November 26, 2009

Ponderable Quotes: Vilfredo Pareto

Ed. note – The following is an excerpt from a letter I received from a reader. I thought it was interesting and I wanted to share part of it with you. I was originally going to post this as an addendum to the Correa Moylan Walsh quote but thought it deserved to stand on its own. 
…The quote from Correa Moylan Walsh’s “Climax of Civilization” is reminiscent of the writings of Vilfredo Pareto. Too bad Pareto’s a Northern Italian because these quotes would be perfect additions to your “Ponderable Quotes”: 
“When a living creature loses the sentiments which, in given circumstances, are necessary to it in order to maintain the struggle for life, this is a sign certain of degeneration, for the absence of these sentiments will, sooner or later, entail the extinction of the species. The living creature which shrinks from giving blow for blow and from shedding its adversary’s blood thereby puts itself at the mercy of the adversary. The sheep has always found a wolf to devour it; if it escapes this peril, it is only because man reserves it for his own prey. Any people which has horror of blood to the point of not knowing how to defend itself will sooner or later become the prey of some bellicose people or other. There is not perhaps on this globe a single ground which has not been conquered by the sword at some time or other, and where the people occupying it have not maintained themselves on it by force. If the Negroes were stronger than the Europeans, Europe would be partitioned by the Negroes and not Africa by the Europeans. The ‘right’, claimed by people who bestow on themselves the title of ‘civilized’ to conquer other peoples, whom it pleases them to call ‘uncivilized’, is altogether ridiculous, or rather, this right is nothing other than force. For as long as the Europeans are stronger than the Chinese, they will impose their will on them; but if the Chinese should become stronger than the Europeans, then the roles would be reversed, and it is highly probable that humanitarian sentiments could never be opposed with any effectiveness to an army.” Les Systèmes Socialistes, p. 135-136
“Any elite which is not prepared to join in battle to defend its position is in full decadence, and all that is left to it is to give way to another elite having the virile qualities it lacks. It is pure day-dreaming to imagine that the humanitarian principles it may have proclaimed will be applied to it: its vanquishers will stun it with the implacable cry, Vae Victis. The knife of the guillotine was being sharpened in the shadows when, at the end of the eighteenth century, the ruling classes in France were engrossed in developing their ‘sensibility.’ This idle and frivolous society, living like a parasite off the country, discoursed at its elegant supper parties of delivering the world from superstition and of crushing l'Infâme, all unsuspecting that it was itself going to be crushed.” Les Systèmes Socialistes, p. 136
Sociological Writings by Vilfredo Pareto. Selected and introduced by S.E. Finer. Translated by D. Mirfin. Published by Frederick A. Praeger 1966.
Ed. note – Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923) was of Franco–Ligurian descent. His work has been applied to several fields. Pareto efficiency (also Pareto optimality) is an important economic concept that has many uses in game theory, sociology and engineering.

Our good reader might find it surprising that we posted these thought provoking quotes from a Northern Italian, but truly how is it any different from our quoting the American Walsh? Both individuals belong to our greater European culture and their works are certainly worthy of review. We would like to emphasize that we are NOT anti-Northern Italian. They are our neighbors and we respect them. The purpose of our group is not to disparage Northerners. We simply oppose the denigration and defamation of Southern Italians, be it from Northern Italians, Americans, self-hating Southerners or whomever. If we appear critical of Padanians, be it historical personages or contemporary demagogues, it’s simply because we are trying to rectify prevalent misinformation and stereotypes vilifying our people by said individuals. Such criticism should not be considered more vehement than our contempt for our own community’s scoundrels and in no way represents our opinions of Northerners in general.

We here at Il Regno can certainly appreciate the works of Vilfredo Pareto or, for that matter, any individual worthy of admiration, regardless of their place of origin. I personally recommend Pareto’s Rise & Fall of Elites and Transformation of Democracy, and just for good measure I will share one of my favorite Pareto quotes:
“‘As long as the sun shall shine upon man’s misfortunes, the sheep will be eaten by the wolf.’ All that is left is, for those who know and can, to avoid becoming sheep.” – Vilfredo Pareto, The Rise & Fall of Elites

