EVERYONE who could quit Algiers for Naples now does so. Witness one familiar face encountered beneath the charming Galleria, the nicely thinned-out debonair Major Rathbun of the First Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company. Hearty greetings, and "molto piacere" to a pretty girl hanging on his arm. The Major is here with the "advance party" of the leisurely outfit. He could sing, you may recall. He is indeed singing. He discloses that he has been admitted to the eminent ranks of the San Carlo Opera Company of Naples. He is so proud. War? What war?
"You must come and hear me sing, Al."
"I sure will, but excuse me, scusi, I must find my jeep."
Alfred has left his jeep down the street for a few minutes. That's the limit of endurance for your property on a Neapolitan street. It doesn't matter that he has chained its front axle to a post with a great padlock; chain-cutters prowl the streets. The unchained jeep will swiftly be stolen and driven to one of the innumerable companies at the Front; and which commanding officer or motor pool officer has ever objected to the sudden appearance in his motor pool of a jeep? If the jeep's body cannot be removed, the same cannot be said of tires, wheels, horn, distributor cap, sparkplugs, windshield wipers, and locked welded boxes -- to begin with, the gas will be siphoned out.
The Neapolitan thieves are on the loose, and intent upon honoring their mondial reputation. The Allied troops are close on their heels - - as competitors. The traffic of Naples is still military. The troops come in on leave, jump off the trucks and spread about. The difference between the Germans and Americans is this: the Germans would come to town, drink something and walk along the street in a group, arm in arm, singing; the Americans, as soon as they arrive split up, and go off searching for a girl somewhere. These are the profound observations of an Italian intellectual, one of two dozen who work for "D Section" and share its board.
The port is booming; the materiel of war and the troops pour out of the ships. The warehouses are filling with supplies and the racketeers are conniving to get at them. Since practically the whole population needs food, notions, clothing, and medical supplies, and everything is destined to be given away anyhow, whether to the troops or the civilians, the black market can be regarded as an alternative distribution route enriching to some modest degree a few unworthy souls.
Corporal Laudando is affected by the poverty of the neighborhood he was born in before being carried to America, and procures for them foodstuffs in some quantity; he has the CIC and MP's hot on his trail, and appeals to Alfred to help him out of his jam. He gets cool sympathy and a referral to Major Greenlees, now Commander of "D Section," a man of so many principles, half of them aberrant, that he can afford to forego one or another of them from time to time. "After all, the wheat flour in question has gone to women and children who are quite hungry, one must admit, don't you think so, Sergeant?" Thus Greenlees to the M.P. investigating. "Waaal... maybe." "Surely. Let me be responsible. I shall straighten matters out." And so the problem is solved. There may be added an intimation that the man is soon to be sent to the Front; there is punishment for you!
Alfred is allotted a magnificent room atop the Palazzo Caracciolo that "D Section" has taken to itself in the old heart of the City. The rest of PWB is housed Hollywood-style in a modern hotel that is reached by a twenty-minute drive through the tunnel that takes the seaside drive to the north and Pozzuoli; it stands on a cliff looking out to sea. The personnel commute to an office building in the City whence they seek to control and direct the communications and media of Co-belligerent Italy. Alfred has it so much better, being independent of transport, near to the incredible fish and produce markets, a step from the old port, assailed by the noises and smells alternately so charming and odious. When he steps out of his room in the morning, scaring up flights of pigeons, it is onto a large roof garden, blooming with great plants. He views much of Naples and beyond; Mt. Vesuvius, still erupting, eludes him. Friends have gone up and returned from the lava fields, astonished as much by the villagers sitting upon their stoops praying that God will bring it to a halt as by the red hot wall descending upon them.
The large number of Italian personnel puts a strain on the rations and fresh food is costly so that the portions at Palazzo Caracciolo soon diminish and Alfred is found complaining that he is still hungry after meals, a gripe that Greenlees, who outweighs him by fifteen stone, and is a gourmet, takes to heart. "They have so little to eat at home," he apologizes, but the lean Lieutenant points out that there seems to be no limit to the number of agents, secretaries, reporters, archivists, painters, broke nobles, politicians, and military visitors at the ever-enlarging table, now in two sittings. And who knows, he adds, haranguing Robbie and Greenlees and Hadfield and the Howard brothers, how much food is leaving by the kitchen's back door; there is no limit to leftovers. And when it comes to the cats and dogs of Naples, shall we go on to feed them as well? They agree. They love him and besides he is their only American officer, their ultimate argument when demonstrating that their effort is truly Allied. Yet he feels slightly embarrassed when his word is heeded: a bit like he did in Syracuse when he slammed shut the door against the crowd that was bursting into the printshop during the air raid, and as he feels when stuffing himself from cans of rations set out on the hood of his jeep, and there gather around several people, kids, too, hungry perhaps, though they never ask for anything, almost never.
