Fist Of History

March, 2013Archive for

Weird History – how Prussia helped Rome become Italy’s capital – Part II – the Fascist Connection

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

When we last left Italy it was after the unification of the various Italian states into one new nation-state and the Pope was sulking in the Vatican, refusing to recognize the new Italian government and declaring that any Italian citizens who participated with the new government were automatically to be excommunicated.  This actually presented a problem for Italy in that it created a spiritual/philosophical crisis for the new nation, on the one hand Italian liberals sought to separate the new nation-state of Italy from the influence of the Catholic Church but for many Italians the Church was a central pillar of their life.  This standoff made it more difficult for the Italian government to build a strong support-base among some segments of its governed population and also presented a problem with its own leadership, some in control of the new Italian nation-state felt it fine that the Pope wanted to sulk in the Vatican, they would rather have Italians with divided consciousness on the matter of their citizenship and place in the world than bow to the demands of the Catholic Church.  This impasse remained in place until the rise of a new form of government in Italy in 1922 with Mussolini’s “triumphant march” on Rome and his being asked to form a new government by Italy’s King – a Fascist government – the first such manifestation of this new method of political organization.

Mussolini spent several years consolidating his hold on power in Italy but the continual problem of the political conflict with the Catholic Church was a concern for Mussolini, he wanted Italians able to freely link themselves to his new Fascist state and to achieve this goal he felt he needed the backing of the Church.  In 1926 Mussolini’s government began negotiating with the Holy Pontiff to come to an agreement on the status of Vatican City, the Papacy, and the integration of Rome formally into Italy in a manner recognized by the Catholic Church and the Italian government.  On 11 February 1929 this treaty was concluded, the Lateran Treaty, signed by Mussolini acting on behalf of the Italian King and by the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Gasparri.  The treaty was a critical component in increasing the power of the Fascist state in Italy, it allowed Mussolini to tap into the emotional and psychological power of the Catholic Church, which now formally supported the new state and allowed priests to speak out in its favor in churches throughout Italy.  It also critically removed some pious Italians’ concerns about balancing service to the new Italian national government against their faith and loyalty to the Catholic Church.  In exchange the Papacy got Vatican City declared a sovereign nation, a cash settlement for the loss of its former Roman holdings, and also the declaration that Catholicism was the only religion of the Italian state.  (This aspect of the treaty remained in legal force until 1984.)

So on a bigger picture what did this treaty mean for history?  Well first it is the reason that Vatican City remains a sovereign state even to the present day in the city of Rome, after the fall of Fascist Italy the new Italian government slapped that aspect of the treaty into the constitution of the newly reformed Italian nation.  Furthermore it pledged that the Pope would remain neutral in international conflicts unless asked to mediate a conflict by all involved parties.  But most critically it is one of the major reasons the Papacy remained silent throughout World War II and all the horrific events that occurred during that period.  The Lateran Treaty locked the Papacy to the Fascist state and, despite minor efforts by the Papacy to oppose what was happening, the treaty and the demands of realpolitik kept the Papacy silent during World War II.

The Lateran Treaty also happened to finally formally put to rest the issues about Rome becoming Italy’s formal capital.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the Lateran Treaty and Benito Mussolini

Weird History – how Prussia helped Rome become Italy’s Capital – Part I

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Meet Otto von Bismarck, impressive dresser, Minister-President of Prussia from 1862 to 1890, and one of the key reasons today for Rome being the capital of Italy and for the chain of events that ended with Vatican City being considered a sovereign nation.  It all begins way back in the deep recesses of the Middle Ages when the Papacy wasn’t just a spiritual power and leader of the Catholic Church but was also a temporal power as well, specifically ruling a prosperous chunk of central and northern Italy known as the Papal States.  The status of the Papal States varies over the centuries, sometimes conquered, sometimes independent, sometimes strong, sometimes weak, but it remained a recognized national entity until Napoleon Bonaparte unleashed a vast series of European remodeling wars and conquered Italy.  The Papal States were made part of a several larger Italian Republics that lasted, on and off, from 1796 to 1814, depending on the mood of Napoleon’s government.  (For example from 1808 till the end of the Napoleonic Empire in 1814 the Papal States were part of France proper.)  Our story really takes off in 1814 when the Papal States were restored and the Pope was once again the held of a territorial state.

