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Post Trump and Berlusconi
Created by John Eipper on 10/18/16 6:32 AM

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Trump and Berlusconi (Leo Goldberger, USA, 10/18/16 6:32 am)

It may very well be that comparing Donald Trump to Hitler or Mussolini has been a bit of a reach, but how about his similarity to Silvio Berlusconi?

I was struck by their similarity as so convincingly documented by Alexander Stille--a professor of journalism at Columbia University and author of several Italian-theme books, including one on Berlusconi. As we have some frequent Italian spokespersons among us here on WAIS, I thought it might be interesting to have their response and views on this topic.

Stille's article was published in Intercept.com and dates back to March 7, 2016.

Herewith the link:


JE comments: March was eons ago in Trump-time, but the parallels are truer than ever: the megamillions, the megalomania, and the uncanny ability to turn potentially campaign-killing verbal gaffes into assets. One point I had never thought about: Italy and the US have some of the least-regulated media markets in the developed world. This has allowed two outsized and oversexed personalities to plaster their faces everywhere.

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  • Comparing Trump and Berlusconi (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 10/19/16 3:30 AM)
    In response to Leo Goldberger (19 October), I had started to write a comment on Stille's erroneous analysis of Berlusconi, then I gave up.

    Berlusconi is favor of a liberal (European-style) moderate policy, which really is not my first choice. Anyway, his friendship with Putin was very good for the West; see for example the Pratica di Mare achievements. Maybe he lost his job as Prime Minister because of his friendships with Putin and Gaddafi (both were extremely useful for Italy). See the books of Alan Freedman. Frankly, I believe that Freedman is much better and more reliable then Alexander Stille, who got all sorts of rubbish, not necessarily truthful, from the Red/Left Italian opposition. Stille's goal by insulting Berlusconi was to put down Trump.

    Furthermore, I am generally sick and tired of Italian politics. It is difficult for me to go into detail. As WAISers well know, I still live in a different world.

    JE comments:  The fundamental difference between Trump and Berlusconi, in Eugenio Battaglia's view, is the latter's embrace of neo-liberal economics.  Trump advocates protectionism.

    But the similarities between Trump the man and Berlusconi the man are uncanny:  they're both über-wealthy sexual predators, extremely media-savvy, and with oversized egos.

    As my students might argue in an essay on the two gentlemen, they are "similar and different."

    Here, once again, is the link to the Stille piece.  Perhaps Italy-watcher Roy Domenico can comment?


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    • Comparing Trump and Berlusconi: Don't (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 10/19/16 6:05 AM)

      I think that any comparison between Berlusconi and Trump is actually quite unfair to Berlusconi.

      Berlusconi is a revolting human being, but he is an actual politician with actual political thoughts. And he actually is "media-savvy."

      Trump has neither of these qualities. Would a "media-savvy" individual insult the parents of a fallen American soldier, then continue to wrangle with them for weeks after the original faux pas, never backing down, just getting himself in deeper and deeper? Would a media-savvy individual mock a handicapped person with a million TV cameras watching? Of course not. And we could give a thousand similar examples of media-unsavviness, on his part. The only thing Trump is able to do is to make a spectacle and draw attention to himself--"sucking oxygen out of the room," as he calls it. He is so stupid that he cannot even see the difference between attention which might be somehow seen as flattering, and disdain.

      Nor does Trump have a single actual political thought in his vacuous head. Berlusconi actually understands something about East and West; actually understands something about Europe's relationship with Russia.  Trump likes Putin because, as he says himself, "he says good things about me." That's about as deep a political thought as Trump is capable of. There is certainly a lot more "there, there" in Berlusconi, which actually makes him far more dangerous.  Trump is an empty suit, a bag of wind, no Hitler, and not even any Berlusconi.

      JE comments:  I agree with Cameron Sawyer's analysis of Trump.  Our difference is the following:  I call Trump "media-savvy" because he monopolizes it (the media) and has come this far with absolutely no political credentials.  Cameron disagrees, I presume, because he hasn't gone farther:  i.e., he's destined to go down in a landslide defeat.

