decision against the Italians. He massed troops and artillery in a different sector of the front planning a surprise offensive. And even though everybody knew about his cunning plan, Italian Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna believed everything was a ruse and fired a general instead of preparing against the attack.
Even though he was called “the thick headed Croat” no southern Slav had ever achieved the rank of Field Marshal before Svetozar Borojevic von Bojna. During World War 1 he was probably the best general of the Habsburg Empire and his deeds during the Carpathian campaign and especially the defence against the Italians at the Isonzo River made him popular and earned him another nickname: Lion of the Isonzo.
Since we love our comment section so much, we came up with a new format that we call Out Of The Ether. Indy reads out the best comments we got under our recent episodes. This time we are talking about Luigi Cadorna, Cocaine and Food. Let us know what you think about our new format in the comments.
The alliance between the Central Powers of World War 1 doesn’t seem to be as strong anymore. The Bulgarians, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany are following their own goals without really helping out the other. Erich von Falkenhayn is obsessed with Verdun, Conrad von Hötzendorf wants to go on the offensive again after the 5th Battle of the Isonzo and the Bulgarians don’t have the resources to pursue their own goals. At the same time the unrestricted submarine warfare of the Germans is taking a deadly toll.
By the time Narses was sent to join him Italy, Belisarius had been away from Constantinople for a very long time. The royal family wasn’t sure if they could still trust him, or if his repeated victories had gone to his head, so they sent Narses (who had been in Constantinople and earned their trust) to keep an eye on him. But this laid the groundwork for disputes that would unravel the military effort there. John looked down on the “barbarian” Ostrogoths and did not consider them a threat, so he viewed the war in Italy as a political battlefield between his friend Narses and his commander Belisarius. Although Procopius defends John’s courage and capability as a cavalry commander, John did not see the bigger picture in Italy and his actions interfered with Belisarius’s overall strategy even though Narses and his family connection to the previous emperor helped keep him safe from repercussions. Belisarius wound up doing the same thing when he refused Justinian’s orders to leave Italy immediately. And in the end, the arrival of the plague – Bubonic Plague, the Black Death – interfered with all their plans. Although we believe Theodora’s actions helped hold the empire together, historians like Procopius take a much darker view: he thought she went power-mad and ruined everything. It’s also worth taking a moment to point out that Theodora was a miaphysite Christian, not a monophysite as we described her in this series. We’ll clarify the difference in a future series on Early Christian Heresies, but for right now we decided to simplify. And there was one thing we left out of this series, a story we love about how Justinian succeeded (where so many had failed) in getting silk worms out of China by bribing monks to smuggle silk worm eggs away in their canes. He helped found a silk industry that brought a lot of money to the empire, and helped it survive longer than it might have otherwise.
Theodora had kept the empire together, but it was deeply scarred. The Plague had killed a quarter of the citizens and imperial revenues were in dire straits. In Italy, the Gothic tribes had rebelled again under the united leadership of Totila, while the disorganized Romans failed to mount an effective defense. Italy quickly fell back into Gothic hands, and even when Justinian sent back Belisarius, he could barely raise an army and didn’t have the money to support his few conquests. Eventually he had to be recalled to defend Constantinople, and Rome was lost forever. A similar rebellion occurred in Africa, but was mercifully quelled. And then Theodora died. Justinian wept at her casket. He refused to remarry and designated a nephew-in-law as his successor. Even in mourning, he managed to organize a defense against Persian aggression and reorganize the Empire’s tax system to bring revenue back into the coffers he’d drained for grand monuments and expensive wars. As his final tribute to Theodora, he attempted to heal the divide between Monophysite and Orthodox Christians, which had been one of her life goals. He went about it by pressuring the Pope to join him in condemning the Nestorian religious leaders who’d championed monophysite beliefs at the Council of Chalcedon. The Pope reluctantly agreed, but as he feared, it did not heal the divide in the east and only created new controversy in the west.
The situation for the Italian soldiers was dire during the winter battles, but even though Luigi “The Generalissimo” Cadorna maintained a tight grip on the strategy used, the equipment of the Italian soldiers was greatly improved. At the same time, the Russians were advancing on Erzurum in the Turkish Caucasus and war at sea counted a few more casualties on all sides.
