May Day with an American Soldier in Rome

Rome, Italy.

“To the history of May Day there is a Green side and a Red side. Under the rainbow, our methodology must be colourful. Green is a relationship to the earth and what grows there from. Red is a relationship to other people and the blood spilt there among. Green designates life with only necessary labour; Red designates death with surplus labour. Green is natural appropriation; red is proletarianization and prostitution. Green is useful activity; Red is useless toil. Green is creation of desire; Red is class struggle. May Day is both.”

— from “The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of May Day,” by Peter Linebaugh, in Serpents in the Garden.

During the papal spectacle of the past month and a half, heavy clouds hung over the ancient capital carrying with them almost daily rains. It was as if some supernatural force was cloaking the ritualistic changing of the guard at the Vatican in a shroud fitting for a beacon of such a corrupt cult of death and molestation. Only an hour after the windswept funeral, the rains began to fall intermittently and almost daily as if cleansing the putrid and foul presence of all the war criminals and robber barons who had come to Rome to take part in the ostentatious drama played out on one of the world’s most spectacular stages, Saint Peter’s square.

A couple days prior to the first of May, the weather finally began to change. And all of that rain gave way to a blossoming of Spring and a rainbow of colours. Many shades of Green sprouted forth most intensely thanks to the fertilizer from the Catholic excrement of the month past and what seemed like never ending rains. Warm sunny skies and this bursting of life provided a wonderful backdrop to celebrate the May Day weekend here in Rome and reminded us of “our relationship to the earth and what grows there from.”

Over the May Day weekend I met a 23 year old American Infantry soldier in a pub, who was here in Rome on a brief leave while being transferred from Germany to Fort Hood in Texas. Craig had already served a 15 month tour of duty in Iraq and is scheduled to return there in about three months. He described his experience as a complete and utter hell and provided great detail of his time spent north of Fallujah and in Baghdad. Craig’s unit was hit with Improvised Explosive Devices daily and he witnessed the Red blood of death from many victims of this horrid war, both Iraqi and American. Craig, who originates from Portland, Oregon, volunteered for the military after 9/11 in the hopes of becoming part of a special forces unit. He had the naïve vision of targeting specific “terrorists” in covert operations as opposed to fighting in all out combat in a war that he does not believe in. He was misled by his recruitment officer into believing that he could quickly reach his desired post. Craig is completely disillusioned and feels, like so many soldiers, completely betrayed by his government. Craig does not believe in the war at all. He said “I am nothing more than a pawn,” and does not want to go back to Iraq.

On May Day, along with a group of friends, I gave Craig a tour of Roma ending up at the annual outdoor concert organized by CGIL, CSIL and UIL ­ the three largest trade unions of Italy. He was excited about seeing some Italian music and being in the festive atmosphere among other young people. Craig was curious, open minded, observant and eager to learn, while we, in turn were learning much from him. We walked about seven kilometres to arrive at the concert passing many sites including: the Vatican and Saint Peter’s wrapped in all of its hypocrisy and still radiating the effects of the papal spectacle; Castle Saint Angelo, where popes of the past escaped when under attack; Piazza Navona and Campo Dei Fiori, two of Rome’s lovely public squares where spectacles and festivals were held in ancient Rome; and onward to the Pantheon, a construction marvel dating back two thousand years; the impressive Trevi Fountain; and finally making our way to San Giovanni in Laterano for the concert. We discussed Roman and World history, the corruption of power, and religion exchanging many intense and heartfelt views. Before meeting Craig I had a difficult time empathizing with soldiers who had so willingly signed up. Now I was gaining a new perspective.

When we arrived at San Giovanni and witnessed the massive crowd of half a million people, we were reminded and explained to Craig that this had been the end point of the largest anti-war action in the world just two years past. On February the 15th of 2003, over 3,000,000 marched and attempted to converge in this same place to voice their opposition to the illegal attack on Iraq which he had now witnessed and participated in first hand. As American youth have little knowledge of May Day because of its elimination by the American Government after the Haymarket uprising, I gave Craig a brief history of this International celebration of the Red and Green. I identified the many flags waving above the crowd: Italy’s Rainbow flag of peace; some of the trade unions; many of the communist party as Red was a dominant colour of the day; the red and black of the EZLN Zapatistas, Che Guevara, Cuba, Palestine, and then ­ quite remarkably and directly behind us, when Craig had run off to buy us a beer ­ a young man was waving the only Iraqi flag in the crowd.

“How do you think our new soldier friend will respond to this?” I asked my friends. While opening up more and more to Craig we were conscious and sensitive to the fact that he had lost many friends in this bloody hell of a war!

I approached the young man waving the Red, Black and Green flag of Iraq and introduced myself as an anti-war American, interested to know why he was carrying the flag and explaining that I was with a soldier who had been in Iraq. I imagined that this guy and his mates were in solidarity with the Iraqi resistance as are many here. This 25 year old was very friendly, open and extremely knowledgeable, as were all his friends and when Craig returned, a bit cautiously, he joined in the conversation with some translation help. Emanuele, the guy with the flag, actually supported the liberation of Saddam and the return of the Ba’ath party as a stabilizing socialist force in the region.

We argued a bit about this, as I pointed out that Saddam seemed nothing more than a corrupt and ruthless businessman/politician like Bush and Berlusconi, with past strong business ties to both the US and Italy. Craig seemed a little taken a back by the whole thing, but we then all just started enjoying the concert together as the crowd erupted — led by the raucous rebel band The Modena City Ramblers — into a rousing rendition of “Bella Ciao,” the anthem of Italian Communist resistance to the Fascists during World War II. When we left, Craig, the American soldier, and Emanuele, the Iraqi resistance supporter, gave each other a warm, Red handshake symbolizing the “relationship to other people and the blood spilt there among.”

I have contacted an old friend, CounterPunch contributor and fellow Toledoan, Michael Ferner of the Veterans for Peace and Program On Corporations Law And Democracy, for suggestions on helping Craig avoid a second tour of duty in Iraq. If anyone else has suggestions or ideas to help please send them along.

MICHAEL LEONARDI originates from Toledo, Ohio, and is currently living and working in Rome, Italy. He can be reached at: mikeleonardi@hotmail.com













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Michael Leonardi lives in Toledo, Ohio and can be reached at mikeleonardi@hotmail.com

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