November 22, 2009

More Italians Living Abroad

…and as Usual, Most of Them are Southerners

By Niccolò Graffio

Since the disastrous Risorgimento which destroyed the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (among other nation-states) 150 years ago and left the pseudo-state known as Italy in its wake, few economic opportunities have existed for Sicilians*. This was largely due to the concentration of capital in the North by decrees from the House of Savoy. Victor Emmanuel II had decided that the industrialization of Italy was to be solely in the North. To drive the point home, he had Piedmontese troops disassemble factories in Naples (the former capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) and shipped north of the Po River.
When the people of the newly-incorporated South realized Garibaldi’s promises of land and political reform were just so much hot air, they took up arms in an ultimately futile effort to retake their ancestral homeland. After years of fighting (and brutal reprisals), Victor Emmanuel’s troops finally succeeded in “pacifying” the region. Faced with the grim prospects of having exchanged one inept monarchy for another, of having seen more arable land wind up under the corrupt latifundia system of tenure, and of now having to contend with new phenomena: the vicious Camorra & Mafia, fed up Southerners “voted with their feet” and began to emigrate in huge numbers.
To be sure, however, Southerners weren’t the only ones who had serious problems with the House of Savoy’s new “Patria”. Government records show, for example, that between the years 1861-1961 about 3 million Venetians emigrated to escape the impoverishment of their region.

Even Milan, which undoubtedly fared a lot better, economically-speaking, as a result of the Risorgimento (thanks in large measure to a flurry of railroad-building) than any other city in the new country, had its share of troubles. Famine and runaway inflation triggered riots in that city which culminated in the infamous Bava-Beccaris Massacre on May 9, 1898! Depending on your sources, 118-400 people were killed and 450 to over 2,000 injured in what King Umberto I termed “…a great service to the King and to the Country”.

As bad as all that was, however, none of it could compare to the utter destitution that was artificially imposed from up North upon the region Giuseppe Garibaldi contemptuously referred to as the Mezzogiorno. Despite its sometimes bumpy ride on the road to “unification”, Northern Italy ultimately benefited greatly from it. Northern plutocrats had no intention of allowing any threats to their new industrial wealth, and used their vast influence in the government to secure it in their own backyards.

Likewise the nobles and nouveau riche who owned the immense latifundia in the South resisted, often with murderous violence, any attempt at land reform. Whatever crumbs were left by Northern industrialists and Southern patricians were quickly gobbled up by parasitic criminal organizations like the Camorra and the Mafia (who often collaborated with the former). Since macroeconomics is a “zero sum game”, this guaranteed the overwhelming majority of people living in Southern Italy would remain in a state of perpetual poverty. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising most would choose to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

For the past 150 years, that is exactly what they have been doing! As the following statistics clearly show: two world wars, the Great Depression, the so-called “Information Age” and even membership in the EU have changed nothing as far as the economic disparities between Northern and Southern Italy are concerned. Now as then, it is largely by design.

The Migrantes Foundation is a Roman Catholic organization that monitors immigration to and emigration from Italy. According to a report they released this November, 2009; 3.91 million Italian citizens are currently living outside Italy. Further reading uncovers these interesting facts.

• In 2008, the number was 3.73 million.

• The top destinations for Italian immigrants are Germany, Argentina, Switzerland, France, Brazil, Belgium and the US. Over 54 percent of them come from the impoverished south of the country. [Note: recent census figures show 45.5% of the pop. of Italy lives in the North; an area covering roughly 1/3 of the country. – NG]

• Most of the Italians who have emigrated come from the capital Rome, and the southern cities of Agrigento, Cosenza, Salerno and Naples.

• Fifty-four percent of them are under 35 years old. [There goes the next generation! – NG]

• In contrast, there are 3.89 million foreigners residing in Italy. [Note: Almost all of whom are living in the North. – NG]

This last one was my favorite.

Migrantes also said that usually, Italians who live abroad had become more prosperous.

So much for the myth of the lazy, inferior Southerner!

Final note: according to a report issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), even though Italy’s economy shows signs of improving, unemployment is expected to rise through 2011. This will no doubt trigger further emigration (especially of Southerners) from the country.

*Sicilians – former citizens (from both sides of the Strait of Messina) of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Further reading:
• Ethnic America: A History: Thomas Sowell, Basic Books, 1983 (see sections on Italians).
• Italy and Its Discontents: Family, Civil Society, State: Paul Ginsborg, Palgrave Macmillian, 2006.

November 21, 2009

Lucky 13

Serie A 09-10: Week thirteen report & predictions
SSC Napoli vs. SS Lazio
Slumping Lazio will be entering the lion's den this weekend as they face a confidant Napoli side that is finally home after consecutive road games and the international break. Starved for live calcio the San Paolo faithful will be in a frenzy as they welcome back their beloved Vesuviani, who, since Walter Mazzarri's arrival, are unbeaten in five matches, including an impressive comeback win in Turin against Juventus. 

These two clubs are headed in opposite directions. Surprisingly, the Biancocelesti have been free falling after their stellar start to the season (2-0) and impressive victory against Inter in the Super Coppa. Since then Lazio has managed only five draws in ten matches and are battling relegation. Partenopei, on the other hand, have fought their way back into Champions League contention after a disappointing start. I don't expect the Romans to go down without a fight and they're certainly capable of turning their season around, but I predict Napoli will win this match. Lazio's fortunes will have to wait at least one more week before they improve.

