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  • D’Annunzio Over Vienna August 15, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    Gabrielle D’Annunzio – poet, fighter and proto-fascist – is one of the few individuals in Beachcombing’s reference cabinet to have a file all to himself: he started his life in ‘Italian Eccentrics’ but there was just so much material that he was shunted out into a manila folder of his own. In the many foolscap sheets about him there – one, if memory serves, begins ‘D’Annunzio fell from the second floor window while high on cocaine and fondling his mistress’s sister…’ – a particularly noteworthy episode is the immortally stupid/heroic flight over Vienna (‘il volo su Vienna’) of 9 August 1918.

    D’Annunzio and ten other loons, good Italian patriots with a gift for self aggrandizement, made an eight hundred mile round trip by air, much of it through Austro-Hungarian territory, to drop almost half a million leaflets on the enemy capital. In the fabulous photograph that heads this post you can actually see the leaflets fluttering down: for all Beachcombing knows they are being sold on Austria’s Ebay.

    D’Annunzio, who was more interested in the quality of his prose then actually convincing the poor Viennese, went to town in impossibly bombastic Italian that was not translated and, as Beachcombing has just found to his cost, is virtually untranslatable into a Germanic language.

    Strap your goggles on if you want to survive this tirade from the heavens.

    In this morning of August while the fourth year of your desperate agony is fulfilled and the year of our full power begins, the tricoloured wings appears as the proof of the change in our destiny. A change in our destiny… Destiny turns towards us with iron certainty. The hour of Germany – a nation which drags you, which humiliates you, which infects you – has passed. Your time is over. As our faith was stronger then it is only natural that our will triumphs and will triumph right up until the end. The victorious soldiers of the Piave, the victorious soldiers of the Marne know it, with a dizziness that only multiplies their force. But if their force is not enough then our numbers are. And this is said to those who fight ten to one. The Atlantic is already a closed road; and a road, what is more, which is heroic as have shown the new warriors who have coloured the Ourcq red with German blood [i.e. the Americans]. On the wind of victory that lifts from the waters of freedom, we have come simply for the joy of the challenge. We have come indeed only to demonstrate what we dare and what we can do when we want and when we choose. The roar of the young Italian wing is not that of a funeral bronze in the morning sky. However, oh people of Vienna, our happy audacity holds up an irrevocable sentence between Saint Stefan’s and the Graben: Viva l’Italia!

    In questo mattino d’agosto, mentre si compie il quarto anno della vostra convulsione disperata e luminosamente incomincia l’anno della nostra piena potenza, l’ala tricolore vi apparisce all’improvviso come indizio del destino che si volge. Il destino si volge. Si volge verso di noi con una certezza di ferro. È passata per sempre l’ora di quella Germania che vi trascina, vi umilia e vi infetta. La vostra ora è passata. Come la nostra fede fu la più forte, ecco che la nostra volontà predomina e predominerà sino alla fine. I combattenti vittoriosi del Piave, i combattenti vittoriosi della Marna lo sentono, lo sanno, con una ebbrezza che moltiplica l’impeto. Ma, se l’impeto non bastasse, basterebbe il numero; e questo è detto per coloro che usano combattere dieci contro uno. L’Atlantico è una via che già si chiude; ed è una via eroica, come dimostrano i nuovissimi inseguitori che hanno colorato l’Ourcq di sangue tedesco. Sul vento di vittoria che si leva dai fiumi della libertà, non siamo venuti se non per la gioia dell’arditezza, non siamo venuti se non per la prova di quel che potremo osare e fare quando vorremo, nell’ora che sceglieremo. Il rombo della giovane ala italiana non somiglia a quello del bronzo funebre, nel cielo mattutino. Tuttavia la lieta audacia sospende fra Santo Stefano e il Graben una sentenza non revocabile, o Viennesi. Viva l’Italia!


    Luckily a second leaflet (pictured here) was included with a German translation and this also flapped down over the city. It was not written by D’Annunzio and made the obvious point that the Italians were nice people who dropped propaganda instead of bombs.

    Ricardo R. sent – thanks Ricardo! – a contemporary report from the New York Times of the flight which had the following comment by D’Annunzio: ‘We reached Vienna about 9 o’clock in the morning and descended to within 1,500 feet. The people in the streets were at first terrified and fled in panic until they saw that we were throwing out only manifestoes [sic]. Then crowds assembled and watched us with intense curiosity.’

    The next line is vintage D’Annunzio.

    ‘I particularly wished to approach close to the museum that contains the authentic image of St Catherine of Alexandria, and made a detour which permitted observation of this point.’

    Honestly, what an insufferable bore!

    Anything else on the flight over Vienna? Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Was this the first leaflet drop over hostile territory in history? And if anyone wants to try and write a ‘truer’ translation of D’Annunzio’s tiresome prose they will get several decades off in purgatory…

    23 Aug 2011: First up is, TF, ‘At the end of your post ‘D’Annunzio Over Vienna’ you ask: ‘Was this the
    first leaflet drop over hostile territory in history?’ The Guiness book of world records gives: ‘The first time a ship was used for airborne operations was in 1806, when the British Navy’s Lord Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, launched kites from the 32-gun frigate HMS Pallas to distribute propaganda leaflets over French territory.’ There is also an interesting, discussion by a retired Sergeant Major of leaflet distribution through history, though he doesn’t consistently give his sources: Air distribution begins about midway down at ‘Leaflet Balloon Dissemination’. Then Ricardo R managed to predate to the thirteenth century. This is almost too good to be true but Ricardo’s sources always pan out. ‘It’s funny you ask about leaflet dropping… because the Chinese were doing them with kites way before airplanes… China 1232 ~ According to Science and Civilization in China, J. Needham wrote that in 1232, the Chinese used kites for psychological warfare. Kites were used to drop leaflets into a compound that held prisoners. The leaflets incited a riot that led to the prisoners escape.   Wikipedia gives another interesting/amusing example. ‘Historical background and use: Airborne leaflets have been used for military propaganda purposes at least since the 19th century. One early example is from the Franco-Prussian War when in October 1870 during the Siege of Paris a French balloon coming from the city dropped government proclamations over Prussian troops that stated the following (in German): ‘Paris defies the enemy. The whole of France rallies. Death to the invaders. Foolish people, shall we always throttle one another for the pleasure and pride of Kings? Glory and conquest are crimes; defeat brings hate and desire for vengeance. Only one war is just and holy; that of independence.’[1] Leaflet propaganda has been delivered by airplanes since the Italo-Turkish War 1911-12.[2] Even though leaflet propaganda has been an effective ‘weapon’, its use has been on a decline. This decline is a result of the advance of satellite, television, and radio technology. Six billion leaflets were dropped in Western Europe alone during World War II. One billion were used during the Korean War while only thirty one million have been used in the war against Iraq. Other conflicts where leaflet propaganda has been used are Vietnam, Afghanistan (both during the Soviet and more recent NATO invasions), and the Gulf War. Leaflets encouraging Iraqi troops not to fight were dropped during the first Gulf War which contributed to eighty thousand Iraqi troops surrendering in 1991.’ Thanks TF and Ricardo!!!

    26 Sept 2011: Ricardo sends in this earlier bit of GA’s japing. Thanks Ricardo!