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The Gifts of the Italians

Op-Ed, New York Post, March 17, 2011

Today mirks the 150th anniversary of Italy's Risorgimento - the rebirth of a polity that first came into existence more than 200 years before Christ. Italians have been celebrating all year, but everyone should hail the great gifts of Alma Mater Italia: capitalism, the Pax Romana, modern science, the Renaissance, atomic energy, the age of exploration and the rule of law.

When Garibaldi, Cavour and Mazzini brought the Kingdom of Italy to fruition on March 17, 1861 , they reanimated the nation-state that the Romans had forged in defeating an invading army of Gauls at Telamon (Talamone). Historian Will Durant recounts that by March 1 , 222 BC, "protective colonies were established at Placentia and Cremona -- and from the Alps to Sicily, Italy was one."

By the time of Christ, this political unity had become a cultural one as well. Historian Michael Grant tells us that the Emperor Augustus "felt and encouraged a new patriotic feeling for Italy, echoed by Virgil's insistence on the country's identity." Grant details how the emperor's "pro-ltalian, pro-Roman" outlook resulted in Augustus's title: "it was pater patriae, father of his country."

"To create Italy was the first great historical achievement of Rome, to make a political and cultural unity of the whole Mediterranean world was to repeat this task on a larger scale," explains Donald R. Dudley, another historian.

The Augustan Age also marked the start of the Pax Romana (27 BC-180 AD) -- a two-century period of peace and prosperity that has yet to be equalled -- as well as widespread reforms in the laws, civil administration and governance of Italy. The Roman Peace stretched from Scotland to the Persian Gulf.

The western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 AD, and Italy fell prey to foreign occupation and centuries of division. But the flame of patriotism was rekindled by the likes of Niccolo Machiavelli -- whose "The Prince" echoed Petrarch's verse that "ancient and heroic pride in true italian heartss has never died."

The Renaissance sparked the rebirth of classical Italian humanism, which led to Galileo's scientific method, da Vinci's wondrous technologies, Michelangelo's epochal art and the rise of capitalism. Columbus, Caboto. da Verrazzano and Vespucci opened up the new world in the 15th century.

And on Dec. 2. 1942. a new italian ''navigator'' -- the physicist Enrico Fermi -- produced the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, providing America with the key to atomic energy.

Even the dark days cf World War 11, when italy was an Axis power, are cause for some pride -- for the Italian people, including military and government officials, defied their genocidal German allies to provide succor, shelter and safety to Jews.

For example, soldiers of the italian Fourth Army surrounded the French police of Annecy and forcibly prevented the gendarmes from deporting Jews. Italian carabinieri guarded Jewish synagogues in Nice to ensure that the Vichy police could not enter And Italian generals rescinded the French order to force Jews to wear the yellow star -- deeming it "inconsistent with the dignity of the italian army."

This fierce italian resistance to the Holocaust repeated itself in other areas under Italian administration (Greece, Dalmatia, Croatia and Serbia) -- enraging the likes of von Ribbentrop, Himmler and Hitler himself.

As Jonah Goldberg notes in ''Liberal fascism? ''Not a single Jew of any national origin under Italian control anywhere in the world was handed over to Germany until 1943, when Italy was invaded by the Nazis. Mussolini actually sent italian troops into harm's way to save Jewish lives.

Ultimately, the Italians saved 10,000 Jews in Yugoslavia and Croatian; 15,000 in Greece, and 25,000 in France.

While others vacillated in the face of evil, the people of the Magic Boot rose up against the Holocaust.

Viva l'ltalia!

Rosario A. Iaconis is the chairman of the Italic Institute of America.

 
 
Copyright © 2007 Italic Institute of America, P.O. Box 818, Floral Park, NY 11001     Last updated February 2017