USC Palermo vs. Calcio Catania
This all Sicilian affair will see Trinacria's two top-flight clubs face off at the Stadio Barbera. While 8 points separate these sides in the standings I don't believe Catania are as bad as their record indicates. I think the Elefantini have just been a bit unlucky.

Sicilian Derbys are always intense and there is no love lost between these clubs so I think the Rossoblu will give Palermo a run for their money. I'm not suggesting a repeat of last season's performance where Catania pummeled the Rosanero 4-0 at this fixture, but perhaps a draw would be a realistic outcome. Palermo has been a little inconsistent recently and Catania showed no signs of quitting during their last match against an in-form Napoli.

AS Bari vs. AS Roma
Super Bari will be invading the Stadio Olimpico this weekend. Unfortunately for the Galletti, Roma's talisman Francesco Totti is expected to be back in the lineup. While this certainly improves the Giallorossi's chances to win this shouldn't intimidate the Southern upstarts who've been nicknamed the "Giant killers" this season because of their surprise success against Serie A's top clubs.

If history has anything to say about this match the Romans are guaranteed a victory with their lopsided dominance over the Barese, however, I think the Biancorossi have another upset in them and they’re finally due to get their first away victory against Roma. Just add this to my long list of bold predictions.

Forza Sud!

By New York Scugnizzo

Results (added Nov. 23):

Roma 3-1 Bari
As I feared, Francesco Totti's return did not bode well for Bari. Roma's captain scored a hat trick, quickly quieting his critics and crushing my hopes of a Galletti upset.

Catania 1-1 Palermo
Catania proved me right but at the expense of Walter Zenga. The Palermo skipper was sacked after his teams disappointing draw during the Derby di Sicilia.

Napoli 0-0 Lazio
The Vesuviani threw everything they had at the Romans but it wasn't enough to break through the Biancocelesti's stingy defense. It was Partenopei's second consecutive draw and extended Mazzarri's unbeaten record, but I think I'm not alone when I say that I'm more than a little disappointed with the result.

Avanti Sud!

November 20, 2009

Gaddafi's indoctrination soirée

By Lucian

On November 17th I read about an ad looking for beautiful women in Rome, this in itself is no surprise. The significance was who paid for the ad and why.

Instead of the usual job offers that would exploit the sex appeal of these women, they were taken to a remote mansion, given a copy of the Koran and Gaddafi’s Green Book, and fed Islamic propaganda. The women were told that the sponsor would even pay for their trip to Mecca if they agreed to it. The sponsor turned out to be none other than the anti-Western Libyan Leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who felt the need to address them personally.

The conversion of beautiful Italian women to Islam isn’t all Gaddafi sponsors; he also supports both Marxist and Islamic terrorist training camps in his country and was partially behind the Lockerbie bombing which killed 270 people.

One has to wonder what he has planned for these women. If simple conversion was the purpose, then why just beautiful European women? Why not men and average looking women?

The ad specifically preferred “leggy women,” do they make better converts? Why do they need “beautiful” women, do they have a shortage, and if so, then why?

With Islam’s record of intolerance and abuse of women, it would stand to reason that Feminists and Egalitarians would be outraged at the behavior and tactics of Islamic leaders and organizations today. Instead, many Feminists and Egalitarians can be found among Islam’s apologists and biggest supporters. It might be wise to look deeper into their actual agenda, because protecting European women doesn’t seem to be as big a part of it as they claim. As for Gaddafi and his Muslims, at least they are following their doctrine, to them we are just infidels, and not worthy of protection or respect.

I am sure that many will resent my observations, and many Muslims have stated that it is not an “opinion” but a “crime,” but how can I let something like this pass without comment? Gaddafi and his Muslim supporters are hostile to Feminists, Egalitarians, Homosexuals and Christians. They have their own homelands filled with people just like themselves, so if they despise our culture and us then why do they wish to live among us?

Italy has enough expensive problems with hostile Muslim immigrants, if Gaddafi has the resources to pay for “beautiful women” to travel to the middle-East then maybe he should consider taking these disgruntled Muslims as well, because it appears they are not happy in the West. 

Some links:

November 14, 2009

Update on Abruzzo Earthquake

Italian American Museum Founder 
and President Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa
presenting earthquake relief fund check to
Italy’s Minister of Cultural Affairs Sandro Bondi
Earthquake –– Aid of Italian Americans.
One Hundred and Ten Thousand U.S. Dollars delivered by the Italian American Museum 

10/28/2009 ROME.  The Italian American Museum in Little Italy in New York, presented $110,000 which will finance the restoration of Our Lady of Pietranico, terracotta works of the sixteenth century, attributed to Saturnino Gatti, which was housed in the Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo and which was almost completely destroyed in the earthquake that shook the Aquila and Abruzzo on April 6. 