Mediolanum had fallen. Belisarius wrote a furious letter to Justinian explaining what happened, and the emperor immediately recalled Narses and reaffirmed Belisarius’s leadership. His army tore through the Ostrogothic territory and soon laid siege to Ravenna, which they brought to the brink of surrender. But the Ostrogothic King Vitiges had written to the Persian Empire urging them to take advantage of Rome’s distraction. Sure enough, Justinian found himself faced with a Persian army in the East, and he sent orders to Belisarius to leave Ravenna and return to defend Constantinople. Belisarius hated seeing his victory snatched from him, however, and almost refused to do it. Hearing of his displeasure, the Ostrogoths reached out to him and offered to make him their new king – no surrender necessary. Belisarius accepted their proposal, then immediately turned on them and declared the city for Justinian. Still, his greed cost the empire time. Justinian was furious that Belisarius had disobeyed his orders to return and wasted precious months solidifying control over the Ostrogoths while Persia threatened to overrun the heart of the empire. He could no longer trust his most valued general.
Belisarius had broken the siege around Rome. Now he wanted to push on to the Ostrogothic capital in Ravenna, so Justinian sent fresh troops with new commanders: Narses and John. Belisarius ordered John to take his cavalry north and secure the route the Ravenna, but John bypassed several cities that seemed too difficult until he was offered a willing surrender by the people of Ariminum. When Belisarius ordered him to return to the main army, John refused, and soon found himself surrounded by the same forces he’d declined to fight earlier. Narses insisted that they rescue him, so Belisarius devised a plan and tricked the Ostrogoths into thinking his force was larger than it really was, so they fled without joining battle. John gave all the credit for his rescue to Narses, and a divide grew between the old guard loyal to Belisarius and the new troops loyal to Narses. Even though Belisarius had a letter from Justinian giving him sole control of the army, Narses argued over the semantics of the order and continued to do as he liked. He roped Belisarius into besieging Urbinus, then decided to abandon his own plan and return to Ariminum. Belisarius took Urbinus by a stroke of luck and wanted to send reinforcements to the Ostrogoth-besieged city of Mediolanum, supposedly under Roman protection, but John would only accept orders from Narses and stalled until after the city fell. When Roman troops finally arrived in Mediolanum, they found the entire city butchered and burned to the ground.
1915 was a year for the Central Powers except on the Western Front where the stalemate continues. But plans are being made on both sides to gain an advantage. Preparations for huge offensives are on the way and one French fortress is the focus of the German Army: Verdun.
The morale of the Italian Army at the Isonzo Front is on an all time low. Catastrophic defeats against the Austrians, bad and broken equipment, unsanitary conditions, no supplies, no front leave and recreation for the soldiers. This week the first troops under Luigi Cardona are mutinying. At the same time the Entente is in real trouble against Bulgaria on the Macedonian Front and the evacuation of Gallipoli is still in the planning phase.
Far away from the Western Front, the British Indian Army gets intro trouble in Mesopotamia against the Ottoman Empire. In the Alps, the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo is proving just as disastrous to the Italians the other three before. And in Serbia the situation is getting darker and darker as Nis is falling to the Central Powers. All while the flying aces of World War 1 are fighting it out in the skies over the Western Front.
12 war zones were not enough for this global war and this week an often forgotten theatre of war opens in Libya. Local Arab tribesmen fight against the British in guerrilla war. As if the Italians did not have enough problems at the Isonzo Front where Luigi Cardona is still sending his men into certain death against the Austrian defences. The situation for the Serbs is grim too and on the Western Front the carnage continues unchanged.
Serbia’s Army cannot hold out much longer against the invasion of the Central Powers. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria are relentlessly pushing forward through the Balkan country. The French are trying to help from the south but a river proves to be an obstacle they cannot overcome. In the Alps, the 4th Battle of the Isonzo starts one week after the 3rd had failed and in West Africa, the Battle of Banjo takes place as one of the last battles of the German colony Kamerun (Cameroon).