The world could not get enough of Mussolini until he teamed up with Hitler and the Nazis. This was not simply because fascism had stopped communism in Italy and elsewhere but because it had also come up with what seemed like a viable big-state economic alternative to communism able to tame capitalism’s unbridled cruelties: the “Third Way.”
How weird, then, that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair of all people should dust off that fascist phrase “Third Way” to define their public-private partnership solution to all our economic ills.
The American 5th Army and British 8th Army invaded mainland Italy from Sicily on September 3, 1943. The Americans came up the west side of the peninsula, the British the east. Five days later, Marshal Pietro Badoglio on behalf of King Vittorio Emanuele III, who had deposed Mussolini on July 25th 1943, signed an armistice. But the allies still had the Germans to deal with. And it took them nearly two years to get them out of Italy.
Roughly 60,000 non-Italian servicemen lost their lives in the Allied campaign to liberate Italy.
I met a Canadian veteran who was visiting for the 60th anniversary in 2005. He was amazed at all this left-wing glorification of the partisans. “Never once saw a partisan, not once,” he told me.
There are no accurate figures on the number of partisans who died fighting the Germans or the fascists. Estimates vary from as high as 45,000 to as few as 2,000. The high figure comes from the Turin-based National Resistance Institute, which admits the figure “has no documented basis” and includes 16,000 partisans who died in captivity in Germany.
To be fair, the Italian partisans were often heroic, but there were far too few of them to make any difference on the battlefield. They had no heavy weaponry and fought no significant battles.
But once the war was over and the Germans were gone, the partisans got into their stride. Between 1945 and 1947 they slaughtered about 35,000 Italian civilians deemed “fascist.” (This figure excludes the 15,000 Italians killed by Tito’s Yugoslavian communist partisans in northeastern Italy.) So the partisans killed more Italian civilians in peacetime than the Germans did in their reprisals (15,000), though less than the Allies did in their bombing raids (64,000).
One summer’s night years ago, around the time of 9/11 I guess, I needed a red rose in a hurry to give to the Italian girl, Carla, who is now my wife and the mother of my five children.
So I went into the cemetery and found a decent red rose bush next to one of the gravestones, and I plucked a beautiful rose from it. I then gave it to Carla. I told her where it had come from, and her eyes welled up with tears. I have always remembered the name on that gravestone and each time I visit the cemetery as I did on April 25th, I stop in front to say thank you.
Thank you, Private W. J. Blake of the Durham Light Infantry, killed in action on December 15th 1944, aged 21, “Sadly mourned by Mum, Dad and Jean.” You and those like you are the ones who liberated Italy and restored it to democracy. And I am sure of this: You are not angry, nor would your family be angry that a red rose from a bush whose roots mingle with your remains helped love flourish between a British man and an Italian woman. Thank you.
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