The announcement was made by the Italy’s Minister of Cultural Affairs Sandro Bondi at a meeting yesterday afternoon at the ministry with the president of the Italian American Museum Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa, and other representatives of the community. 

Once restored, perhaps as early as next year, said Bondi, the Madonna will be brought to America and exhibited at the Italian American Museum, perhaps along with other Italian works of art, which will be on loan for a temporary exhibition at the museum.  

Known as adoring Madonna, the sculpture is made of polychrome terracotta and has a height of 105 centimeters.  The Madonna is depicted sitting with the Child on her knee with her hands holding him.  The condition of the Madonna was already compromised before the earthquake, and the Child was missing.  The quake has damaged hundreds of pieces that have been meticulously collected for restoration.  Only the lower part was saved and put on exhibit on the occasion of the G8 summit, and titled “The nice eagle can never perish.” 


For the history of Abruzzi, experts say, this is a very important piece because it represents the specialization achieved by Abruzzi sculptors between the fifteenth and sixteenth century in the terracotta technique, following the excellent example set by Silvestro Di Giacomo and Saturnino Gatti.  

The donation, said Italian American Museum president Scelsa –– whom awarded Bondi with a gold medal with the image of Guiseppi Garibaldi on it (Hero of Two Worlds) –– is the result of a collection made from many small donors.  Scelsa noted, “This will be important to exhibit the statue in America once restored, to show donors the fruits of their generosity.”  The funds will go directly to the National Museum of Abruzzo, visited yesterday by the American delegation.  “An incredible emotional visit” said Scelsa.

The president of the Italian American Museum (which was founded in 2001 and is funded partly by public funds from the U.S. government and the City of New York, and partly by private sources) corresponded directly with the Italian Ministry of Cultural Affairs.  Scelsa emphasized that Senator Lucio Malan, chairman of the Fondazione Italiani Americani, was essential to the establishment of this relationship.”  

The Italian American Museum continues to actively collect funds on behalf of the earthquake relief effort.  Please make your check payable to “IAM Earthquake Relief Fund, 2009” and mail it to “Italian American Museum, 155 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10013”.

November 13, 2009

Siege of Gaeta (1860)

HM King Francis II
By Giovanni di Napoli
"I do not know what the independence of Italy means. I only know the independence of Naples!" – Francis II on the idea of Italian unification

November 13th, 1860 marks the beginning of the Siege of Gaeta. Under the command of General Enrico Cialdini the Piedmontese forces sought to finish off the conquest of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies begun by Giuseppe Garibaldi on May 11th, 1860.  The resistance was the heroic last stand of the one hundred twenty six year old Bourbon dynasty in Southern Italy against the House of Savoy.

Without a formal declaration of war Garibaldi’s redshirts disembarked at Marsala, Sicily, under the guard of British warships. Thus began their improbable subjugation of the independent and sovereign Kingdom. Capitalizing on a recent revolt, Garibaldi stoked the flames of rebellion with false promises of wide-ranging social reforms that, of course, were never to materialize. By the time the discontented masses of Sicily realized the true nature of the invasion, the course of events could not be stopped. It should also be noted that without the help of corrupt traitors, massive bribery, treacherous revolutionaries and Masonic elements the so-called "Thousand" could never have defeated the largest standing army on the Italic peninsula.

Wishing to spare the city of Naples the devastation of war the Royal family decided to make their stand against the advancing invaders at Capua and Gaeta. On September 5th, 1860, King Francis II issued his farewell proclamation to the capital. With dignity and resignation he proclaimed: "We are Neapolitan. Filled with bitter sorrow we address these words of farewell to our greatly beloved subjects. Whatever may be our fate we shall ever keep them in warm and affectionate remembrance." Leaving behind their precious heirlooms (including the dowry of Queen Maria Christina said to be worth eleven million ducats), which Garibaldi later pilfered for the usurpers, the King and Queen Maria Sophia set sail for Gaeta.