From 1814 until 1859 the Papal States existed as a territorial entity until the Wars of Italian Unification began.  In a very short summary those wars were fought with France allied with the northern Italian Kingdom of Sardinia against the Austrian Empire, the war concluded with a victory for France/Sardinia and the size of the northern Italian kingdom was expanded.  Shortly after that a series of additional unification wars were fought and the Papal states area vastly reduced, until it only controlled Rome and the immediate territory around it.  In March of 1861 the new Italian government voted that Rome should be the capital of Italy but there was a catch – the new government of Italy couldn’t actually occupy its new capital, due to a garrison of French troops being located within it to protect the Pope.  Why were French troops in Rome preventing a newly unified Italy from making Rome its capital when French troops had, only two years earlier assisted in the beginning of this effort at unification?  Well that hinges on the personal quirks of the leader of France at the time, Napoleon III.

That sexy gentleman is Napoleon III, leader of France at the time as its Emperor and meddler in all sorts of international affairs.  Prior to the events of 1861 he had backed Italian unification out of an interest in being a “fixer” in European affairs, as befitted a major head of state, and also to offset the power of the Austrian Empire.  But he was also a Catholic and felt guilty that the new unified Italian state, which was secular in nature, was a threat to the power and position of the Papacy.  So he stationed some troops in Rome to protect the Pope’s person and Italy remained a new nation with its official capital under the control of a foreign power.  (Which is either the Pope or the French, depending on how you like your political history, legal or literal.)  This odd situation came to an end in 1870 though due to relations between Prussia and France falling apart.

Remember Bismarck up there, well by 1870 he and Napoleon III had reached a major impasse over several political crises taking place in Europe and war broke out between the two of them, a war started by Napoleon III but finished by Bismarck.  Facing a string of early defeats Napoleon III had to recall the garrison he had left in Rome in 1870, leaving the Pope with only a tiny military which was unable to protect Rome itself.  The new Italian government seized this opportunity and pounced, and after a short assault on Rome itself involving a cannon and knocking down an ancient wall, the Italian government claimed its capital.  The Pope at the time, Pope Pius IX, refused to accept this state of affairs and declared himself a prisoner in Vatican City, the area left to him by the new Italian government.  He also stated that any Italian who supported the new government would be excommunicated by the Church, leading to an emotional and psychological standoff in Italy that wasn’t resolved until much later.  But that is a story for a future post…

Sources: Wikipedia articles on the Papal States and Pius IX

Weird History – the Mexican Revolution and invading the United States

Friday, March 1st, 2013

That is Venustiano Carranza, President of Mexico from 1917 to 1920 and a key figure in the Mexican Revolution.  But today we are going to focus on one particularly unusual scheme he had a hand in developing, the Plan of San Diego.  This plan, in essence, was a mix of insane political vision, odd nationalism exciting idea, and political bargaining chip to try to force the government of the United States into recognizing Carranza as the leader of Mexico during its revolution.  In essence this plan called for an invasion of the southwestern United States, from California to Texas, by Mexican revolutionary forces who would work in combination with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans living in these territories to remove these territories from the control of the United States government.  The heart of the plan was very simple, use a combination of fast raids and guerrilla tactics to undermine the limited US military forces in the region and slaughter every Anglo male in the region above the age of sixteen.  The plan was supposed to begin on 20 February 1915 but was thwarted by a combination of its discovery and very aggressive policing actions by the Texas Rangers.

Along with the fact that it was absolutely insane and had no real chance of succeeding – but it actually wasn’t supposed to succeed in taking land back from the United States – what it was supposed to do was force the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, into extending recognition to Carranza’s government in Mexico.  The plan provoked a series of raids by Mexican revolutionary forces into the southwestern United States, raids that did a fair amount of property damage and resulted in the deaths of twenty-one American citizens.  Wilson responded by mobilizing the national militia (today National Guard) to the border but he also extended recognition of Carranza’s government.  Granted this was due to several intersecting factors but slowing down the raids was part of it, as Wilson had an eye on events developing in Europe at the time and did not want to get enmeshed in a war in Mexico.  Which is where the really weird train begins to pull out of the station.

