Ignazio Silone: War with today’s hereditary enemy
From Bread and Wine (1936)
Translated by Gwenda David and Eric Mosbacher
In the space between the inn and the wooden bridge the bigger boys would imitate the drill of the Balilla. A quarrel broke out among them concerning the identity of the enemy. They all complained that the enemy was changed too often. A delegation was formed and three boys approached Don Paulo.
“Who is the enemy now?” they asked him.
“What enemy?” the priest asked, in surprise.
“The hereditary enemy,” one of the boys answered, with assurance. The priest did not understand, or pretended that he did not.
“In our drill there are two sides,” one of the boys explained.” “The Italians are on one side and the hereditary enemy is on the other. For a long time our teacher said our hereditary enemy was France and Yugoslavia. Then she said it was Germany. Then she said it was Japan. But this morning she said: ‘Children, the new hereditary enemy is England.’ But there’s a chapter in our school book with the heading: ‘The Age-Long Friendship between England and Italy.’ So now we’re completely puzzled. Who’s wrong, our teacher of the book?”
“The book,” said Don Paolo. “It was printed last year, so it’s out-of-date.”
“All right,” said the boys. “Let us destroy the English hereditary enemy.”
“The English don’t fight on land, but on water,” the priest pointed out.
So the boys decided to have their battle in the stream. Don Paolo observed the struggle from his window. The new hereditary enemy was rapidly defeated, but both sides emerged from the fray drenched to the skin.
“What do the masses think of the prospect of war?” Spina asked.
“The masses don’t think about it at all. They behave as if the war were no affair of theirs. From that point of view the leaflet from abroad that we have started distributing is entirely mistaken. It might have been written expressly to rouse the sympathies of the masses in favor of the war, which it describes as a robber’s enterprise. If we succeed in convincing the unemployed that there really is anything to steal in Abyssinia, many of them will promptly enlist. The only thing that holds them back now is the suspicion that Abyssinia has nothing worth looting…”
“What is happening? Don Paolo asked.
“Mobilization takes place tomorrow. The war begins tomorrow,” some one told him.
Tomorrow? There had been talk of war for some time. But just because it had been spoken of so much, it had come to appear improbable and strange. Now the improbable was about to happen; or, rather, it was already behind the curtain, and tomorrow it would make its appearance on the stage.