The remaining forces of the Two Sicilies took positions behind the banks of the Garigliano and Volturno. They were joined by many loyal detachments from the provinces still willing to defend their nation. The Royal army amounted to fifty thousand well-armed men. From Gaeta the King appealed to his men's honor:
"Soldiers: It is time that the voice of your King should be heard in your ranks: the voice of the King who grew up with you; who has lavished all care upon you; and who comes now to share your lot. Those who, by allowing themselves to be deceived and seduced, have plunged the Kingdom in mourning are no longer amongst us. Nevertheless, I appeal to your honor and your fidelity, in order that by glorious deeds we may efface the disgrace of cowardice and treachery. We are still sufficiently numerous to annihilate an enemy which employs the weapons of deceit and corruption. Up to the present I have desired to spare many towns, but now that we are relegated to the banks of the Volturno and Garigliano, shall we allow ourselves to still further humiliate our fame as soldiers? Will you permit your Sovereign to abandon the Throne, and leave you to eternal infamy? No! At this supreme moment let us rally round the flag to defend our rights, our honor, and the fair fame of Neapolitans; already sufficiently discredited."
At dawn, on October 1st, the Loyalists attacked the Garabaldini whose ranks swelled with Northern volunteers and Southern traitors. The Neapolitans seemed to have taken their King's words to heart and fought valiantly. Raging for two days, they were only repulsed after the arrival of the Piedmontese Bersaglieri. During the retreat along the shore Admiral Persano’s fleet harried the Neapolitan columns.

To compound matters the small town of Mola was abandoned and an army corps of 17,000 men under General Ruggiero inexplicably disbanded without a fight. Despite the desertions of several Generals and officers, many of the soldiers fled to the hills and the neighboring Papal States to continue fighting as guerrillas. Maligned as "brigands" by the Piedmontese these partisans kept up their resistance for many years in the vain hope of reinstating the deposed Bourbons.
The King and Queen visit an artillery battery during the siege
On November 2nd the garrison at Capua surrendered. Seven thousand Neapolitan prisoners of war were transported to the concentration camps of Genoa and Fenestrelle. Many were to die of starvation and disease due to the harsh conditions. The remnants of the King's forces withdrew to the fortress of Gaeta. With the exception of the citadel of Messina in Sicily and the impregnable fortress of Civitella del Tronto in the Abruzzo, Gaeta was the King's final stronghold.

The command of Gaeta's garrison of 21,000 men and 15,000 inhabitants was eventually handed over to the gallant General Bosco. The General was highly respected for his stalwart defense at Milazzo, Sicily, but after it's fall a stipulation for his parole was an oath of nonintervention for six months. While men of lesser character were jumping ship, Bosco, with his ban lifted, raced to Gaeta and on November 19th he offered his services to his King.

Queen Maria Sophia, the Heroine of Gaeta
by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Queen Maria Sophia also refused to abandon her husband. During the siege she comforted the wounded and often put herself in harms way to help encourage the soldiers. The sight of their Queen in her Calabrian hat always heartened the men’s spirits and gave them renewed vigor. It is said that when an officer tried to escort her to safety she refused his aid and said, "As a German woman and as Queen, it is my duty to do all that lies in my power for those who are fighting and suffering for our cause."

Through diplomacy, the Piedmontese finally succeeded in getting the French fleet to leave Gaeta. They had to agree to an eight day armistice in which time the Emperor would convince Francis to abandon any hope of victory and take up his offer to sail them to Rome. During the ceasefire, foreign dignitaries visited the Bourbons, offering encouragement and persuading them to continue their resistance. When the armistice concluded the ministers of Saxony and Austria stayed behind and joined the Spanish Marquis of Lerma, Bermudez di Castro, in the defense.

HM Maria Sophia offers encouragement to the defenders
Unfortunately, the presence of the French fleet was misunderstood by both the French Admiral and Francis II. (1) It was not sent to assist the Neapolitan forces, but to evacuate the Bourbon royals and their retinue. On January 15th after being informed by Napoleon III that the French fleet will no longer safeguard Gaeta’s port King Francis II responded to the Emperor:
“...I promised Your majesty that when I had adopted a definite resolution my first care, an obligation dictated by loyal gratitude, would be to inform you of it. I now fulfill my promise. After the declaration of the French Admiral I hesitated long, I confess: on every side I recognized serious objections, and the opinion of those I felt bound to consult were divided concerning this supreme alternative.

“If, on the one hand, by remaining here, abandoned by the whole world, I expose myself to falling in the hands of a disloyal foe, and run the risk of compromising my liberty, perhaps my dignity and my life; on the other hand, I should by withstanding surrender a fortress still intact, thus tarnishing my military honor, and renounce, by an excess of prudence, all eventualities, all hope of the future.

“And how could I yield when in all the provinces of my Kingdom, my subjects rise with one accord against the domination of Piedmont? How can I surrender, when on all sides I am encouraged to resist; when from all parts of Europe private individuals or Governments incite me to persevere in the defense of my Cause, which is also the Cause of Sovereigns; of the rights of Nations; of the independence of Peoples? If political considerations give the appearance of temerity to my resolution, Your Majesty’s great and noble heart will distinguish and appreciate my motives.

