“Vincere!”: The Italian Royal Army’s Counterinsurgency Operations in Africa, 1922–1940, by Federica Saini Fasanotti, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 2020, $44
The title of Fasanotti’s book, “Vincere!” (“to win” in Italian), is meant to be ironic, as her narrative chronicles the difficulties the Italian army experienced countering insurgent resistance in Libya and Ethiopia during the early 20th century.
In the late 19th century the recently unified Italian state tried to emulate its European neighbors by establishing an overseas empire. After failing in Ethiopia in 1896, the Italians tried again elsewhere in 1911. This time they succeeded in expelling the Ottoman Turks from Libya. The Italians believed that by displacing the old regime they had achieved “victory.” They were proven wrong. The Libyans may have disliked the old regime, but they disliked the new order more. The Italians encountered a similar situation after their second invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. In both instances the result for the Italian army was a protracted type of warfare for which a term—“counterinsurgency”—would eventually be coined in the 1960s.
Written by an Italian and based on hitherto-unavailable sources, “Vincere!” describes how the Italians “did not hesitate to employ all the resources available” against insurgents, including airpower and poison gas drops. Within are valuable lessons in how a counterinsurgency should, and should not, be carried out.
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