Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Italy’s Fallen Soldiers

On Monday, walking through the center of Rome, you couldn’t help noticing the Italian flags on display at shops, bars and restaurants. Merchants associations had printed up color copies of the flag to be placed in shop windows with the words “In honor of the fallen soldiers,” referring to the six Italian paratroopers killed by a car bomb last Thursday in Kabul, Afghanistan.

For days, news of the soldiers’ deaths – and corresponding political debate on the Italian mission in Afghanistan – filled the pages of newspapers and was the lead story on the TV news. There was live coverage as the bodies of the soldiers arrived in Rome on Sunday morning. The President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, together with Defense Minister La Russa, and leaders of the center-right government were present for the solemn ceremony held at the airport.

The live coverage continued the following day, which was declared a day of national mourning. The flag draped coffins, aboard six open flatbed military trucks, slowly made their way from the Celio military hospital near the Coloseum to the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome’s second largest church after Saint Peter’s, where state funeral services were held.

Attending were Prime Minister Berlusconi, leaders of both houses of Parliament, top-level cabinet members, deputy secretaries, a former president and exponents of majority and opposition parties.

The Pope sent a telegram which was read during the service, and afterwards the Frecce Tricolori, the Italian Air Force’s acrobatic flying team, flew over the church leaving their signature green, white and red smoke trails representing Italy’s flag.

While there was definitely an outpouring of solidarity for the families of the soldiers, it was also a remarkably well orchestrated show of “patriotism” – few words were reserved for the 15 Afghan civilians who were also killed that day – aimed at keeping the focus on the fallen soldiers and off the question of the Italian military presence in Afghanistan. Italy currently has 3,300 troops in Afghanistan, officially taking part in a “peace mission.”

But there was no getting away from the debate. Umberto Bossi, Minister of Reforms and leader of the right-wing Northern League party, immediately expressed his hope to bring all Italian forces home by Christmas. “The mission in Afghanistan is over.” Speaking with the press at the funeral services, Bossi commented, “We sent them to Kabul and they came back dead. This isn’t what we voted for.” Defense Minister La Russa and exponents of Berlusconi’s party initially distanced themselves from Bossi’s statements saying that, at the moment, talk of full withdrawal was not on the table.

Berlusconi himself first reacted by calling the mission in Afghanistan “essential” but did talk of the necessity to “bring our boys home as soon as possible.” He later began to talk of plans to bring some troops home, though limiting it to the 500 who were recently deployed on a temporary mission in advance of the Afghan elections and without specifying a date. He also spoke of the need for a “transition strategy,” words echoes by Foreign Affairs Minister Frattini.

The center-left “opposition” party, Partito Democratico, issued a statement against withdrawal from Afghanistan but calling for an international peace conference resulting in “diplomatic measures to put in place alongside the military presence.”

In a recent poll, only 26% of those surveyed were in favor of maintaining troops in Afghanistan; just 40% among center right voters. And that was a few days before the car bombing brought the war home to the Italian public.

Outside the church on Monday there were some calls for withdrawal from Afghanistan. And during the service, a man managed to commandeer the microphone at the altar to yell “Peace Now!” Cartoonist Vauro issued a stinging comment on this incident the following day on the leftist newspaper Il Manifesto. Above the caption “Man who shouted from the altar immediately removed by security” was a drawing of secret service agents carrying the crucifix out of the church.

Minister of Education, Mariastella Gelmini had issued a memo calling on all schools to observe a minute of silence. Parents called regional school boards as well as the Ministry to register their objections, which were not meant as disrespect for the fallen but in protest of the decision to single out the soldiers in what was seen as an overt political use of their deaths. A number of schools publicly declined to participate. One teacher asked why there were never calls for a minute of silence for any of Italy’s 1300 on-the- job deaths each year.

It’s interesting to compare how the deaths of soldiers are covered by the media and dealt with by the government in the U.S. and Italy. Who can forget the stir Nightline’s Ted Koppel caused in 2004 by simply reading the names of the 700 soldiers killed in Iraq at the time, with Sinclair Broadcasting refusing to air the program on stations it owned.