“I am the victim of my inexperience; of the cunning, of the injustice and audacity of an ambitious Power. I have lost my Kingdom; but I have not my faith in the protection of God, and in the justice of man. My rights are today my only inheritance, and it is necessary in their defense to bury myself, if needs be, beneath the smoking ruins of Gaeta.

“It is not this prospect which caused me to hesitate for a moment. My only fear was that in becoming a prisoner I might witness the royal dignity debased in my person. But should this last trial be in store for me; should Europe consent to this final outrage, be assured, Sire, that I will utter no complaint, and that I will meet my fate with resignation and firmness..."
With the departure of the French fleet the fortress of Gaeta was now exposed to navel bombardment by Admiral Persano's squadron. More importantly, the Piedmontese blockaded the harbor, cutting off the provision ships. This eventually led to famine and a grievous typhus epidemic. However, the Neapolitans remained steadfast in their defense. In a touching display of fealty the officers renewed their oath of loyalty to the King:
“Whether our fate is about to be decided, or whether a long period of struggle and suffering still awaits us, we will face our destiny resignedly and fearlessly: we will go to meet either the joys of triumph or the death of the brave with the proud and dignified serenity befitting soldiers.”
Bombs continued to rain down on the beleaguered defenders. No house was spared. Even the churches and hospitals were destroyed. Their hopeless position was spelled out for them in a letter from Empress Eugénie to the Queen. No relief was to be expected from the rest of Europe.
Magazine explosion at Gaeta
Realizing the futility of further resistance, and unwilling to sacrifice any more lives, Francis requested a truce to hammer out the conditions for surrender. However, during the negotiations Cialdini refused to stop the bombardment, causing much bloodshed and the unnecessary lose of life. Just prior to surrender over fifty Bourbon soldiers were killed when a powder magazine exploded.

On February 13th, three months after the siege began, Gaeta capitulated. The next day, the deposed royal family set off on the French corvette La Mouette to the Papal States as guests of Pius IX. Upon their departure, the Neapolitan garrison was drawn up into a column to send-off their monarch. The remaining townspeople gathered as well, and all mourned the departure of their beloved King and Queen. Francis II graciously thanked his faithful followers and said his goodbyes:
“Thanks to you, the honor of the army of the Two Sicilies is intact: thanks to you, your Sovereign is intact: thanks to you, your Sovereign can still lift his head with pride; while in the exile where he will await the justice of Heaven the remembrance of the heroic fidelity of his soldiers will forever afford the sweetest consolidation in his misfortune.”
As the ship rounded the point towards Rome a final, "Evviva il re!" and a salute from the battery was heard thundering from the devastated fortress. Faint echoes of the parting salutation still whisper to us.
The King and Queen depart Gaeta
(1) It is suspected that French Admiral de Tinan was sympathetic to the Bourbons and purposely misinterpreted his orders for as long as possible in order to assist them.

Further reading:
The Collapse of the Kingdom of Naples by H. Remsen Whitehouse (1899)
Maria Sophia, Queen of Naples by Clara Tschudi (1905)

November 11, 2009

Running with the Devil

The Biography of “Fra Diavolo,” Michele Pezza

Michele Pezza
By Niccolò Graffio
“The free man is a warrior. He tramples ruthlessly upon that contemptible kind of comfort that grocers, Christians, cows, women, Englishmen and other democrats worship.” – F.W. Nietzsche: The Twilight of the Idols, 1889.
Though Nietzsche obviously meant it philosophically in the context he wrote it, he could very well have had Michele Pezza in mind when he penned that quote. More than once in his short life on this earth, Pezza eschewed the creature comforts many of us today take for granted to “trample ruthlessly” upon those who he felt threatened his freedoms. It has been pointed out often enough “the winners write the history books”, and Pezza ultimately was not on the winning side. Thus, much of what we know about him comes from the pen of his enemies. The truth, sadly, depends on who you ask.

To some (like the French) he was a murderous brigand; to his fellow Campanians, on the other hand, his memory is enshrined as a folk hero. To many students of history he is remembered (as one author put it) “an inspirational practicioner [sic] of popular insurrection.” Since genuine objectivity is often lacking in articles of this nature, my purpose in writing this is to try to sift through the propaganda surrounding him in order to paint a clearer picture of this admittedly fascinating individual.

The controversies surrounding Pezza began with his birth. He was born on April 7th, 1771 in the town of Itri, in the Kingdom of Naples. According to many sources, he was “born of low parentage”. In light of modern scholarship, however, this hardly seems accurate, and was probably due to French attempts at denigrating the memory of a man who was instrumental in thwarting their attempted hegemonies on the Italian peninsula.

Pezza’s family owned some olive groves and was known to be active in the wool trade. He is known to have learned how to read and write, at a time when illiteracy was typical. All this strongly hints at some wealth in his family. Aside from this, nothing about his early life is known with certainty.

