Academic journal article Italica

"Ma Qual E la Nostra Patria, Sergente?": Tiro Al Piccione and the Politics of Memory

Academic journal article Italica

"Ma Qual E la Nostra Patria, Sergente?": Tiro Al Piccione and the Politics of Memory

Article excerpt

A heated debate began in 2008 over whether or not to grant "combatant" status to the defenders of the Italian Social Republic (RSI). The effort of Berlusconi's government to elevate the members of the former Black Brigades moved many, including victims of Fascist torture, toward public outcry. While few denied that the Black Brigades committed atrocities in their part of the civil war, their defense of the patria, misdirected or not, seemed to some sufficient grounds to raise them to the ranks of those honored for service during World War II. This proposal was not the result of mere distance from the war, but from the influence of many in Italy today, including some historians, who consider as legitimate others' choices to fight for Mussolini and the RSI. Today's debate about "combatant" status is a new chapter in a long discourse on the meaning of Fascism in postwar Italy and the public view of the Black Brigades is central to that issue.

Few voices have been as influential in Italy's understanding of the Black Brigades as renowned novelist, Giose Rimanelli, a Brigade veteran. In the first decades after the war, his novel Tiro al piccione stood alone among so many great works on the war, as the most profound exploration of the defenders of the Republic of Salo (Manacorda, 48, Liucci 1998, 673, and Matteo, 307). The novel remains of great importance today, republished by Einaudi amid considerable fanfare in 1991. For an historian, Tiro is significant for what it reveals about its subjects--the RSI and the immediate postwar--and because its success gave it influence in the postwar discourse on Fascism. But Tiro was not an instant success. Indeed, its publishing history was a troubled one precisely because of the conflict over the meaning of Fascism, as embattled in the postwar era as it is today. Rimanelli wrote this story of a teenager in the Black Brigades, a vivid and riveting tale of terror, atrocities, and disillusionment, in 1945, making it one of the earliest and freshest accounts of that war. From that rime the manuscript languished for eight years, deemed by editors to be unpublishable. Yet its publication in 1953 was a great success. The key to this shift in the novel's reading lies in its changing political context that altered the meaning of Fascism and the war.

The two very different political contexts of the late 1940s and the early 1950s created diametrically dissimilar readings of the novel. Kriss Ravetto points out that the events of World War II "have been repeatedly read and reread in terms of contemporary politics, linking 'the event' to transtemporal questions of morality and responsibility to the past" (6). Indeed, Tiro's story of a young man undergoing a gradual disillusionment with Fascism, told by an author who had himself previously fought for the RSI, made the novel unpublishable before 1953. In a political culture in which both Right and Left competed to assume and control their association with the anti-Fascist resistance, there was seemingly no room for Rimanelli's skillful construction of a Black Brigade hero or his astounding honesty in exposing Fascist atrocities. The rejection of such a narrative conforms to our expectations, shaped by revisionists who have led us to believe that only the decline of the "Resistance Myth" in the last two decades has given voice to the former defenders of the RSI (Pezzino, 396). But such an opening already existed in 1953 when a substantial cultural shift within and beyond Italy ushered in a new reading of Tiro. By 1953, many aspects of the novel that had previously prevented its publication had lost their contextual significance. We shall see that by 1953, Tiro ceased to be a conversion narrative and instead became a weapon useful to and valued by both Left and Right in heated political debate. In its turn from editorial rejection to popular affirmation, Tiro exposes a larger transformation of the public understanding of Fascism in early Cold War Italy. …

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