And it was only this past April that the 18-year government imposed ban on media coverage of fallen soldiers returning to Dover Air Force was finally lifted, leaving the decision up to the family members. To his credit, it was President Obama who asked Secretary Gates to review the policy, though this came only after years of lobbying on the part of veterans’ and peace groups. Contrary to what supporters of the ban had said, in the first few weeks following the lift, 14 out of 19 families gave permission for media coverage.

In early September, Associated Press was at the center of a controversy for having distributed the photo of a dying marine in Afghanistan, Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard. Admittedly, the debate centered more on the fact that the soldier’s father had requested that the photo not be distributed. AP justified the decision, which was called “appalling” by Secretary Gates, saying, “We feel it is our journalistic duty to show the reality of the war there, however unpleasant and brutal that sometimes is.”

Reuters’ columnist Bernd Debusmann recently reported on the undercounting of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan by concealing contractor casualties, which now amount to 1,360 according to a report by the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obviously, in the different approaches by Italy and the U.S., historical and cultural differences come into play, as do the number of troops deployed and the number of military deaths suffered by each country. Italian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan total 54, while the U.S. count is at just over 6,500 – including contractors.

There are also some similarities reminiscent of the Bush years that come along with being involved in an unpopular war. Defense Minister La Russa was quick to assert the illogical but oft-repeated mantra, “We have to carry on with the mission to honor the fallen.” Any attempts to call into discussion the mission in Afghanistan were equated with disrespecting the soldiers and their families. And there is little or no mention of the civilian deaths.

I couldn’t help think of something a veteran once told me. “The best way to honor the fallen is to stop making more of them.”

STEPHANIE WESTBROOK is a U.S. citizen who has been living in Rome, Italy since 1991. She is active in the peace and social justice movements in Italy. She can be reached at steph@webfabbrica.com

 

More articles by:
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
Marvin Kitman
The Kitman Plan for Peace in the Middle East: Two Proposals
Weekend Edition
October 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
My History with Alexander Cockburn and The Financial Future of CounterPunch
Paul Street
For Popular Sovereignty, Beyond Absurdity
Nick Pemberton
The Colonial Pantsuit: What We Didn’t Want to Know About Africa
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Summer of No Return
Jeff Halper
Choices Made: From Zionist Settler Colonialism to Decolonization
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Incident: Trump’s Special Relationship With the Saudi Monarchy
Andrew Levine
Democrats: Boost, Knock, Enthuse
Barbara Kantz
The Deportation Crisis: Report From Long Island
Doug Johnson
Nate Silver and 538’s Measurable 3.5% Democratic Bias and the 2018 House Race
Gwen Carr
This Stops Today: Seeking Justice for My Son Eric Garner
Robert Hunziker
Peak Carbon Emissions By 2020, or Else!
Arshad Khan
Is There Hope on a World Warming at 1.5 Degrees Celsius?
David Rosen
Packing the Supreme Court in the 21stCentury
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Threats of Death and Destruction
Joel A. Harrison
The Case for a Non-Profit Single-Payer Healthcare System
Ramzy Baroud
That Single Line of Blood: Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah
Zhivko Illeieff
Addiction and Microtargeting: How “Social” Networks Expose us to Manipulation
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
What is Truth?
Michael Doliner
Were the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a Mistake?
Victor Grossman
Cassandra Calls
Ralph E. Shaffer
Could Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Hearing Ended Differently?
Vanessa Cid
Our Everyday Family Separations
Walaa Al Ghussein
The Risks of Being a Journalist in Gaza
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal and Treachery—The Extremism of Moderates
James Munson
Identity Politics and the Ruling Class
P. Sainath
The Floods of Kerala: the Bank That Went Under…Almost
Ariel Dorfman
How We Roasted Donald Duck, Disney’s Agent of Imperialism
Joe Emersberger
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno’s Assault on Human Rights and Judicial Independence
Ed Meek
White Victimhood: Brett Kavanaugh and the New GOP Brand
Andrew McLean, MD
A Call for “Open Space”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail