Incompetence, Stupidity, and Cowardice: The Royal House of Savoy and the Governance of Italy, 1861-1946

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French Prime Minister George Clemenceau, British Premier David Lloyd-George and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando at Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

PART 12

The Italians did not make a good impression during the treaty talks in Paris in 1919. Wrote Charles Seymour, a young staffer to the American delegation, “The Italians were very dramatic, waved their arms around, tears came into their eyes.” On one occasion, while making Italy’s case to the British, French, and Americans, Orlando, the Italian Prime Minister, became so impassioned, so emotional, he starting sobbing.

“I’ve heard of nations winning their way to empire by bribery, cajolery, by threats of war and by war, but this is the first attempt I have heard of by any statesman to sob his way to empire,” later said a somewhat annoyed Lord Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary. (Source: The End of Order: Versailles 1919 by Charles L. Mee, Jr.). Truth be told, the Italians annoyed everyone.

Some weeks later, toward the end of the conference, Baron Sonnino, the Italian Foreign Minister, appeared before the Big Three and again talked vaguely of what Italy wanted, without being exact since he wanted to “keep his options open” as we would say these days.

This very much annoyed the French Prime Minister, Clemenceau, irritable and brusque at the best of times. “You must want one thing or another, Monsieur le Baron Sonnino.”

“I am appalled by the atmosphere of hostility which Italy encounters in this room,” said Monsieur le Baron Sonnino.

“Oh no, surely not,” replied Lord Balfour.

Finally the Paris Peace Conference drifted to a close with people and bits of territory being passed around until the final moments. The Kingdom of Italy received far, far less than she had been promised in the Treaty of London. “Put not your faith in Princes,” Niccolò Machiavelli had written in the early 1500s and certainly he was correct.

Italy received South Tyrol and West Tyrol now known as Trentino, along with 230,000 German speaking subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire resident in those areas. This was accomplished through the expedient of cutting the Austrian province of Tyrol in half with North Tyrol and East Tyrol remaining in Austria and South and West Tyrol going to Italy. Although the provinces remain today in the two separate countries of Austria and Italy, they have a trans-national, regional government under the auspices of the European Union.

The strategically located port of Trieste, to northeast of Italy, which had been ruled by the Austrian Hapsburgs for almost 750 years, was also tossed like a bone to Italy along with all of the peninsula of Istria, which is on the Adriatic. That entire area had also been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and only 35% of the population was Italian.


View Italy In World War One in a larger map

Map showing territory given to Italy after World War One (in blue) and territory promised to Italy in the Treaty of London but never delivered (in red).

Istria was really part of Croatia and Croatia had been shoehorned into the brand new kingdom of Yugoslavia which had been established by the Big Three. Curiously, the British, French, and Americans, the Big Three who controlled the Paris Peace Conference, dissolved the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which proved a disastrous decision, and created the very small Republic of Austria. At the same time, the Allies forced Serbia, who had been fighting the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War One, into the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which had been formed from pieces of the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. If this sounds ridiculous, it’s because it was ridiculous and everyone knew it. It was a war waiting to happen and, of course, it did.

[Image courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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