Some days ago, a magazine asked me to write something about the centennial of World War One. I didn’t want to do a ‘wiki’ article, so I decided to see what the things that I remember most about the conflict are.
The first thing I remember about World War One is a wonderful page by the Italian writer and politician, Emilio Lussu, who fought during the conflict and wrote about it in ‘Un anno sull’altipiano’ (‘A year on the plateau’).
In this scene, Lussu targets an Austrian soldier through his scope. He is about to shoot. But before he pulls the trigger, the enemy puts a cigarette between his lips. And in that moment, with that gesture, he stops being an anonymous enemy, a beast, a monster, and turns into a human being. Someone who's enjoying a smoke, exactly like the Italian soldier. Lussu waits. Through his scope he then sees the eyes, the facial features. He can see the man, not the enemy. And he starts to think: Maybe I will not shoot. Because going to war against a thousand men is something. But killing ONE MAN, is something completely different. And it’s not human.
So, he stops. He lets him have his cigarette. And in the end, he decides not to shoot.
The second thing I remember is from of a very important Italian movie, ‘La grande guerra’ (‘The Big War’) and it is a similar cene: Vittorio Gassman and Alberto Sordi, two Italian soldiers, spot an Austrian soldier from distance. They have to kill him, they're at war: Killing him is their duty. But the man is making coffee, while whistling a waltz, and that makes him human, again. He ceases to be an enemy, and regains his identity as a human being, with a story, a life, maybe a wife and children, and a craving for coffee that is the same craving for coffee that those two Italians know and feel every day in the trenches. ‘You do it’ says one of the two Italian soldiers. ‘No, you do it’. ‘I’m short-sighted’. ‘I believe we are all brothers’. But war is not about your belief, so eventually they aim. They aim and hesitate. They decide to let him have his last coffee before they end his life. But then some other Italian soldiers kill the Austrian guy. Because it’s war. Because they’re following orders.
The third thing stuck in my memory about World War One is the famous football match between the trenches. During a Christmas truce, as you probably know, English and German soldiers challenged each other to a football match. Troops from the opposing armies played on no man’s land. They shook hands. And then they came back to their trenches and shot at each other and killed each other. Following orders.
So while I was thinking about Lussu and Gassman and football matches between the trenches, I happened to watch one of episodes of the TV series ‘Black Mirror’. The episode is called ‘Man against fire’ and it tells a story of a war. It's a war of men against mutants: Strange, horrifying creatures, something in between zombies and vampires. The men are scared, the soldiers are scared, and they fire at will against those monsters. But then we can see the truth: The monsters, the creatures, are just other men and women and children, scared, desperately trying to survive. The soldiers see them as horrifying creatures because the army gave them an implant that makes them see augmented reality. And this implant makes the ‘enemy’ a monster.
Two seconds after the end, I was already doing some research.
That will probably not surprise you, but there is currently a study, even more than one indeed, with which the US army is trying to obtain the same effect.
That didn't really shock me. Because, watching the episode, I was already thinking: Man, this is today. We are living exactly that, and we are especially living that in Italy and Austria. We are seeing women, men and children, desperately trying to survive, as enemies, as monsters. Most of our fellow citizens don't need an implant, they don’t need to swallow a pill to watch a boat full of human beings in the Mediterranean and say: Let’s shoot down the boat, let them sink in the ocean, let's drown them all. They don't need to swallow a pill because they swallow, all day long, fake news and propaganda, they read memes and watch sectarian, factious videos in which a refugee is not someone who escapes war and bombings and poverty, no, he is an alien, he is a vampire who wants our jobs, who wants to rape our daughters and wives, who wants to invade our lands, and build mosques, and take our place.
‘C'mon, who thinks like that?’ some of you might ask, especially if you don't have a Facebook account. Approximately 30-40% of your and our country.
These 20 million Italians, these 3 or 4 million Austrians, these 4 million Hungarians are our enemies, one might think. They are my enemies, at least. Or so I used to consider them. I see Trump separating children from their parents, and I consider him an enemy. I consider his followers enemies.
We have a new Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini. In his first five days he shut down the ports, risking the lives of 629 people on a boat. He said we don't need to vaccinate our children. He started to file his political opponents, and people who wanted to protest were photographed by policemen with their documents in their hands. I despise Salvini, I consider him an enemy, as well as Trump. I hate them. And especially, I hate their followers. I hate any person in the world who can justify caging kids to send a signal to their parents.
But well, my friends, I have to stop. WE ALL HAVE TO STOP considering Trump's followers, Salvini's followers, Herbert Kickl's followers, Orbán's followers as enemies. As monsters, vampires, horrifying creatures. That is the thing we can learn, talking about World War One today. The base of every war is the de-humanization of the enemy. The three-nostrils communists who ate children in the fascist propaganda are a perfect example. If your political opponent is a monster, then you don't have any other option: You have to kill him, suppress him, take his freedom.
For the longest part of my life, I strongly believed that you have to be intolerant against the intolerant. But I'm not so sure anymore. So, I'm currently, very painfully, trying to change one very important part of my outlook.
Even if is really, really difficult, we need to see the human behind their stupid Facebook status, behind their memes, behind their fake news and highly questionable use of grammar. Because every time we dismiss some of their unjustified fears as stupid, every time we say ‘shut up’, ‘you don't know shit’, every time we make fun of them, it's the hatred we are nurturing, not the solution. Every time we decide those people are the enemy, we decide they're beyond salvation, and we can't talk to them, every time we mock their uninformed comments on social networks saying ‘dude, you can't even spell, you're an idiot, you don't matter’, every time we are doing that, well, WE ARE THE WAR. We are the war and if we can't stop this, well, THIS will probably be our last cigarette. THIS will be our last coffee. Hatred is the natural environment for Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orbán, Donald Trump, and every time we go there, we are following their agenda, not ours. We are, unconsciously if you like, following their orders. So, we really, really should stop. Today. Otherwise, they will destroy us and we will not survive.