      What will a humiliating defeat do to the Trump brand?  He'll still have hotels to run and the like.  Who, after 1972, would want to stay in the "McGovern Inn"?

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    • Comparing Trump and Berlusconi (Roy Domenico, USA 10/19/16 1:03 PM)

      I have been following the Trump/Berlusconi comparisons (or not), and when I saw JE's prodding I had to jump in.

      It's funny, because I brought up the comparison quite independently of WAIS a month or so ago. I was part of an "in print" round table discussion, forthcoming in the Catholic Historical Review, of David Kertzer's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Pope and Mussolini. I wrote that the book is a lesson in the dangers of religious folk hitching their wagons to very irreligious political figures. I concluded that the Trump and Mussolini/Hitler comparison doesn't make much sense. But in the light of recent events with "The Donald," US Evangelicals might learn something from Kertzer's study.

      Incidentally, regarding Eugenio Battaglia's mentioning of Alexander Stille, I've met him on a few occasions at conferences. At one a few years ago, he brought along his very respected father (who has since passed on), Ugo Stille, the former editor of Milan's Corriere della sera. I thought Alexander's study of the Mafia, Excellent Cadavers, was particularly good. And yes, he's joined the choir of Berlusconi-bashers along with Paul Ginsborg and The Economist and legions of Italians.

      I look at Berlusconi like I look at Trump. The two are wildly hated and in many--but not all--cases the contempt is merited. I also think that the media is giving Hillary a pass, something that has badly damaged my estimation of, especially, the New York Times. As a (still) devoted reader of the NYT, I think they have crossed the line into the tabloid camp for this election.

      JE comments:  Great to hear from you, Roy.  I've heard a number of high-profile US Evangelicals evoke the "flawed individuals can still do the Lord's work" argument as they double down on their support for Trump.  They cite some Biblical sources for this, but I don't recall the specific reference.

      I'm curious:  What did religious Italians learn from their experience under Mussolini?

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      • Italy's Constitutional Referendum (Henry Levin, USA 10/20/16 4:13 AM)
        I have been in Italy for the last week, Milano, a very wonderful city. This is my second time here, but now I have time to see the architecture and eat some nice meals before our conference tomorrow.

        There seems to be more interest in the US Presidential election and Trump than the Referendum here. It is interesting that there is so little interest in WAIS in the referendum to reform the political system in Italy. Many people who support it have some qualms, but feel that Italy tends towards a logjam to prevent change. They would rather take a risk on the referendum to get change than to tolerate the present sclerotic system.

        I would love to hear more on the referendum from WAISers.

        JE comments:  Back in September, Eugenio Battaglia sent a couple of posts about the referendum.


        This Economist article explains the December 4th referendum in more detail:


        Enjoy Milan, Hank, and best of luck at the conference!

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      • Catholics and the Church under Mussolini (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 10/21/16 3:09 AM)
        To answer John E's question (see Roy Domenico, 18 October), religious Italians were treated well under Mussolini.

        Unfortunately the Vatican, at least until recently, was not (only) the Catholic Church but a regular state that wanted to extend its influence over many matters, not just religion.

        With reference to Mussolini, he was the Man of Providence when he created for the Pope the State of The Vatican, on 11 February 1927. This Vatican even pushed Italy into participating in the "Cruzada" of the Spanish Civil War. As long as things went well, the Cardinals would show the "saluto romano" instead of the traditional blessing. However, 80 years ago the Azione Cattolica crisis took place. The Fascists wanted to have all youth under the GIL (Gioventù Italiana del Littorio) and abolish all other associations. Among them was the Azione Cattolica. The government believed, with good reason, that behind the shield of the Azione Cattolica the old and new politicians of the Partito Popolare were hiding. After all, where did the Christian Democrats come from at the end of WWII? Anyway the crisis was solved when the Azione Cattolica promised to concern itself only with religious education and nothing else.

        But when things went wrong, the Vatican jumped on the bandwagon of the victors. As just one example, in 1943-'44, 200+ antifascists were hiding in the Vatican, including Pietro Nenni, the former political commissar of an International Brigade in Republican Spain, against which the Italian "crusade" had fought.