John Reyner, just in from England as a top administrator, gives him graciously a chance at an outing and dinner, insisting that he take a couple of visiting American Generals and a nicely made-up American WAC officer on a tour of Sorrento or someplace akin. Having protested his ignorance of Sorrento or restaurants to no avail, he finds himself reluctantly in the command car directing the chauffeur along the beautiful hillside roads of the peninsula. They stop at a picturesque restaurant, where he overly engages the attentions of the WAC, rather to the irritation of the Generals, who had probably not counted upon him at table, or paying for his lunch, or his entertaining their good-looking companion. (But, after all, he is no tour guide, and he ranks with the WAC officer certainly, and they invited him, so what can they say?). The adventure is a bore, though; the Generals don't know how to behave in the grand manner, less so than the lowliest echelon of "D Section." During the meal, a small boy sneaks up to the table, snatches a couple of buns and races off. They stare for a moment blankly and turn back to themselves.
Generally, Alfred is dismayed and disgusted by social conditions in Naples and inclined to blame the Neapolitans. The city is too large and condensed, overflowing with the unemployed who seem to have thronged it from the beginning of all time. It is dirty, noisy, full of shysters and thieves. The soldiers bring in their own forms of thievery. Sometimes he wishes some kind of stern communism upon them, not Stalinism, although at the time he knows only of a fraction of the horrors that Stalin's cruelty and paranoia have visited upon the Soviet people and its neighbors, and of course nothing of what was to come. Nor is he even a socialist. But he sees nothing but misery and disorder in the present and projected future of the City. (He does not even think to compare the place with American cities such as his own Chicago which have already arrived at, and are rapidly descending to a level far below that of Naples in many respects, without any of the redeeming aspects of its hospitality, its style and beauty, its joie de vivre.)
He refuses to confront his own generosity, whose material modesty comes from his material poverty. Literally, he has "fuck-all to give." He is writing his wife about this time,
Don't say another word about the insurance. It was done almost a month ago. And I maintain firmly that my admittedly mild argument had nothing whatsoever to do with that old plaint of `everything of yours isn't mine.' Of course everything I have is yours. Christ, all I have at this minute that isn't in your possession is four dollars and thirty-nine cents, some chocolate and cigars, and a couple of bags of Army junk that I wish were yours too. I might mention my body, which I would also offer up most eagerly...
He prefers to think of himself as hard-hearted. He tries to be tough, wishing to discipline the Neapolitans, the troops, etc., but in actual encounters he is not so mean. Not even in speech.
Still he certainly writes and speaks angrily against the lumpenproletariat of Napoli. The horde of thieves. The poor common bony shabby mass. The ragamuffins all about. (He admires and is affected by the rough-humored tender horseplay of soldiers and street urchins, mocking, swearing, cursing fiercely, throwing things, laughing, giving and taking food and things, "Hey, Joe, wanna meet my sister?")
The Neapolitans will not admit that the accusations against them are valid. They are unashamedly and hopelessly manipulative, demanding, rhetorical, irrelevant, unimpressed by any conquerors or liberators. To a man they would agree with St. Thomas Aquinas (rather a close neighbor of theirs 600 years earlier) that you are entitled to steal food out of hunger. Furthermore, they know, but it is also incontrovertible, that they are warm-hearted, hospitable, clever and affectionate, by comparison with most of the world's people. Are such qualities to count for nothing?
Alfred might spend his time simply meeting characters and personages. Colonel Professor T.V. Smith, transferred from Sicily, whose scratches from his critical nails are quickly healing, is now applying his arts to Napoli. The father of Gertie Goldsmith, Al's high school and college friend, has come to town to purge and reorganize the social services, even as Gertie is a fleeting reference in the letters of Jill from Chicago. He has been for many years occupied with the Jewish charities of America; he will do about as much as any man to organize help for the poor and disorganized here. It is of the spookiness of historical cycles that he should visit Goldsmith with Edmund Howard whose ancestor pioneered charitable organization in Britain. Charity is so special and rare as to appear genetic, a family strain or Jewish instinct. So he thinks, if he doesn't say it.
