"Warships do not emerge from the bosom of the waves"

(To Federico Maiozzi)
08/11/22

The theme of the moral and material usefulness of historical studies must be handled with extreme caution, also because in reality the lessons of history are distorted rather than learned.

Net of this premise to be imprinted in the head, however, there are moments from the past that seem so contemporary that a brief analysis is a must, if not because it is useful at least because the comparison between yesterday and today is ironic. in its tragic nature.

In the report reproduced here (document at the bottom of the page), dating back to November 1908, the Italian Vice Consul General in Budapest1, Carlo Durazzo, cites the speech a few days earlier given by the Austro-Hungarian Minister of the Navy, the "Modenese" (of geographical origins) Rodolfo Montecuccoli2, to the Hungarian delegations. The minister, perhaps worried by the Italian rearmament plan in progress in the meantime, exposes the need for more and urgent funding for the naval sector of the dual monarchy, since, citing it: "Warships do not emerge from the bosom of the waves".

The typing allows for easy reading, and the minister's tone is so clear that it does not need any particular explanation. The analysis of the text itself is thus left to the readers. In the following lines, the author will therefore limit himself to a few brief considerations.

What to think?

Thought is partly a subjective question, but many will agree that in the world there is never time to waste, even when one is in a quiet situation. Despite the tones of Montecuccoli, in fact, the Austro-Hungarian navy was not in such terrible conditions. There was some concern for the Italian rearmament, but the reaction was prompt and commensurate with the capabilities of the country's industry. The imperial-regie ships were not born from the bosom of the waves, but from the Adriatic shipyards thanks to a well thought out and well executed plan3 4.

Were the minister's words therefore an excess? Not at all. Quoting again the Modenese in the service of the emperor, one must always act promptly and with a very profound vision over time in order not to offer the opponent "An advantage that in the critical moment would be irremediable for us"5.

What to say?

The author comes to think of the Italian situation and would like to say that we should take an example from the Montecuccoli decision and give ourselves as soon as possible a strong military instrument, well financed and well integrated with the civil world. Of course, Austria-Hungary was ultimately destroyed by World War I, but this did not happen due to its renewed navy capable of fighting against so many and varied enemies.6 7, but for other issues, not least a risky foreign policy8.

The writer - despite having no sympathies or nationalist ideas and often wondering about the meaning of the word "motherland" - has dreamed since the times of adolescence more and more distant that their country will become a great country, thus understanding the immense capacities it has and is finally able to demand the respect it deserves from any entity, state or non-state, from the West, East, North or South.

As in any country under the protection of others, however, the cultural confusion in Italy is such that today it is better not to work too hard to make dreams come true but rather to say, or rather, to ask oneself more pragmatically: "What consequences do we prefer: those of independence - or at least autonomy - or those of the protection of third parties?". It is not a rhetorical question and, although it is clear which option the writer deems desirable, we must admit that there are no wrong answers. But an answer is urgent.

What to do?

Černyševskij and Lenin hesitated in the face of this question, so it is not an easy matter. In the Italian film version of "The Man Who Wanted to Become King", to react to a moment of disorientation Peachy Carneahan - Michael Caine tells Sean Connery - Daniel Dravot: "Let's clean our heads with a good fight".

The writer advises caution on this point. But we have to clean our heads and also quickly, perhaps starting with an assumption of responsibility.

1 However, the Italian embassy to the dual monarchy always remained only one, based in Vienna.

2 For an overview of the character, the Treccani web page will do just fine MONTECUCCOLI DEGLI ERRI, Rodolfo in "Biographical Dictionary" (treccani.it).

3 On the subject, among the many texts, see: M. Vego, Austro-Hungarian Naval Policy, 1904-1914, Milton Park / Abingdon-on-Thames, 1996.

4 By way of a chronicle that could be useful to the reader for an easier orientation, it should be noted that the organization of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces was articulated to say the least. Simplifying, the situation can be summarized as follows. The naval forces were all united in the Imperial and Royal Navy, while the land forces were divided into three forces with three autonomous administrations, namely: the Common Army, the Imperial and Royal Austrian National Defense Militia and the Royal Hungarian Army. The Common Army and the Imperial and Royal Navy were then equipped with their respective aircraft corps. On the general organization of the empire, among others see: MP Judson, The Austrian Empire. A New History, Cambridge US, 2016; on the military one close to the years covered, among others see: P. Jung, D. Pavlovic, The Austro-Hungarian Forces in World War I: 1914-16, Oxford, 2003.

5 From the vice consul general C. Durazzo to the foreign minister T. Tittoni, report no. 1822/168, Budapest, 3-11-1908. Preserved in the Historical Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Political Affairs Fund 1891-1916, series P, envelope no. 95.

6 On the subject, easily available in Italian, see: P. Halpern (aut.), A. De Toro (cur.), The great war in the Mediterranean, Gorizia, 2011.

7 Without sarcasm: think of the terrifying consequences the Austro-Hungarians could have suffered if they had not even had a solid armed forces. In this case, the fantasy effort is not even that complex, given the Italian experience after June 10, 1940.

8 For a far more comprehensive overview of the topic, see: J. Mason, The Dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1867-1918Milton Park, 2014.

Photo: web / author

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