Lebanon, 27 May 2011, 15.55 hours ...

(To Maria Grazia Labellarte)

It is the 27 May 2011. In two days the UNIFIL mission's blue helmets in Lebanon will remember their fallen, including the Italian soldiers of the operation Leonte. At 15.55, a bomb explodes on the edge of the highway that connects the Lebanese capital with the ancient Phoenician city of Sidon. News agencies beat the news: an Italian soldier is dead. Shortly thereafter, the spokesman for the Defense General Staff declares "No wounded risk their lives"; Antonio Bettelli is there, with the post of defense officer at the Italian embassy, ​​and he knows that now, fourteen years after the last fallen of our contingent in Lebanon, another Italian soldier could struggle between life and death, and the young Giovanni Memoli, whose story will intertwine dramatically with the events of the Land of the Cedars.

The author is an officer of the Italian Army, several times engaged in peace support operations in various international areas. These include post-Saddam Iraq, in the southern province of Dhi Qar, the debut of the operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, monitored by the operational command of Tampa in Florida, and in Lebanon, where he worked as Defense Attaché at the Italian Embassy in Beirut and as commander of Sector West of the UNIFIL mission in the south of the country.

General Bettelli, why write a novel with the title Leonte?

Lebanon is a controversial, fascinating, unintelligible country. Leonte tries to describe it. Leonte, however, is also the name of the operation of the Italian Armed Forces within the decades-long UNIFIL mission in the south of the Land of the Cedars; because Leonte is the western name of one of the two most important rivers of that land - the Litani - which is the northern limit of the area of ​​operations of the multinational contingent of the United Nations, as well as the name of the Israeli military action that in the ' 78 gave rise, by international agreement, to the UNIFIL mission itself. A concatenation of situations and events, therefore, that for about forty years has been slowly weaving, sometimes with rapid and bloody accelerations, the events of the tortured South Lebanese and describes some of the most important pages in the contemporary history of our Armed Forces. These were the forerunners, with the white liveries of the three Army helicopters that landed in March 1979 on the cliffs of Naqoura, of the United Nations mission. 

Leonte is Lebanon, therefore, but it is also the circumstance in which suddenly, on May 27, 2011, the then corporal major Giovanni Memoli went to meet the experience that definitively changed his life: an explosion treacherously caused by unknown hands, initial viaticum of a still uninterrupted passion. At that juncture, made desperate by the need for assistance that Giovanni's own family urgently brought to his dying son, I was in Beirut as Defense Attaché at our Embassy. From that circumstance, which unexpectedly unfolded on a clear summer afternoon in the Lebanese capital, I felt that the passion of Giovanni and his family became, in the exercise of my duty, also my passion. Leonte it is therefore my story together with the story of Giovanni, but it is also a tribute to the sacrifice of the many colleagues who lost their lives or were seriously injured for the service. Those sacrifices today bring to the attention of national public and political opinions the image of military honor, revealed not only by the institutional commemorations in memory of the fallen, but also by the decorations worn with firm dignity by the wounded soldiers.

In the novel, the protagonist, colonel Qa 'id, dizzily experiences emotions that will irreversibly affect him deeply and "in the viaticum who lives with the family of the young Giovanni victim of the attack, he gradually finds the reasons for living". Do you believe that a soldier engaged in peacekeeping missions, a context that is not always easy and demanding both physically and spiritually, acquires a greater awareness of the reasons for living in general and the beauty of life in a country like ours that knows peace?

Carrying out one's service in social spheres severely tested by instability, as happens in the countries that are now the operational theater for our military contingents, offers the possibility of observing the common phenomena of living with a very special magnifying glass. The contingencies of the mission place our soldiers within a microcosm characterized by conditioning that repeatedly solicit their soul. It is not easy, for example, to remain indifferent to the needs of those who, until a few moments before, suffered the violence of war or who still suffer acutely from the privations of extreme poverty. From those expositions, which the service obliges, it becomes in a certain sense corrupt. The days of mission, which are repeated uninterrupted in the routine of the service, are full of strong and anomalous stimuli, able to undermine the certainties acquired and to induce profound reflections on the meaning of mission, on relationships with one's loved ones, on the value of discipline as much as friendship. Reasons, in fact, for living.

In my opinion currently in our social context we are witnessing the domination of "Relativism" in ideals, affections, life choices, as well as in everyday life. Values ​​such as hope, faith and Christian charity, can they still have the same strength today as they once were? 

Our society has witnessed the weakening of the value system to which the cultural, political and social path of recent decades had adapted. Today, it seems that we are moving within a space deprived of boundaries to respect and that the attenuation of the behavioral perimeter is the main cause of social unrest. The changes stimulate the dynamics that constantly animate society, so that the latter, precisely by virtue of its dynamism, redefines itself, but if the changes are beyond control, there is no doubt that the fear of disorder can prevail. 

For us soldiers, educated in the discipline of service, the perimeter is very clear. To those limits, which evoke the commitment of those who preceded us in the service, we are educated from the first steps in training institutes. In moments of difficulty those limits become our references.

Urged by the story of Giovanni Memoli - which I shared with the family of our graduate in the days immediately following the attack - I reflected a lot on the Christian value of acceptance, even more so by living in a land that is an authentic confessional kaleidoscope that is dotted from the toponymy of the places described in the Old Testament and in the Gospel. I have thus personally found myself in the religious message to which I have been educated, as well as, if not more, of the many messages transmitted by military training: subordination, discipline, service. 

The circumstances of the attack still force Giovanni to undertake an intense, sometimes hard, path of acceptance. In the need of the unexpected new-birth path, his family - mother Maddalena and father Nicola, with their dear sister Marianna - were always close to him. John did not deserve the test of a new life, it is evident. From the unavoidable viaticum of acceptance provoked by the attack, I hope that he can, however, strengthen the sense of belonging to his family and to the military community. Today, Giovanni Memoli is first marshal of the role of honor. For all of us it is a fundamental and indispensable reference.


Marshal Memoli, that 27 May 2011 (date of the attack, hidden protagonist of the novel Leonte ) you are the “Italian peacekeeper who among the six suffered most severely from the effects of the bomb detonated on the edge of that highway between Beirut and the southern part, today her life has changed enormously because of that fateful day. I could ask you what message would you convey to those young people who today find it so hard to find meaning in their daily life, which some even consider ordinary and boring?

To live one's life, as best they can, to find joy in every single moment spent and lived, and never to surrender before anything, just like ME and many others who have been unjustly taken away from something, but who try to take it back , living as best we can.

It is currently cross of honor to victims of acts of terrorism and also gold medal for military valor, what do these awards mean to you?

These medals certainly have a very high symbolic value, built on the sacrifice and pain of servants of the State, often unknown to the general public, and I can only be honored to boast of them.

Of course if I had the faculty of choosing, I would have asked to be able to preserve my life before, with the possibility of returning to have other experiences in Operational Theaters, side by side with my fellow soldiers. Yes, I confess that, if I have a regret, it is precisely that I cannot go on a mission with my department, with my commanders and with my colleagues.

(photo: web)