The man on the horse pictured above is Pancho Villa, a major figure in the Mexican Revolution and a powerful leader in his own right in northern Mexico.  In the early stages of the Mexican Revolution he was considered one of the finest generals in Mexico but by 1915 he’d opposed Carranza in the field and lost several key battles, resulting in his movement being in decline by 1915.  With the raids across the US border taking place that year, and President Wilson sending US troops to the US-Mexican border, Villa saw an opportunity to provoke an incident, force the US to intervene into northern Mexico, and hopefully spark a broader conflict between the United States and Mexico.  (The theory was that sad conflict would bring down Carranza’s government, and Carranza, and give Villa a new lease on power in Mexico and a chance to be a key player in whatever government appeared in Mexico to replace Carranza.)  On 9 March 1916 Villa launched a raid with one hundred of his best cavalry raiders on Columbus, NM, where he killed eighteen Americans and did a large amount of damage to the town.  The US 13th Cavalry unit chased him off though, killing eighty of the hundred raiders.  But Villa got his intervention – President Wilson sent a powerful force of US Army regulars into northern Mexico to hunt for Villa were they spent almost a full year looking for him and not finding him.  However Villa’s hoped for confrontation between military forces loyal to Carranza and the US Army didn’t happen, Carranza avoided confronting the American forces roaming around his country and Wilson didn’t want a war with Mexico as he was still focused on Europe.

But Villa’s actions and the subsequent US entanglement inspired a 1917 power-play attempt by Germany that made this chain of events even stranger.

Arthur Zimmerman, pictured above, sent a telegram in January 1917, right when the US was beginning to wrap up its military intervention in Mexico, to Carranza offering German support if Mexico would invade the southwestern United States.  This support included recognizing the territories Mexico seized, providing Mexico with unlimited arms and supplies for the operation, and post-war economic goodies.  Now if you think about it this plan is pretty much identical to the Plan of San Diego mentioned above.  Germany was in no position to help Mexico and Carranza, after a short period when Germany’s proposal was “studied”, rejected it as unrealistic.  However the British government had intercepted the telegram and gave it to the US government, the public outrage in the United States provoked by this German threat helped propel the United States into World War I.

But there is one more strange twist to all of this…

Meet Albert P. Fall, US Senator from the newly admitted state of New Mexico and “special friend to the oil industry” in Washington DC.  Now how he fits into all of this is interesting – Carranza had used his position as leader of Mexico to impose new taxes and regulations on the US oil industry in Mexico.  In the period of the revolution, 1910 – 1920, the US was importing around 70% of its total oil consumption from Mexican oil fields.  The oil companies hated the idea of any new taxes being imposed upon them so they pushed Senator Fall to advocate for radical solutions to the problems Carranza was imposing on their industry.  Senator Fall, in good form, in 1919 through 1920 advocated that the US government simply invade, and seize, northern Mexico to help secure the border from threats of raiding and other dangers.  Like foreign nations using Mexico as a springboard to invading the US, or to prevent a Mexican invasion that might slaughter Americans in the southwestern United States.  Where it gets really weird is plans by the US government to seize northern Mexico, which were loosely kicked around prior to this during the earlier Mexican revolution, were part of what sparked Villa’s raid into New Mexico.

What closes out our oddness in this linked chain of events is how Senator Fall ended his career – in resignation and humiliation as one of the key players in the infamous Tea Pot Dome scandal where he was kicked out of office as the Secretary of the Interior for taking kickbacks to illegally lease US government lands to…the oil industry.

Sources: Wikipedia entries on Albert B. Fall, the Plan of San Diego, Pancho Villa, Arthur Zimmerman, and The Mexican Revolution, 1910 – 1940, by Michael Gonzales