Captain Professor Leland de Vinney, a stolid orderly uninspired and uninspiring sociologist who taught the Lieutenant Sociology at the University, has put in an appearance with Assistants named
Strang and Sheffield: they are studying the morale of the American soldiers; they are working for Professor Samuel Stouffer, Jill's mentor in statistical sociology, who is directing research for the Morale Division of the Army and was last heard of, if you will recall, excusing his inability to co-opt him for his services.
But Alfred can unload himself upon the impassive De Vinney: There are three universes of morale, the morale of the winner, of the doubtful, and of the loser. Morale changes with the echelons, from home to the frontline spearhead. Morale is multiple in the same person. Morale is the willingness and determination to carry on a fight in the belief that one is right and rightfully directed. The Germans had the capability to possess morale. The British, and to a greater extent the Americans, and even more the French, and to a still greater extent the Italians, had less of the capability. They were not capable of being such true believers. Hence, he thinks, morale is amoral, a trait on which you score high or low even before you enter the situation where your morale is to be judged. Then there can be a certain variability of your morale under the changing circumstances of this situation, such as a conflict setting, a war, a battle, suffering, winning or losing. Just as some people are resistant to a disease that fells other people, so the morale of some is more or less impermeable to the indulgences and deprivations visited upon them. De Vinney listens quietly; it is doubtful that he understands. Stouffer had provided the questions; it was for De Vinney to fill in the blanks. They were talking to a large number of wounded soldiers.
The Italian liberal and radical leaders are close to Alfred's British friends. The foremost Italian philosopher, Benedetto Croce, is in touch with them from Sorrento, and they visit him; his publisher is La Terza, in Bari, whom Greenlees had immediately locked into when he liberated the City. Tarchiani and Carlo Sforza, with his son Sforzino Sforza, regard the "D" group as sympathizers. So does the supreme Italian Communist politician, Palmiro Togliatti; Alfred de Grazia doesn't know what Greenlees is up to here and when a private dinner at the Palazzo is set up with Togliatti as honored guest, he thinks that he ought be invited. "By all means," says Greenlees, "do come." Togliatti seems to be just about what he will appear to be for the rest of his life as leader of the largest Communist Party outside of the Soviet Union, affable, reasonable, intelligent, alert, unthreatening, an incongruous partner of Josef Stalin, incomprehensibly forever in his good graces.
Alfred had devised a plan that had the approval of Greenlees and the others, to go to Sardinia and organize political intelligence all over the place, meanwhile peering about, here and there. Sardinia had been occupied by a couple of British torpedo boats in September, a week after the Germans withdrew. There had been almost no political information coming out of it. You may not hear from me for a little while, he writes Jill, his signal that she has now learned, that he is off to an unsettled situation. His orders, which he writes himself and which Greenlees signs, give him leeway to do just about anything he can get away with, and far more than he can possibly achieve. Send in a weekly Report, by secret cable if needs be; he is authorized transportation to visit the whole of the Island; to arrange to get regular reports from agents at all principal centers, paying them 5000 lira per month, less if part-time or members of the Committees of Anti-Fascist Concentration; to see to it that copies of all political pamphlets and regular press issues are channeled to "D Section," Naples, and set up well-located receptors for all of our `bumpf.'
He wants to go by boat so he visits the Headquarters of the Italian Navy, and asks to be placed upon the first ship leaving for Sardinia. Soon he finds himself aboard an Italian cruiser and enjoying life at sea. There is almost nothing to fear by sea or by air; the only potential enemy threat is from the Italian North and Southern France and little had been signalled from those quarters; the Luftwaffe has more valuable naval targets at Anzio. Soon he lands in Sardinia, which is run by the Italian government, occupied by Italian troops and used in scattered localities for guiding and landing Allied aircraft.
He checks in on the local Psychological Warfare representative, Major Siepman, and meets an American civilian in uniform who is running the radio station, Guido d'Agostino, a writer. The senior American nabob officer must know of his presence, he hears, and this turns out to be a Colonel Doyle who is of the Air Force and who has set himself up at the most impressive building in Cagliari. When Alfred opens the massive door to his office, he is amazed to see this figure seated in the center of a kind of ballroom at a massive desk. He doesn't want to offend him by a salute; they don't salute any more in the Air Force, do they?
