Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Libya's History Filled with War, Violence

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Libya's History Filled with War, Violence

Article excerpt

The long, lonely desert roads leading to and from Benghazi have proved to be treacherous to travelers and invaders from the Mediterranean and around the world for many centuries. With historical references to the city of Cyrene, on the Libyan coast, Thucydides recorded the news of an invasion of the Greek occupation by surrounding Libyan tribes in 414 BC. Since those ancient times, the dust clouds which rise on the coast roads to Benghazi frequently bring bad news to patriots, soldiers and survivors of many lands - the sorrows of showing the flag in this far-flung outpost of European, Turkish and later American adventurism.

But what of the natives, those poor Libyan peasants who have inhabited this once forgotten coastal town of Cyrenaica, the provincial name it carried from the Roman occupation around 78 BC?

Their lives during the past centuries - even before the discovery of the oil fields farther south on the Libyan mainland - have been marked by a woeful tale of repeated invasion, internal chaos and chronic bloodshed. Occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Ottoman Turks, the Italians, the Germans and later reconstructed under the British, one can understand how many would probably yearn in the post-Kaddafi era to having a voice in creating their own government.

Such is the importance of a strategic port adjacent to the nearby Gulf of Sidra, Benghazi was a prize of the Libyan coast and actually the capital of the Italianimposed province named Cyrenaica after the Italian invasion of the region in 1911. It was operated as an Italian protectorate from 1927 until 1934 alongside Tripolitania - surrounding Tripoli in the West. In the waning years of Italian occupation, Prime Minister Benito Mussolini established three concentration camps in remote areas where more than 100,000 natives suffered under a forced resettlement to Suluq, El Magrun, Abyar and El Agheila, not far from Benghazi. Several thousand starved among the squalid conditions in the camps.

The advent of World War II brought new waves of invaders to the shores of North Africa, seeking the ports and dusty roads of conquest for staging areas and air bases for Allied and Axis forces. The combatants carved up North Africa just as Hitler had occupied France and most of Eastern Europe. The recent biography of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill by William Manchester and Paul Reid- "The Last Lion: Volume III" - details the elation felt by British, Australian and New Zealand fighting men who first seized Benghazi and most of the Libyan coast from the clutches of a faltering Italian occupation, taking some 200,000 surrendered Italian prisoners after destroying their army.

Early in 1941, the coalition of forces was threatened with a counter-strike by Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel and the hastily assembled Afrika Korps of tanks, trucks and Teutonic marauders accompanied by Stuka dive bombers. …

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