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The Western Front dominates our memories of the First World War. Yet a million and a half men died in North East Italy in a war that need never have happened, when Italy declared war on the Habsburg Empire in May 1915. Led by General Luigi Cadorna, the most ruthless of all the Great War commanders, waves of Italian conscripts were sent charging up the limestone hills north of Trieste to be massacred by troops fighting to save their homelands.This is a great, tragic military history of a war that gave birth to fascism. Mussolini fought in these trenches, but so did many of the great modernist writers in Italian and German - Ungaretti, Gadda, Musil, Hemingway. It is through these accounts that Mark Thompson, with great skill and empathy, brings to life this forgotten conflict.
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The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919 by Mark Thompson is the compelling and moving account of an unknown campaign of the First World War.

About the Author

Mark Thompson lives in Oxford. He is the author of A Paper House, a much-praised account of the fall of Yugoslavia. He worked for the UN in the Balkans for much of the 1990s.

Reviews

We barely remember that Italy fought against the Central Powers in World War I, in the Alps and the Dolomites. A million soldiers died, and the political echoes of the disastrous, if victorious, campaign led more or less directly to Mussolini. Thompson's coverage here of World War I away from the Western Front is deep and detailed, showing the horrors of the Italian campaign against Austria, as well as its influence on not only Mussolini (and thus Italian fascism) but writers such as Hemingway and Musil. Valuable for all students of the Great War, both general and advanced.-EB Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Independent scholar Thompson (Forging War) is familiar with a burgeoning Italian literature on the Great War's military aspects. He utilizes that material to construct and convey, better than any English-language account, the essence of three years of desperate struggle for the Isonzo River sector in northeastern Italy. Thompson distinguishes elegantly among the 12 battles for this nearly impassable ground, although the book is best understood as an extended essay on the causes, nature and purpose of Italy's involvement. Thompson presents Italy's war as a test of the vitalist spirit (best expressed in futurism) to demonstrate that the country was more than a middle-class illusion. In consequence, Thompson shows, strategic, diplomatic and political vacuums were too often filled with leaders' rhetoric and mythology. Too many generals, like Luigi Cadorna and Luigi Capello, were case studies in arrogant incompetence. In that environment, the less ordinary soldiers knew about causes and purposes, the better. When they failed in their mission, the draconian responses included summary execution. Prisoners of war were treated as cowards. The war, says Thompson, stands as Italy's first "collective national experience" and illustrates the poisonous nature of European nationalism. Photos, maps. (Apr.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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