Oh, yes they do -- when they want to. This hulk had probably been slumping there in that enormous gilded chair imagining himself as the Duce and wondering why he was not commanding legions of troops and planes. So when this strange Lieutenant manages the fifty meters of approach and does not salute, but introduces himself in a civilian-like manner, the Colonel refuses to acknowledge him until he returns to the entrance to the chamber and approaches him again, this time in a proper military fashion with a correct salute. The Lieutenant, astounded, does as ordered, of course, and comes back, gives and receives the Colonel's salute. He is so full of rage, however, that he can only speak in mutterings and hisses from behind clenched teeth, and has to repeat himself because the Colonel cannot understand him. Which he does, still hissing, but more clearly. The Colonel looks at the piece of paper containing the Special Orders, and hands it back. He has nothing particular to say but the Lieutenant doesn't want to listen. He has had his chance to receive him on friendly terms, and wants to pull his rank. So he gets the treatment that his rank requires and nothing more. He can sink back into his silent stupidity. Alfred snaps him a smart salute such as he has never before received -- and which would be interpreted as a gesture of contempt by some -- swivels about-face, and clomps off.
He is entitled to a jeep and driver. He gets them. He looks up his new bearded acquaintance, Guido, who seems to know everything happening on the Island. Siepman is just a nice chap in the uniform of a British Major. Guido fills him in profusely, takes him to the military club, shows him the sights, and tells him about an Italian parachute division, intact, in bivouac not far away. The idea of fresh cannon-fodder occurs to him and he asks Guido to take him to visit the outfit. It is agreed.
He then bumps into a couple of acquaintances from the Columbia University Law School, guys he had known in 1940. They are Naval officers now and their gunboat sits in the harbor of Cagliari. It is exceedingly mysterious how such people find themselves. They move among hundreds of thousands of uniformed men, here, there, and everywhere; then, with a frequency that cannot be random, like homing pigeons or penguins finding their families, they come upon one another and recognize their kinship. It is a kind of "Old Boy" network, but it isn't fully that, because the network is defunct as such, they are not looking for each other in particular.
Next afternoon, he goes with Guido to the large encampment, full of alert young soldiers. This is the famous Folgore Division, sister of the Nembo Division that had fought and finally surrendered in Tunis. The two parachute divisions of the Italian Army. Here intact. Unsurrendered except by protocol. They go to the Headquarters barrack, meet the top officers, are invited to dinner and to a show that night, and taken on a tour of the camp. He is secretly excited. He watches everything closely. Everywhere there appears to be a high morale, coming from the type of elite unit, persisting despite being on the losing end of the War, despite the division's being forgotten by the outer world.
The dinner is excellent, and after dinner a musical comedy is put on by soldiers of the division, men playing the parts of women, just as they did in Blackfriars at the University of Chicago, riotously funny, well rehearsed one can imagine, given the ample time at their disposal. Meanwhile, he has been asking a hundred questions on the morale of the unit, attitudes toward Mussolini, the King, the American, the British, the Germans. He has begun to feel that he may have made a great discovery: here is a division of troops, well trained, already under arms, knowledgeable about all that concerned the German enemy, that could, reequipped with American arms, be put almost immediately into the line in Italy.
Early in the morning he composes a report to "D Section" recommending it be forwarded for the consideration of the Commanding General of the Fifteenth Army Group in Italy. The Division, he declares, has all the earmarks of good unit morale. On the general level, their attitudes are favorable. They are monarchical at the high officer level, but this should not be confused with Fascist. They are also nationalist, which should not be confused with Fascism, either. The Division is ready to fight for the liberation of Italy, and it numbers about fifteen thousand men and officers with basic equipment. (This is not all inference, for he has spoken directly to the Commander and Chief of Staff, to other officers, to several men, alone and in groups; he works fast and knows how to phrase a good question; this is one thing he has been trained for, after all, at University.)
The failure to put a great many Italian troops into the line in Italy in the middle and later stages of the Cassino and North Italian campaigns was a costly error, ascribable to the incompetency of the Allied Generals and the fearful weak Italian Government that the Allies had installed. Speaking not so much of Britain, which by this time was taking more of its cues from the USA than it was giving back, but of the Americans, the generals thought of war and planned the War -- though there were limits to fighting it so -- in non-human terms: so many men, so many planes, so many tanks, so many boats, so many bullets and rations. Anything special, different, or protruding, including outstanding, they were at a loss to handle. An instance of the opposite kind of risk, rashness instead of caution, was sending the Polish Corps into a blunt frontal attack at Cassino. The Allied Command, not realizing the heroic psychology and towering morale of the Polish Corps, or, worse, failing to see its dreadful consequences, did not restrain the Corps and was willing to let the Poles be practically annihilated in successive engagements. For that matter, this was the same kind of mistake that Navy Admirals and Marine Generals were making with their splendid divisions in the atolls and islands of the Pacific Theater.
