Peace history is a recent subject for Italian scholars: while American, British, Scandinavian and German historians worked assiduously on the theme since the 1960s, Italian historiography devoted its attention only more recently to ideas, movements and institutions which promote peace. This book, which presents the results of a national research project promoted by three Italian universities (Milan, IULM and Parma), is a clear proof that peace history has now become a relevant field of research in Italian contemporary history. And for this reason it has to be warmly welcomed.
The book is not perfect, obviously. The first of its shortcomings is certainly that its scope is too wide, in geographical, chronological and conceptual terms: mostly devoted to Italy, it is not confined to it, with essays that examine also some international case; it does not concentrate its attention to a single period, but covers the full length of time from the end of the nineteenth Century to recent peace-keeping operations in Afghanistan; it does not choose a single thematic approach (international institutions, peace movements, peace support operations, Catholic Church, intellectuals, etc.), but rather gathers contributions on all of them. A more defined and limited vision would have surely helped to give more coherence and depth to the whole. A second limit is that only a part of the contributions of the book seem to be seriously involved in international peace history research, its problems and its issues. Finally, the differences in depth and results among the various essays are considerable: for instance, the eight pages by Marco Paolino on the ‘peace dialogue’ between Giorgio La Pira and the Communists (a very interesting topic) are certainly closer to a research proposal than to a conclusive analysis. Thus, the volume has to be taken more as a series of single inquiries into peace-related themes than as a new methodological or thematic approach to one of its aspects.
The first and more consistent research area is devoted to the history of social movements. A group of impressive chapters shed new light on the debates about peace among Italian parties and peace movements in the Cold War years and show the necessity of avoiding any simplification and schematization. Two essays, for instance, demonstrate that it is very important to look also at intellectual movements that were far from pacifist, but embodied a widespread difficulty to adapt to Cold War fissures. Maria Luisa Cicalese explores how the Italian historian Guido De Ruggiero participated in the Geneva ‘Rencontres Internationales’ of 1946-1947, which were also attended by many other famous European intellectuals such as Mounier, Berdjaeff, Haldane and Bernanos. The ‘Rencontres’ were dominated by discussions on the ‘European spirit’ and not by concerns about war and peace; however, already in 1947, they were the place of a first European intensive discussion on the nuclear problem. Davide Cadeddu shows the importance of another initiative (in some way connected to the former one), the ‘Société Européenne de Culture’ promoted by the Italian philosopher Umberto Campagnolo, aiming to encourage a ‘moral resistance’ to the Cold War, and enlivened by the reflections of another Italian philosopher, Norberto Bobbio, who stressed the importance both of ‘dialogue’ and of the ‘responsibility’ of intellectuals. Giovanni Scirocco, through a wide analysis of the party press, portrays Italian Socialists’ difficulties with and their inner divisions on the peace issue. Even if they suffered from the Communist ideological hegemony inside the movement of the ‘Partisans of Peace’, from 1947 to 1953 they mostly shared the Cominform idea of an imminent new World War and of an American menace to peace. However, starting in 1953, their leader, Pietro Nenni, moved the party to a more moderate position, similar to the left wing of the Labour Party led by Aneurin Bevan. The Italian Socialist Party now accepted Italian international alliances, but only in a strictly defensive meaning. Finally, in 1957 PSI abandoned the ‘Partisans of Peace’, adopted a ‘third world’ approach to the peace struggle and supported European integration as one of the means to achieve peace and socialism.
Piero Domenico Giovannoni, on the basis of Giorgio La Pira’s personal papers, examines the Conferences for Peace and Christian Civilization, the Conferences of the Capital Cities Mayors and the Mediterranean Conferences which La Pira, mayor of Florence for the ruling party Democrazia Cristiana, promoted in his town from 1952 to 1964. These conferences were intended as a necessary answer to the Communist mobilization for peace. They were, however, not ritual meetings or merely manifestations of wishful thinking, but had had a relevant and pathbreaking significance: they opened up a dialogue with the new Arab, African and Asian countries and, above all broke, incrementally, with the rigid boundaries of Cold War culture. The French, German, American and Dutch refusal to participate in the June 1960 Conference, which would have seen the participation of an official delegate from the USSR, clearly proves this point. Moreover, official Catholicism started reproaching La Pira for his lack of an intransigent anti-Communist stance and the issue sharply divided the Catholic movement in the following years. Equally interesting are both the correspondence between La Pira and the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton about a solemn condemnation of nuclear weapons by the Second Vatican Council and the examination of the hard disputes that accompanied La Pira’s ‘parallel diplomacy’ efforts during the Vietnam War.