His nickname, “Fra Diavolo” (“Brother Devil”), was apparently bestowed upon him in his childhood. According to most sources: during a solemn religious occasion, Pezza, dressed in clerical robes, displayed such rambunctiousness that someone gave him the moniker, which stuck.

Pezza’s first run-in with the law occurred when, as a young man, he wound up getting into a fight with two other men over the affections of a local lass. Here the details are murky, obfuscated by the passage of time and contradictory recollections. Sympathetic sources claim the two had planned to “rough up” Pezza to get him out of the picture. Whatever the truth, Pezza, known to possess a bad temper and a strong physique, wound up killing both men.

Facing certain incarceration, Pezza fled to the hills and took up life as a brigand, an occupation that apparently suited him well. Eventually captured, he was tried for the two killings and convicted of manslaughter. Instead of being imprisoned, however, he was “allowed” to join the army. His first encounter with the Second Horseman of the Apocalypse came when he took part in the Neapolitan army’s disastrous attempt to liberate the Papal States from the French, who had invaded them and set up two puppet regimes in their territories: the Cisalpine and Roman Republics.

The French Army Entering Naples Under the Command of General Championnet by Jean Jacques Francois Taurel
The French and their Polish cohorts easily defeated the vastly outmanned and outgunned Neapolitans. Then, turning the tables, invaded the Kingdom of Naples itself, capturing the capital city of Naples on January 22nd, 1799 and proclaiming another puppet regime, the so-called “Parthenopean Republic”. Though the expedition ended in disaster, Pezza distinguished himself, first by ambushing the enemy, then by leading retreating troops out of harm’s way.

The event that probably pushed him “over the edge” and forever cemented his dark reputation came on December 30th, 1798, when French & Polish forces captured his hometown of Itri. They then gave themselves over to plundering and reprisal killings of the locals, which culminated on January 14th, 1799 when, to avenge the killings of two French soldiers by partisans, they robbed, raped and finally killed dozens of townspeople, including Pezza’s own father!

Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo
At this time the Neapolitan government-in-exile, de facto led by Queen Maria Carolina, the wife of King Ferdinand IV of Naples (and sister of Marie Antoinette), set up shop on the island of Sicily and began making plans for retaking the territories of the lost kingdom. Towards this end the Queen appointed Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo to organize a resistance movement. Ruffo sent out word to the “briganti” in Southern Italy to answer the clarion call to battle (and obtain pardons for past offenses in the process).

Pezza was one of the first to answer. Well-received in Sicily by the King and Queen, he was made a captain in the Bourbon army and dispatched north where he landed near Gaeta with a force of 400 men. Shortly afterwards (February 9th, 1799 to be exact) Ruffo landed in Calabria with a force of soldiers and volunteers said to have numbered 5,000. Soon its ranks swelled into a motley horde of soldiers, brigands, clerics, nobles, peasants, even women and children! Dubbed “The Christian Army of the Holy Faith”, what it lacked in discipline it more than made up for in tenacity, ferocity and a fervor in battle not seen since the days of the old Norse berserkers.

Pezza’s band likewise quickly grew in size and strength till it numbered around 4,000, so great apparently was the Southern Italian love for the Little Corporal’s brand of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” Pezza’s force soon joined up with Ruffo’s, with Pezza serving as a subordinate commander.

The whole theme of this campaign seems to have been each side trying its best to outdo the other in terms of atrocities committed. The French and Polish forces engaged in reprisal killings of civilians (when they weren’t raping and looting). Ruffo’s forces engaged in atrocities against the enemy, and anyone suspected of collaboration. Pezza on the other hand, unfettered by the rules of war, indulged the bloodlust of his troops and his own desire for vengeance against the French (who after all, did murder his father and his paesani).
Making numerous raids on French outposts, he regularly tortured and killed captured French and Polish soldiers (including a French general!). He also terrorized locals suspected of collaboration. Soon the French paid “Fra Diavolo” the highest compliment: they put a hefty price on his head. Cardinal Ruffo, on the other hand, grew so concerned over Pezza’s behavior he forbade his force from entering heavily populated areas for fear of the slaughter they might leave behind.
The Christian Army of the Holy Faith
The Parthenopean Republic, which never enjoyed popular support, finally collapsed on June 19th, 1799 with the retaking of the city of Naples. Encouraged by both Queen Maria Carolina and her British ally Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, Pezza and his men entered the city, exacting a brutal retribution against the erstwhile republic’s Jacobin supporters. By late September Royal forces had largely driven the French from the kingdom, and shortly afterwards liberated the city of Rome, itself. Modern historians put the death toll of the insurrection (among Neapolitans) as high as 60,000.

