Soldiers or Police Officers?

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)
10/11/22

Those who live in large Italian cities are now used to seeing fixed garrisons of armed soldiers in front of "sensitive points", or for those who live in the capital, in front of the "palaces of power".

The "Safe Roads" operation, inaugurated in 2008, is currently the numerically most important mission of the Italian Army.

The operation was established with the decree law n.92 of 23 May 2008 and subsequently converted into law on the following 24 July.

It was then extended until 30 June 2015, (with an increase in the number of Army personnel employed from 3.000 to 4.500 soldiers and by 600 to Exhibition 2015), subsequently, until 31 December of the same year, to then be further extended for the following years.

In short, 14 years after its inception, "Safe Roads" would not yet seem to have come to an end.

However, the use of the Army to support the police (with all its perplexities) is certainly not a novelty for the Italian state but has its roots in the nineteenth century, that is, since the early years of national unification. Between 1861 and 1865, the Royal Army engaged about 120.000 men in the operations of counter-guerrilla aimed at the eradication of the phenomenon of brigandage. To the latter was also added organized crime (mafia and camorra) against which the other powers of the state proved (even then, ndd) powerless, inefficient and, often, conniving.

The action of the soldiers was manifested mainly in the permanence of squads in the small country villages, in order to reassure the great class of landowners, frequent targets of bandit attacks. It is also true that in the period of operations against banditry, the soldiers were still engaged in long patrols of rural and mountainous areas, subjected to the constant danger of ambushes by bandits.

It should be emphasized that the banditry of Southern Italy was a very complex political-social phenomenon and, in part, pre-existing the unification of the Kingdom of Italy. Therefore it certainly could not be fought and annihilated with the sole use of military force, so much so that many of the causes that generated it survive and still manifest themselves today with organized crime.

After the southern emergency ended, between the end of the 800th century and 1922, the social upheavals and especially the unrest in the cities and countryside in the North, caused by the misery and poor education of the working classes, resulted in violent demonstrations against the central power.

On May 8, 1898, on the occasion of the serious riots in Milan caused by the sharp rise in the cost of wheat, General Bava Beccaris ordered the soldiers to shoot the rioters (even with a cannon), killing 80 people.

Why was the Army called to such a post?

On the one hand, the liberal state of the late nineteenth century was unable to resolve the serious and atavistic social and economic problems of the country; on the other hand, due to the chronic budget deficit, there was no possibility of allocating (as now) a sufficient number of police forces to control the territory. Consequently, in the face of the proliferation of social conflicts and the exacerbation of internal tensions, recourse to the Army in an increasingly massive form became an obligatory solution, a habit rather than an exception.

The first victim of this policy was the Army itself which became a kind of half-service force, cheap and good for all jobs, with little paid and badly treated officers and non-commissioned officers as well as departments moved from side to side, dismembered and taken away from their commanders.

General de Chaurand de Saint Eustache wrote about it in 1929: "The widespread use of distracting numerous and strong units of troops from their normal attributions at every rustle of leaves, to make them available to the political and public security authorities, induced to make strong requests for men, to cover in every event his own responsibility, contributed to fuel the unease of the Army. These departments had to remain idle in the barracks, or in other rooms, generally confined and moldy, where the soldier often lacked the opportunity to sit down, encouraging discontent and recriminations. Discipline suffered as a result, a waste of time emerged at the expense of military instructions, noting that this service, dependent on changing political criteria, left the responsibilities not well defined ... "

These statements are not a little reflected in the current use of the military for the control of public order. The performance of functions proper to public security agents is detrimental to the efficiency and cohesion of the departments, as it involves the breaking of organic bonds and the breaking up of companies and platoons and, moreover, significantly damages the conduct of the normal training process.

The use of recruits for the purpose of maintaining public order, caused enormous damage to the classes called to arms from 1900 to 1914, as they were poorly trained, there was proof of this during the Libyan War and in the First World War. Then as now, one of the reasons why the Army accepted such a job was the need to carve out a role within society, that is, to appear indispensable for the maintenance of the established order. Nowadays, only France has used soldiers in the streets in an equally massive way, however having a very different social situation from the Italian one.

Going back over a century, in the "militarist" Germany of William II, where the socialist movements were very strong, the German General Staff he was careful not to use the military for internal needs, in order to guarantee its operational efficiency.

The use of the Army for internal emergencies, which are not such as they have lasted for a century and a half, clearly demonstrates the state's inability to deal with the problems.

Soldiers have obeyed the policy in the past and still continue to do so, because it is their duty! However it cannot be kept silent that their primary use is that of external defense, while for other uses, such as the “Strade Sicure” operation, it pays very high prices in terms of training and general efficiency.

There is no doubt that the periods of intense use of the military for internal needs coincide with the moral and social crises of the Nation, of lower confidence in the institutions and of lower material and moral efficiency of the Armed Forces.

Public opinion should ask itself why the numerous police forces that are supposed to control the national territory still need the soldier to do, in peace, the most thankless work to protect the safety of citizens: a job that has never been the his.

Photo: Italian Army / web

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