Massimo De Giuseppe explores a difficult but decisive phase in the history of the feeble Italian peace movement and of its more prestigious leader, Aldo Capitini. The years from 1953 to 1955 started with the first Soviet H-bomb test and ended with the birth of the ‘non-aligned’ movement. Thus, they were marked by the progressive crisis of the Communist mass mobilization for peace and by the growth of small new non-violent groups as well as new pacifist proposals inside the Catholic movement. In this new context, Capitini’s efforts were oriented to the development of an independent and transversal peace movement. Impressed by the new ‘Third Camp’ movement, launched by Anglo-American pacifists such as Abraham J. Muste, Capitini promoted a Perugia ‘East-West’ conference in 1954, as an alternative to La Pira’s meetings and with the aim of gathering pacifists who opposed both capitalism and Stalinism. Hemmed in on all sides, by Communist hostility and Catholic indifference, Capitini’s attempts seemed doomed to insignificance, but the ‘Bandung spirit’ nourished the small band of Italian non-violent pacifists, opening a path that would lead to the birth of an Italian ‘Consulta per la pace’ and to the first march from Perugia to Asssisi in 1961. In another chapter, Guido Formigoni analyses the relationship between Democrazia Cristiana and the new peace culture that emerged from the Vatican Council after 1965. Through a wide examination of the press, he demonstrates the existence of a complex and conflicting system of relations, as well as a deep division among Catholics that condemned DC to look for mediation and convergence and therefore often to avoid a precise political and strategic position. In another related chapter, Eros Francescangeli describes the antimilitarist activism of the Italian ‘New Left’ inside the armed forces from 1969 to 1978.
A second relevant area of interest is devoted to the Catholic Church. Paying due attention both to primary documents and to the many studies in the field, Alfredo Canavero makes a balanced and nuanced survey of the development of the doctrine (and of the choices) of twentieth century popes. Fabrizio Panzera reconstructs the failed attempts for mediation during World War I made by the Holy See and the Swiss government, which had a Catholic President, Giuseppe Motta. Maria Luisa Molinari and Elisabetta Salvini examine a long and interesting series of police documents about the anti-war stance of a part of the Italian clergy during World War I, even though they do not distinguish clearly enough in which cases this was based on pacifist attitudes, and in which simply on an intransigent, anti-Italian, pro-Austrian position. Two important essays by Anna Maria Fiorentini and Loredana Unali’s, which are based on the documents of the Archivio Segreto Vaticano, shed new light not only on Pius XI’s attitudes towards the peace issue in post-war Europe (his ‘peace project’ and his critical stance towards the League of Nations), but also on diverging trends both inside the Holy See and the Catholic world. Lucio Valent uses British diplomatic documents in order to demonstrate the difficulties of the Holy See during the troubles from 1966 to 1974, when it was bound to face pressures from Irish Catholics and requests from the British government, and had its own aspiration to facilitate a peace process. Finally, Enrico Palumbo examines the passage of the Italian Catholic public opinion from a pro-Israeli position in the 1967 war to a pro-Arab one in 1973.
A third, small group of chapters covers new ground and are especially noteworthy: they scrutinise the history of peace supporting operations. Andrea Villa and Giorgio Vecchio examine Italian military missions at the beginning of the twentieth century, respectively in Crete (1897-1899), in Palestine (1917-1921), and in Upper Silesia (1920-1922). There is a tendency here to devote too much attention to similarities, in terms of characteristics and problems, with present-daypeacekeeping missions than to the evident differences. Nonetheless, it is abundantly clear that this kind of analysis promises important lines of historical enquiry for the future.
To sum up: even though the volume lacks a more coherent conceptual framework, it does offer many new and highly relevant results that are not only of great interest, but also mark a qualitative leap in Italian research on peace history. Hence, I am sure that this book will become a necessary point of reference for many scholars.