Upon attending the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Schuman’s Symphony No. 9 (Le fosse Ardeatine) in February, I learned something very interesting, at least to me. That thing, the concept that I learned, took me by surprise as I listened to the explanation of the eerie, minor-keyed symphony. It involves the etymology of the word “partisan.”
I tend to think of Partisan as simply “having to do with a certain political party.” As I have aged and worked in government and among elected officials, my thoughts surrounding the word have changed: back and forth and up and down. I have thought I sympathized with neither, both, and either at different points, and now I believe those thoughts to be stabilizing as I approach 50.
Le fosse Ardeatine was a massacre in WWII Italy, in the “Ardeatine” section of Rome. “Le fosse” translates “the ditch;” the massacre happened in a quarry. So here’s the story:
Italy entered WWII as an ally of Germany, under the iron fist of Benito Mussolini who had been one of Hitler’s inspirations. In 1943 Italy was suffering the consequences of warfare more than the opposite (if there is an opposite) and when the Allies landed in Sicily and Rome was bombed, King Victor Emmanuel III ordered the arrest of Mussolini and placed a Mr. Badoglio in control. Under this regime, Italy surrendered to the allies and switched sides, causing chaos in the already war torn land. Some citizens still supported the Nazis and Mussolini and others supported the Allies, the King and Badoglio. Tragically again, the new leadership withdrew to Southern Italy, leaving troops unguided and civilians confused.
A group of civilian citizens who armed themselves to resist the Nazis were called the Partigiani (translated Partisan). As Nazi soldiers were occupying Rome at this point, and the regular military was splintering, the Partigiani planned an attack on the Nazi troop – the Bozen regiment. The Partisans concealed a bomb in a cart in the path of the marching regiment, and when it exploded in their path it killed 32 Nazi soldiers and two bystanders.
News reached the leadership of the Schutzstaffel (SS) quickly, and the leadership determined that 10 Italians must be taken for every 1 German. Hitler wanted 50 for 1, but the local SS got their softer, gentler way. For what it’s worth, the SS was basically the specifically directed fingers of the Nazi fist, as opposed to the regular soldiers of the army. On the night of the very same day of the Partisan attack, the SS gathered 271 prisoners, plus 57 to-that-point-free Jews, plus some Italians from the leftover fascist jail, to total 335 people. They were taken to a quarry on the outskirts of the city, and were made to stand in rows of five. They were executed efficiently – one bullet each – and when they fell, the next five would be forced to stand on those bodies to be executed, so the SS wouldn’t have to stack the bodies themselves. Even the vicious SS had to get drunk to carry out the orders. They finally covered the bodies with trash and dirt and left them.
Here, after all that, is the thought that gave me pause. The history professor at the Symphony in Chicago suggested that the Partisans should rightly bear some responsibility for the massacre of the innocent Italians and Jews. Why? Because they provoked the SS. Imagine someone angering Charles Manson in a crowded subway when you knew he had a weapon. This is what the Partisans did, only with Hitler. They knew he was a madman and that the consequences would surely be worse than the provocation, and they did it anyway.
This thought is what rang a bell in my head. There are parallels here with many partisans in the modern U.S. Consider the definition:
- 1.a strong supporter of a party, cause, or person.synonyms:supporter, follower, adherent, devotee, champion, backer, upholder, promoter, fanatic, fan, enthusiast, stalwart, zealot, disciple, votary; More
- 2.a member of an armed group formed to fight secretly against an occupying force, in particular one operating in enemy-occupied Yugoslavia, Italy, and parts of eastern Europe in World War II.synonyms:guerrilla, freedom fighter, resistance fighter, member of the resistance, underground fighter, irregular soldier, irregular; terrorist”the partisans opened fire from the woods”
Partisans are often, by definition, more loyal to their cause, or their party, than they are to their countrymen in general. The Partigiani were more concerned with the small attack on the Bozen Regiment than they were about the possible consequences to their countrymen. As I see it, both sides of the U.S. political fence often seem more concerned with hurting their enemies or making certain points than they are concerned with solving the problem of mass shootings.
As a matter of fact, I submit that the partisan rhetoric in the U.S. is akin to the Partigiani bomb in the Italian cart.
Partisans need to be more careful, and more mindful of the welfare of the people than focused of there specific, timed statements. The consequences are burying US.