Was World War I
an avoidable debacle ?
Italian Prime Minister, Antonio Salandra’s Speech, May 23, 1915
I address myself to Italy and to the civilized world in order to show not by violent words, but by exact facts and documents, how the fury of our enemies has vainly attempted to diminish the high moral and political dignity of the cause which our arms will make prevail. I shall speak with the calm of which the King of Italy has given a noble example, when he called his land and sea forces to arms. I shall speak with the respect due to my position and to the place in which I speak. I can afford to ignore the insults written in Imperial, Royal, and Archducal proclamations. Since I speak from the Capitol, and represent in this solemn hour the people and the Government of Italy, I, a modest citizen, feel that I am far nobler than the head of the house of the Hapsburgs.
The commonplace statesmen who, in rash frivolity of mind and mistaken in all their calculations, set fire last July to the whole of Europe and even to their own hearths and homes, have now noticed their fresh colossal mistake, and in the Parliaments of Budapest and Berlin have poured forth brutal invective of Italy and her Government with the obvious design of securing the forgiveness of their fellow-citizens and intoxicating them with cruel visions of hatred and blood. The German Chancellor said he was imbued not with hatred, but with anger, and he spoke the truth because he reasoned badly, as is usually the case in fits of rage. I could not, even if I chose, imitate their language. An atavistic throwback to primitive barbarism is more difficult for us who have twenty centuries behind us more than they have.
The fundamental thesis of the statesmen of Central Europe is to be found in the words "treason and surprise on the part of Italy toward her faithful allies." It would be easy to ask if he has any right to speak of alliance and respect for treaties who, representing with infinitely less genius, but with equal moral indifference, the tradition of Frederick the Great and Bismarck, proclaimed that necessity know no law, and consented to his country trampling under foot and burying at the bottom of the ocean all the documents and all the customs of civilization and international law. But that would be too easy an argument. Let us examine, on the contrary, positively and calmly, if our former allies are entitled to say that they were betrayed and surprised by us....
The horrible crime of Sarajevo was exploited as a pretext a month after it happened - this was proved by the refusal of Austria to accept the very extensive offers of Serbia -- nor at the moment o the general conflagration would Austria have been satisfied with the unconditional acceptance of the ultimatum. Count Berchtold on July 31st declared to the Duke of Avarna that, if there had been a possibility of mediation being exercised, it could not have interrupted hostilities, which had already begun with Serbia. This was the mediation for which Great Britain and Italy were working. In any case, Count Berchtold was not disposed to accept mediation tending to weaken the conditions indicated in the Austrian note, which, naturally, would have been increased at the end of the war....
Where is, then, the treason, the iniquity, the surprise, if, after nine months of vain efforts to reach an honorable understanding which recognized in equitable measure our rights and our liberties, we resumed liberty of action? The truth is that Austria and Germany believed until the last days that they had to deal with an Italy weak, blustering, but not acting, capable of trying blackmail, but not enforcing by arms her good right, with an Italy which could be paralyzed by spending a few millions, and which by dealings which she could not avow was placing herself between the country and the Government.
The effect was the contrary. An immense outburst of indignation was kindled throughout Italy and not among the populace, but among the nobles of the country, which is ready to shed its blood for the nation. This outburst of indignation was kindled as the result of the suspicion that a foreign Ambassador was interfering between the Italian Government, the Parliament, and the country. In the blaze thus kindled internal discussions melted away, and the whole nation was joined in a wonderful moral union, which will prove our greatest source of strength in the severe struggle which faces us, and which must lead us by our own virtue, and not by benevolent concessions from others, to the accomplishment of the highest destinies of the country.