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The Classic Italian Memoir of World War I

by Emilio Lussu translated by Gregory Conti

Pub Date: March 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8478-4278-0
Publisher: Rizzoli Ex Libris

The recovered memoir of a brave Italian soldier in World War I.

A lieutenant in the Sassari brigade of the Italian infantry, Lussu (1890–1975) waited 20 years to publish his memories of World War I in the Asiago Plateau, fighting the Austrian offensive. It is a story of trench warfare in 1916, but more importantly, it is the story of the men who fought and their derision of their commanding officers. They felt the enemy was not the Austrians but rather the men behind them giving orders that could only get them killed. The author’s memory is vivid, and the characters demand it. He writes of a general who demanded a different kind of definition of victory—not, “do you have enough supplies?” but a philosophical discussion. Gen. Leone, a pure wacko, demanded men wear body armor he had specially brought. Of course, when he sent them into battle, the armor was absolutely worthless. Another officer couldn’t understand why Lussu didn’t drink, something everyone in that army did—all day long and especially before a battle. The author writes about a war of maneuver to save lives rather than a war of position that would cost them. Regardless, the fact that they succeeded to take Monte Fior only to abandon it left them mostly in the same position throughout the conflict. These men were surely cannon fodder, and a short mutiny was the precursor to a much more serious revolt. One company abandoned their position in a cave that threatened to collapse, and their leader ordered the execution of every 10th man.

Lussu’s philosophy of war was born in the days he lived through and wrote about. Like so many soldiers, he was against it, and most readers will be persuaded to agree with him.