For his services, Pezza was knighted the Duke of Cassero by the King and Queen, made a colonel in the Royal Army and given an annual pension of 2,500 ducats. The Queen reportedly even gave him a lock of her hair! Pezza then settled down near Itri with his new bride, Fortunata Rachele Di Franco, to the quiet life of a nouveau arrive. Over the next five years they produced two sons between them. By all accounts it seemed Pezza would simply rest on his laurels and eventually write his memoirs, but far to the north a would-be French Caesar had other plans.

Napoleon Bonaparte never accepted his defeat in Italy. On December 2nd, 1804 he had himself crowned Emperor of France at Notre Dame de Paris. On May 2nd, 1805 at Milan Cathedral he had himself crowned King of Italy with the Iron Crown of Lombardy. He then decided to put his brother Joseph on the throne of the Kingdom of Peninsular Sicily (Naples). In January of 1806 the French returned to Naples and this time they came loaded for bear! Over 32,000 French troops poured into the kingdom and on February 14th Naples fell to them, with the King and Queen once again being forced to seek refuge on the island of Sicily.
Fra Diavolo was quickly recalled to duty and ordered to organize a resistance, but the French assault was so great he was forced to fall back, eventually to join his sovereigns in Sicily. He gathered more forces and returned with the British to reinforce Gaeta. En route he befriended the British Admiral Sir Sydney Smith, who was one of Napoleon’s greatest foes. Smith saw in Pezza a kindred spirit, as well as someone who would be ideal to sow chaos among French forces.

If the behavior of the French in the Neapolitan Insurrection was bad, during the Calabrian War it was appalling! Reprisal killings now consisted of slaughtering entire villages of peasants without a single survivor! Going tit-for-tat, guerillas murdered French POWs en masse. Unlike the previous campaign, however, Pezza spared the lives of many if not most of his French captives, preferring to ransom them instead. There is even an unsubstantiated story of him showing courtesy to a group of captured French ladies. Why the change of heart? No one really knows. Perhaps his years living as a nobleman and family man finally civilized him.

"Fra Diavolo"
In any event, Pezza would not be as lucky this time around. The French were desperate to rid themselves once and for all of Fra Diavolo, and a huge bounty was placed on his head. Betrayed to his enemies at Baronissi on November 1st, 1806, he was captured and led back to Naples under heavy guard. Put on trial as a brigand, he indignantly pointed out to the tribunal he held the rank of colonel in the Royal Army of Naples and demanded(!) to be treated as a prisoner of war. The tribunal ignored this and sentenced him to hang as a common criminal. Admiral Smith desperately tried to trade a number of French prisoners for him, as did Queen Maria Carolina. It has been reported that even his nemesis, Colonel Joseph Hugo (father of Victor Hugo), appealed for clemency; all to no avail. Emperor Napoleon I wanted him dead. On November 11th, 1806 Michele Pezza, Duke of Cassero, was hanged in the public square of Naples. His last words were reportedly: “It pains me that I am condemned as a bandit and not a soldier.”

It would be easy for many to simply dismiss Pezza’s life and behavior in wartime as that of a barbarian, if not a psychopath. That would be doing this man and history a great disservice. His behavior should be understood in the context of the times (and the place) he lived in. As mentioned earlier, the behavior of French forces in the region could hardly be considered “chivalrous”, and in the light of objective research, by even the standards of the times was downright barbarous! Napoleon’s forces in the Neapolitan Insurrection apparently failed to grasp the wisdom of that ancient caveat about war: “Brutality invites brutality.” It should therefore be noted the Neapolitans and Calabrians were fighting off vicious invaders (who came in the name of a megalomaniac) with the only means available to them.

Out of all this chaos came Pezza. Intelligent, resourceful, patriotic, fearless, stern, warm, ferocious, adaptable, loyal and utterly ruthless! He was an example of how disparate qualities can exist in one man. His skills in battle, plus his later maturity as a soldier and human being, earned him the admiration of allies and the begrudging respect of enemies. Even later French historians lamented his hanging as an unjust act.* The campaigns he waged against the French were a lot more similar to today’s guerilla wars than many would like to admit. His impact on history is undeniable. Whatever your opinion of him, he is a historical figure worthy of note.

*- “Michele Pezza underwent the death reserved for highwaymen. Generals Hugo, Scribe and Dumas have made him unjustly into a bandit. The impartial historian can only see in this man a brave officer who although unfortunate in the course of his last campaign, did not deserve the sad fate inflicted upon him by a special tribunal.” – Edouard Gachot: Historie Militaire de Massena, pg. 240, 1911.

Further reading: John A. Davis: Naples and Napoleon: Southern Italy and the European Revolutions, 1780-1860.