Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Salandra Got the War He Wanted


Antonio Salandra
Roiling Italian politics brought conservative, traditionalist Antonio Salandra to the top of the heap in March 1914. He was a nationalist who favored a foreign policy that suited Italian interests and was in no way an enthusiast for the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. His appointment, which was considered a stopgap measure at the time, would prove to be highly influential on the course of the war. 

When the rest of Europe rushed toward the battlefields, Prime Minister Salandra announced that Italy would not be entering the war, claiming that the terms of the 1882 Triple Alliance Treaty did not apply because neither Austria-Hungary or Germany were attacked. As a practical matter, there was substantial opposition to the war in Italy and any territory that Italy hoped to gain was in Austrian hands rather than those of the Entente powers. The Germans and Austrians were furious, of course, feeling betrayed. But worse was to come for the Central Powers. 

Salandra and his minister of foreign affairs, Sidney Sonnino (initially a supporter of honoring the Triple Alliance), continued discussion with their purported allies, while also initiating secret negotiations with London and Paris to see how Italy could profit from the war by joining their side. The Allies won the bidding war, and Salandra patched together a broad, but somewhat thin, coalition from across the Socialist-Nationalist spectrum to support entering the war on the side of the Entente. Italy joined the war against its former Allies in the spring of 1915. 

Salandra, however, did not get the war he intended. The Army high command seized control of the war effort and suffered enormous casualties by mounting huge offensives across the Isonzo River with very little to show for it. Little more than a year after Italy had entered the war, Salandra's government lost support and fell, the first such dismissal for any World War I belligerent. The war that Salandra had engineered would be a disaster for Italy, but the fighting on the Italian Front would be a steady drain on the resources of the Central Powers, especially Austria-Hungary, and would contribute immeasurably to the eventual Allied victory. 

In the Distance, the War Memorial of Asiago, Site of the 1916 Austro-Hungarian Offensive

Salandra was Italy's war leader for about a year. Following the success of an Austrian offensive from the Trentino in the spring of 1916, Salandra was forced to resign. After World War I, Salandra moved further to the right and supported Mussolini's accession to power in 1922. Nine years later he died in Rome.

Sources: Giolitti, Giovanni. In Great Britain, Collected Diplomatic Correspondence

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