        But the most interesting case was the communist Franco Calamandrei, who was responsible, with a few others, for the attack on the Germans (really from Bolzano) in via Rasella. As the culprits did not show up, according to the partisan's doctrine to provoke retaliation to increase hatred, there was a massacre at the Fosse Ardeatine in which ten (mostly previously arrested partisans) were killed for every one German killed. This retaliation was in accordance with the Convention of Geneva, and all nations used it, but in Italy, now retaliation of this sort is considered a terrible crime commemorated each year by the Highest Authorities.

        JE comments:  I think we covered this topic last year, but I cannot find the reference in our archives.  What about the "legality" of  10-to-1 retaliation in the Geneva Convention?  The 1949 accords strictly prohibit collective punishment of any type, but was it different in one of the earlier treaties?

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        • Catholics and the Church under Mussolini (Roy Domenico, USA 10/22/16 7:09 AM)
          Let me add a couple of things to Eugenio Battaglia's post of October 21.

          The 1929-1931 "triennio" is very important. At the start--in February 1929--the treaties are signed between the Church and the Mussolini Regime, Vatican City is founded and Catholicism becomes the state religion. The diplomatic groundwork had been going on for years and part of the "tacit" deal was that Pius XI (1922-1939) facilitated Mussolini's destruction of the Catholic political party (Partito Popolare Italiano)--an act that understandably caused great resentment and division among the faithful.

          There was, nevertheless, an important segment of "political" Catholics who favored the Regime and joined it. By 1939 most of them had been devoured by the Fascists. The era of good feelings between the Church and the Blackshirts, moreover, was very short-lived; it was pretty much over by 1930 for the reason that Eugenio provides: Catholic Action. C.A. youth battled Fascists in the streets, leading to an attack on Catholic Action offices in Padua. Consequently, Pius condemned Fascist violence in his June 29, 1931 encyclical, Non abbiamo bisogno.

          Pius's relations with Mussolini were never "good" after that. Pius wanted to condemn Italy's invasion of Ethiopia but chose to move on instead of battling the Italian bishops who supported the war out of patriotism. In 1938 the dying pope composed--with some help from the American Jesuit John La Farge--his condemnation of Nazi racism. He unfortunately died days before he was to pronounce it and his successor, Pius XII, shelved it.

          Finally, I think that mention must be made of the anti-Fascists who the Church sheltered in 1943-44--before the "liberation" (pace, Eugenio) of Rome in June 1944. They were not only hidden in the Vatican (and at the papal estate at Castelgandolfo), but across the city. Many of the most important stayed at the St John Lateran complex. Anyway, if the Nazis had caught those anti-fascists, they would have been executed.

          JE comments:  A hypothetical we've never considered before:  if Pius XI instead of the notoriously collaborationist Pius XII had reigned during the war years, how might history have turned out differently?

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        • Geneva Conventions and Collective Punishment (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 10/26/16 12:07 PM)
          Our esteemed moderator, in his comments on my post of 21 October, wrote, "the 1949 Geneva accords on the Conduct of War strictly prohibit collective punishment."

          This is correct as of 1949. However, prior to that time, the rules for the conduct of war regulated by the Conventions of Hague and Geneva were different.

          According to the International Conventions of the Hague 1899 and 1907, Art. 1 of the rules and uses of land warfare:

          A legal combatant should be recognized only if:

          1) operating under responsible command,

          2) wearing insignia visible at a distance,

          3) carrying arms openly,

          4) adhering to the laws of armed conflict.

          Therefore, most of the so-called freedom fighter partisans, according to the laws still in force at the time, were in reality terrorists.

          It is also stated that it is forbidden to bomb undefended towns, and the (occupied) population has the obligation to carry on its normal activities without any hindrance to the occupying troops and their military operations. If this is not the case, the occupier has the power, as ultima ratio, to carry out the capture and execution of hostages.

          The Nuremberg trial (case 7) recognized the right of retaliation for the German Generals List, Von Weighs and Rendulic.

