Neutrality to intervention:
- Salandra formed a new government in March 1914
- Italy did not enter the war in August 1914. Instead neutrality was declared.
- Italy was still a part of The Triple Alliance (1882) with Austria and Germany, however when Austria declared war on Serbia in July 1914 it did not consult the Italian government so Italy, under the terms of the alliance did not have to also declare war against Serbia. (Austria was occupying some of the disputed irredenta territories too.)
- The government wanted to preserve good relations with Britain who was supplying most of Italy’s coal at that time, (and had a fearsome navy!) Most of the population appeared to favour neutrality, plus the war in Libya meant that Italy was somewhat lacking in economic strength.
- But there were other concerns: how would the winning side deal with Italy after the war? If the allies won, then Russia would become the dominant power in the Balkans, and so a rival for the Italia Irredenta; if the Central Powers won then how would they react to Italy betraying the Triple Alliance?
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The intervention crisis
- King Victor Emmanuel III (1869-1947 reigned 1900-1946) and senior politicians opened negotiations (egged on in particular by the nationalist press) with both sides to see who would offer them the best deal.
- In April1915 the government signed the Treaty of London with Britain and France; (Mussolini later claimed that this was the founding moment for fascism as he thought that a group of heroic nationalists were responsible for Italy’s involvement in the war.) which subsequently saw Italy declaring war on Austria the following month, 24.5.15., (war was not declared on Germany until 28.8.16.
- Salandra, of course, hoped that a successful war would cement his position, but as rumours of the agreement spread, 300 deputies gave their support to Giolitti and his declared neutrality, so Salandra felt he should resign. The King asked Giolitti to form a government, but Giolitti felt that Italy and the King would be humiliated if he backed out of the Treaty of London.
- In the meantime interventionists such as D’Annunzio and Mussolini made public pro-war speeches – they denounced Giolitti and the neutralists as traitors. For people on the right of politics such as the poet D’Annunzio Italy’s entrance into the war was exhilarating. Many shared this view whilst others remained opposed.
- The King reinstated Salandra on the 16th May.
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How was Italy affected by the 1st WW?
- Many new opportunities opened up for the people of Italy. New experiences, new ambitions, new fears all generated by the war.
- Almost everyone in Italy was affected in some way. New-found comradeship in the trenches (trincerismo) but also demoralisation and mutilation. Some experienced financial gain whilst others suffered economically.
Two key battles for Italy:
- 5 million men eventually served in the army. Most of the soldiers were conscripts from the South who did not really know why the war was being fought. Skilled labourers stayed in factories to continue to produce essential war materials. Very poor conditions and low pay were the norm. Many killed by diseases such as cholera and diptheria.
- Italy fought on the Southern Front against Austria for 3 years. Most of the time there was stalemate, a war of atttrition. But…
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- October 1917 Italy suffered a major defeat at Caporetto. 300,000 men were taken prisoner. Several thousand troops were executed, branded as cowards by Commander-in-chief Cadorna. The govt. responded to nationalist criticism by blaming Cadorna for the defeat and sacking him, they also attempted to appease the nation by promising major reforms after the war was over to try and improve morale and conditions.
- In October 1918 Italy won a battle at Vittorio Veneto after a period of intense pressure that they managed to inflict on Austria, 500,000 Austrians were taken as p.o.ws. The Italians expected major rewards from the victory so once again expectations were raised.
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- The treaty was between Austria and Italy and was signed on 10th September 1919.
- In May 1915 the Treaty of London had promised that Italy would receive: South Tyrol, Trentino, Istria, Dalmatia and some Colonies. But the Treaty of St.Germain gave them South Tyrol, Trentino, Istria, but not Dalmatia and zero German Colonies. (Fiume was also an issue for Italy but neither Treaty promised it, the British and Americans denied Italy the city despite its vast Italian population, as they considered it vital to the economy of the newly emergent Yugoslav state.)
- Approx 200,000 German speaking Austrians now lived on Italian soil. Italy also gained 250,000 Slavs in Istria.
- Despite these gains Italians felt bitter that they had not received all that had been promised in 1915. Millions felt cheated; they spoke of a ‘mutilated victory’.
- The war also brought about the threat of economic collapse and social disruption. The cost of the war for Italy was 148,000 million Lire, which was twice the expenditure of all previous Italian governments between 1861 and 1913, and 650,000 had died and 1 million had been seriously wounded.
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MUTILATED VICTORY 2
- The economic base was weakened by unbalanced trade and industrial production. For example by 1919 exports covered only 36% of Italy’s imports. The growth of industrial production between 1915 and 1918 had been so geared toward the war that following the war the levels of production could not continue and unemployment soared. 2 million unemployed by the end of 1919, mainly due to demobilization.
- The cost of the war had mainly been brought about through borrowing from Britain and the USA, national debt had risen from 16 to 85 billion lire during the war years.
- Inflation also a problem, the cost of living was 4 times what it had been in 1919 than 1913. The govt were responsible, printing money and subsequently destroying middle class savings.
- All of these problems would suggest that Italy had exited the war with all the makings of violent social confrontation:
- On one hand you have the working classes desperate to prevent any further decline in their situation, whereas the industrialists and landowners were concerned with the demand for pay rises and industrial protection, equalling spiralling costs eating into their profitability.
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DID THE WAR UNITED ITALY?
In some ways a sense of Italian nationalism was fostered by some through the shared conflict. But really the war did more to divide the nation:
- Soldiers versus ‘shirkers’
- Peasants against workers
- Interventionists against defeatists (socialists, Catholics and Giolitti)
- A more industrialised northern economy had been created
- Mounting peasant demands for land
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Why were post-war years so turbulent?
- Was Italy’s victory in the 1st WW ‘mutilated’?
- Despite being on the winning side the fascists later claimed that the government mishandled the war and ‘lost’ the peace. Many ex-army officers and soldiers were completely disgruntled with the liberal govt., they felt they were governed by a weak ineffectual leadership.
- In 1915 Italy had been promised territory through secret diplomacy. But by 1919 the world had changed. When the USA entered the war in 1917, Roosevelt had seen the whole affair as a battle for democracy in Europe, and not a war of imperialist ambition.
- Europe was to be re-built under the guidelines of Roosevelt’s 14 points, the most important of which was to be self-determination for each state. So the Italian contingent under PM Orlando felt they had been cheated at the peace settlement. The Italians felt that they had not achieved a significant reward for their 650,000 dead.
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