An Italian explanation of the raid on Tripoli

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The Economist

Data di pubblicazione: 21/10/1911

An Italian explanation of the raid on Tripoli

«The Economist»,21 ottobre 1911, pp. 824-825




Sir, – I do not propose to criticise your analysis of the relations between Great Britain and Italy and your severe comments upon the action of my Government in the Tripolitan affair. As an Italian, I feel bound not to enter upon a ground so controversial. But you will find it, perhaps, interesting to take note of some aspects of Italian opinion, which, if adverse to blind Chauvinism, has been nevertheless somewhat incensed by the language of the foreign Press. Even among those who are positively adverse to the conquest of Tripoli, the accusations, of brigandage, piracy, violation of international law, and buccaneering appear strange. What we are attempting in Tripoli, says this moderate section of public opinion, may be robbery, but if so, how does it differ from the occupation of Egypt by Great Britain, of Tunis by France, or of Bosnia Herzegovina by Austria? In all these cases the forms have been better observed; perhaps better pretexts were invented; but the substance of the robbery was identical. This is plain rob­bery, while the others were more prudent and hypocritical. And it is much to be doubted whether Dr Jameson’s Raid on the Transvaal was in any way better than ours in Tripoli; it must indeed have been worse; for the Boer Government was very much better than the Turkish administration in Tripoli. As during the Boer War Italy was in full sympathy with Great Britain, so we are – says this section of Italian opinion – at a loss to conceive why the British Press should be so severe toward us[1] Why should we be so severely criticised for having followed the examples set before us by the great colonisers of our age? The surprise may be excessive, but, as a matter of fact, Italian opinion is surprised at being criticised by those who have profited by crimes perhaps worse than ours. In this surprise, I admit, there is a want of discrimination, for the Press which has been adverse to piratical designs in their own country is perfectly right in opposing our Italian expedition.



And now to the origin of the expedition. I will not make comments, but only elucidate facts. You said that the expedition was quietly planned by the Government, imposed upon the Italian public by the concocted news and distorted reports of some Italian journalists quartered in Tripoli, and backed especially by Sicily. I know nothing of the secret affairs of the Italian Government; but the invasion of Tripoli by journalists of the Chauvinistic tendency was prior to the fall of Signor Luzzatti’s Ministry, and the return to power of Signor Giolitti. That the Luzzatti Cabinet would have made the present expedition is highly improbable, and I would say inconceivable. Not as a friend of the Young Turks, but as a friend of international peace and an enemy of financial embarrassments, Signor Luzzatti would never have undertaken a war. A couple of Italian journalists were already in Luzzatti’s time busy with Tripoli. Their plan was the old plan of the yellow Press of America and Europe – the manufacture of opinion in a grossly exaggerated manner, so as to provoke colonial fevers, war scares, &c. The English public is too familiar with these proceedings to be surprised by an Italian application of these new journalistic methods. Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were pictured as enchanted countries, as an ignored Eldorado, where raisins grew in abundance, whose olives date back to Roman times, where wheat yielded most prolifically. One correspondent, in the enthusiasm of the discovery, announced the existence of olive trees in a part of the country where he had seen some trees of a similar appearance, which are, in fact, the trees of the wild juniper. Another correspondent, speaking of Tunis and of the miraculous progress of this region under French rule, as an index to the future progress of Tripolitania under our rule, declared that the yield of wheat in Tunis is already magnificent, and superior to that of Italian wheat lands. As evidence of this he gave some figures, from which anyone, by a simple rule of elementary arithmetic, could deduce that the yield of wheat in Tunisia was less than 4 quintals per hectare! Whereas the mean Italian yield is above 10 quintals, and is far from high. So gross was the agricultural, mineral, and commercial incompetence of the Chauvinistic journalists who forced the conquest of Tripoli on the Italian Government!



A second factor in the affair has been the facility with which the Government was forced on a path to which it seemed little inclined. Signor Giolitti is a keen, cunning; clear-minded man. He is a strong man in the sense that he has personally made some 100 members of the Chamber out of 508; and these 100 members are his life guards. As no other man in the Italian Parliament has so strong a following (the other leaders have at most from 5 to 20 faithful followers apiece), he is easily master of Parliament. He is, moreover, a practical aministrator; he has made nearly all the prefetti (heads of the 69 province, or counties, who exert a great power over the elections); he has adopted since 1900 a sane Liberal policy towards the masses and towards the movements for higher wages. And so he has become, and will for some time remain, the real master of Italy. But with all these qualities, good and bad, he is not a great statesman. The only idea to which he steadfastly held has been the neutrality of the State in the labour question. Notwithstanding his own band of 100 followers, he is desirous of avoiding too much opposition in the Chamber. This desire has grown with age; and as he knows that out of the other 400 members half will always follow the Government of the day for the sake of the great and petty favours which it can dispense, all his aims are bent towards conciliating the most formidable or the most clamorous section of the remainder. Of these, roughly, 100 are extremists (Radicals, Republicans, and Socialists), and 100 are wild members or disbanded followers of Signor Sonnino, Signor Luzzatti, &c. These are not, or were not up to quite recent times, very troublesome, for the temper of the leaders was easygoing and somewhat academic. The 100 extremists seemed, on the contrary, to be dangerous. Signor Giolitti is, however, not the man to be embarrassed by differences of opinion. To the Radicals he gave some places in the Cabinet, and as the Radicals are men without any ideas, save the idea that places are desirable, their group was quickly pacified. To the Socialists he also offered a place, which was accepted by one of their leaders. The Socialist party, indeed, preferred to keep itself free from direct Governmental responsibility, but obtained, as a return for silence and support, the promise of universal suffrage, and of the monopoly of life assurance as a step to old-age pensions, to which the profit of the monopolisation of life assurance was to offer the initial financial means. The quiet of Cabinet life in the Chamber seemed to be thus assured, as the opposition was limited to the small group of Republicans and the non-combative followers of Signors Sonnino and Luzzatti. But I have already taken up a great deal of space, and I shall, with your permission, resume this political analysis next week.



I will here only add a few lines as to the effects of the enterprise upon the welfare of our country. I do not think that your observations, accurate as they are, are complete. If the alternative were really, as you say, between a) a loss of some hundred millions, perhaps of some milliards of lire in a costly expedition; and b) the possibility of useful internal reform on education, sanitation, afforestation, taxation, &c, the selection would easily be made by any reasonable man. We have in the southern provinces of Sicily and Sardinia too much social work to do to be able to surrender our scanty national resources in Tripoli. But the true problem is different. The ways which present themselves to Italian Statesmen are three, not two: a) To spend 500 millions or 1,000 million lire in Tripoli, at a heavy cost to the Italian taxpayers and to Italian credit, &c; b) to spend the money on education, sanitation, tax relief, &c, to the great benefit of the masses and the taxpayers; c) to squander the same, or even larger sums, on increasing our armaments in competition with Austria, on the growing bureaucracy, on unremunerative increments of salaries of public servants, on gifts out of the public purse, to petty local interests, to protected manufacturers, and to noisy groups of workers backed by Socialists.



Yours, &c.






Milan, October 17th.

[1] The point is well taken as regards those English writers who praised the Jameson Raid, which, however, was not a Government affair, whether approved by Mr. Chamberlain or not: Ed. Economist.


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