          Furthermore, case 9 confirmed that the uses of reprisals in war are acts which, even if illegal in the particular conditions in which they happen, can be justified if the adversary has previously committed an illegal act and the retaliation was carried out to prevent the adversary from doing it again.

          The right of reprisal is written down in the 1940 US Rules of Land Warfare and in the British Manual of Military Law. At Benghazi in Libya, the British reprisals against the Italians used the ratio of 10 to 1.

          The Red Army used the ratio of 50 to 1, but in the case at Soldin Neumark they executed 120 civilians for the killing of a major by a German vindicating his wife, who was raped by the major.

          The French at Tuttingen on 1 May 1945 posted the ratio 50 to 1. At Tambach Coburg, Major General Maurice Rose was killed on 30 March 1945 in an ambush by retreating German tanks. This was the highest-ranking American killed by enemy fire in Europe. Even though this killing was a normal act of war, the US Army executed 110 Germans in retaliation.

          It is useless to go to Wikipedia to find details of such reprisals.

          JE comments:  Eugenio Battaglia forces us to face the hard truth that excesses were committed on both sides in WWII (as in all conflicts).  I have been culturally "trained" to believe that the Allied democracies were the Good Guys of the war, and were innocent of barbaric acts.  I'll still argue that the Axis were far more brutal in every sense of the word.  Uncle Joe's Soviets weren't very nice either.

          The notion of collective punishment and the laws of war do not stand up under scrutiny, inasmuch as war is exactly that:  collective punishment.  As the combatants on both sides of the US Civil War were fond of saying, it's always a rich man's war and a poor man's fight.  The wrath is collective, as is the punishment.

          The distinction should be made between "acceptable" collective punishment and that which is off limits.

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          • Death of Gen. Maurice Rose, 1945 (Istvan Simon, USA 10/27/16 8:39 AM)
            Eugenio Battaglia relates, among other things, the shooting of General Maurice Rose, an act he deemed to be a "normal war-time killing," for which US forces allegedly killed 110 Germans in retaliation. He also says that it is useless to look in Wikipedia to find details of such reprisals.

            I wondered if the reason for this might be that perhaps the story is not true, and what sources Eugenio used. At a minimum, one needs to evaluate the credibility of these sources before accepting the story as true. I strongly feel that our esteemed editor should have noted this in his remarks as well.

            I am not a historian, so there are many others in WAIS who are far better equipped to check the veracity or not of this story, and I hope they will do so and help me out. Still, I tried looking into the events surrounding the death of this American hero in World War II, so close to our final victory a little over a month later. At the very least, I discovered that the version presented by Eugenio is contested.

            It appears that the shooting of Gen. Maurice Rose was not a "normal war-time killing." In fact, a contemporary newspaper account in the Denver Post deemed it to be a murder.


            I quote:

            "Major General Maurice Rose died on March 30, 1945, exactly 70 years ago. He and his staff, surrounded by German troops, were attempting to surrender. A panicked young German tank soldier fired one shot to Rose's head, killing him instantly.

            "His death caused an uproar: Demands were made by congressmen for an investigation and it was front-page news in the days when so many chaotic events in both theaters of war crowded newspaper pages."

            The version in the Denver Post is based on the account of an eyewitness, Maj. Robert Bellinger, who was surrendering together with Gen. Rose, but following his shooting and taking advantage of the momentary hesitation of the German soldier, ran back to their Jeep and managed to escape with the driver.

            So far, the only references I found to a reprisal to Gen. Rose's death are to disreputable Holocaust Deniers, and neo-Nazi sites.

            JE comments:  The Wikipedia account indicates that Rose and his entourage were surrounded by German tanks, and Rose was shot when he reached for his sidearm.  Whether it was to surrender or to fight back is unclear.

            One thing I did not know until reading the Wiki bio:  At the time of his death, Major Gen. Rose was the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the US Army.  The Germans seem to have had no idea whom they had killed, as sensitive documents were left untouched in Rose's jeep.  This sounds strange to me:  wouldn't the Germans have recognized the General's stars?

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