Swans Commentary » swans.com July 27, 2009  



Letter From Florence


by Martin Murie





(Swans - July 27, 2009)   In this letter from Florence, Tiziano Terzani gets up his nerve to write to Oriana Fallaci, a friend from long ago, to disagree with her support of the United States' "war" against terror and her support of those awful words spoken by George W. Bush, "You are either with us or against us." Never has history been so shamefully shoved under the White House carpet.

. . . I've taken the liberty of writing to you now, in response to the offer you so generously made back then and certainly not to engage you in a correspondence which both of us would rather avoid. I can honestly say, I've never felt as keenly as I do now that though you and I share the same planet, actually we live in two different worlds. (1)

Terzani eventually gets around to Saint Francis, who crossed the Crusaders' lines to speak to the Sultan of Egypt. Terzani imagines the visit to be friendly, which it must have been because the Sultan sends Francis back to the Crusaders' camp unharmed.

Saint Francis is the man who instructed "The wolf of Gubbio" to quit preying on sheep. He didn't realize, in his love of wildlife, that the wolf was a killer, couldn't survive without killing. That's the way ecosystems operate. It isn't all beauty and sensitivity. Well, that is to say that nobody has a perfect understanding of the world, and Terzani admits that he doesn't have clear sight into the future, but is adamant in his insistence that now is the time to quit revenge and violence and wars for oil and empire under the cover of "war against terrorism," and other euphemisms put forth by the United States Empire.

He's right. Now is the time.

He ends the long letter with disgust at the tourist trap Florence has become, a great change from the days when it was smaller and poorer. I remember Florence in wartime. The opera stayed open, sometimes with great voices. My friend in the 34th Infantry wrote to me that he frequented the Florence opera and that once he heard a magnificent voice. Later he found out that others had noticed it too and the owner of that voice became one of the world's great actors on opera circuits in post-war days.

Memories: Blasted cities, apartments exposed. And the war machine rolled on. Huge heaps of artillery shells piled like cordwood along mountain roadsides ready for the next attack. Mile after mile of lights along the Mediterranean, military machines, infrastructure, armaments.

Riding back to the front in a deuce-and-a-half truck, I listened to a 34th Infantry dogface hold forth about endless war, about heavy casualties in his outfit, how the Alps would be the next theatre of operations, "Fortress Europe."

I have to interject here that we Infantry dogfaces had two heroes: Ernie Pyle, who frequented front lines and reported honestly -- not embedded -- who was killed on a Pacific island beach; and Bill Mauldin, who defied General Patton and kept on putting out Willie and Joe dogface cartoons. In the hospital in Italy one of our amusements was describing to each other Mauldin cartoons we remembered, like the chaplain, tipping his helmeted head toward incoming artillery: ". . .forever. Amen. Hit the dirt."

The war ended a few weeks later, but that 34th Infantry man was right about the long haul. We have been on a war footing for more than 50 years now. Look back:

Cold War turning hot in Korea, 50,000 American soldiers killed as warplanes roved North Korea killing civilians in small towns and cities. Turned hotter still in Vietnam. In Yugoslavia. In Iraq. In Afghanistan. Don't forget the little invasions: Grenada, Haiti, Panama, Bay of Pigs, and the secret CIA maneuvers in Iran, in Somalia, in Ethiopia, in Cuba, in Venezuela, in Bolivia . . .

Getting back to the Letter From Florence, Terzani lectures his old friend, Oriana:

There's no salvation in your burning anger, just as there's no salvation in the calculated military campaign called "Enduring Freedom" to make it more acceptable. Or do you really think that violence is the best way to defeat violence? No war has ever put an end to war, and nor will this one.

This is the awful and awesome truth. Look where we are now, supporting Israel's leaders in their attempt to revive "Greater Israel." When Cynthia McKinney, Green Party presidential candidate, was arrested by Israel troops and jailed, Obama said nothing. We threaten Iran. We ignore Gaza and Hamas. We continue to send drones over Pakistan's borders, making "mistakes," such as slaughtering wedding parties and funerals. In Norway Obama is known by many people as a right-winger. We are piling up hatred from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Europe, Africa, Latin America.

Empires always die. Our days are numbered.



1.  Tiziano Terzani, Letters Against The War: Letter From Florence: The Sultan And St. Francis, 4 October, 2001. See Swans complete posting of "Letters Against The War," Swans.com, September 8, 2008 (republished June 1, 2009).  (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/murie75.html
Published July 27, 2009