Then he pouched the report and headed North for Sassari. Sardinia is Sicily without people, without the major riches of the Sicilian plain, without Mt. Etna, without the profound high culture, without the large intellectual and artistic class, without the industries. But it has less of the lumpenproletariat, less of the crime, less deviousness of mind, and more straightforwardness, beautiful simplicity, uniformity of conduct, and a more than respectable level of artistic creativity. It reveals to him planned mining towns of a pleasing modernity not to be found in that empire of mining, the United States. When he arrives at Sassari, he finds a small city that compares favorably with any in the United States for order, beauty, serenity, modernity, architecture, and setting. There it is, at his California ranch-style house, that he finds Mario Berlinguer, chief of the Republican Party, an anti-Fascist who has had to stay home and managed to do so without being drawn out to be murdered, or losing face, or being imprisoned. They talk for a long time, the Lieutenant telling him of conditions in Italy from the Allied point of view, Berlinguer telling him in turn what he had in mind for Italy.
He bids him goodbye and good luck, returns to his hotel, and types out a report urging that Berlinguer be brought back, if he would come, and placed into the Italian Cabinet immediately. He heads then back south, his self-imposed missions finished. On the way he spots a radio tower for aircraft guidance. He drives up the mountain, curious to view these isolates. They are happy to have him for dinner, talking the while about their poker game that is coming up. Every night they start up their electric generator and play poker into the night, and that's about all they do with their time.
He tries to refuse, pleading that he has only several dollars to lose, and it would not be fair of him to play, but they insist desperately. To his dismay, be begins to win, he rakes in more and more money, he draws one good hand after another. He tops a hundred dollars and will soon begin to break them. They are sweating. He is afraid of leaving them with no money at all until the paymaster next arrives. So, as in a nightmare, he tries to lose, without insulting them or himself. Finally the chance arrives. He has a good hand. The three others have decent hands. Fine. He can bid high. They will hang in. They do. He notes that at least one of them must have a very hot hand. He doubles into it; the others double as well. He redoubles. Two stick. One redoubles. That's it. He lays down. He loses. He is happy. Over half his money is gone. They are happy. They finish their drink and close down the memorable evening.
Next day in Cagliari he buys the two hand-carved cigar boxes he had wanted for his wife, and locates a plane headed for Palermo. The night is celebrated with his friends there, the next day he is back in Naples, exactly three weeks from his date of departure.
First person he bumps into is Charlton of the Eighth Army, so they cheer their comings and goings, this time Charlton is off to London, for good. They toss off a few bad Stregas,and begin to talk about Charl's book in its new version. Charl goes to fetch his manuscript. They take it to the Royal Navy Club bar where they drink merrily to the brave new world. They eat a meal then and there with two bottles of vino. They separate for him to find ice and for Charl to get the whiskey he drew from the Naafi stores for the trip to London. That is the last of Charlton's Anglo-pink face, alcoholically refulgent, bobbing among the sallow-complected crowd. He never resurfaces.
So the American goes to visit Joe Ferla in the hospital. He's flat on his back still. He's had the War. He's going back home to Massachusetts. "See you back home, Joe." What else?
He unwraps a large Sardinian cheese and they gather for a homecoming at the Palazzo: Robbie, Greenlees, Vernon, the Howards, and Albert Spalding, who has given up his violin concerts to become a propagandist, just as he had been under La Guardia in World War I. He is heading something called "Italia Combatte," a radio station and leaflet disseminating organization for Italian partisans of the North. He tells a story of performing in Berlin in 1936 and attending a party with Ambassador Dodd following the concert, where Frank the Nazi Governor of Poland was present. Frank is a lover of the arts, like Goering. Felix Mendelssohn is the latest target of anti-Semitic epuration in Germany: his statue has been torn down that very day. Frank asked Spalding's opinion of Mendelssohn's Concerto and Spalding acclaimed it as one of Germany's mightiest musical works, to the embarrassment of Frank and his guests. He is a bad type, says Spalding, meaning sewer scum.
Lieutenant de Grazia can hardly stay away from the combat propaganda teams, so drives up to visit Jim Clark, Tom Crowell, Herz, Duke Ellington and the Fifth Army Team, and thereafter the Eighth Army Team, where Beauclerk and Foster hang out. The Duke gets drunk daily, he doesn't have enough to do; he is a cheerful soul, roundfaced, balding, blonde, heavybodied, liberal, witty, so easy-going; Alfred studies him, wondering whether he is going to be the true American character of the future, the Californian, and how America is going to run the world with lovable characters like him all over the place.
The Lieutenant, you see, is not liberal in a number of regards; he incorporates a sense of national destiny, and he is always on the look-out for the instruments of that world-unifying mission of the USA. He is thinking, probably as the result of too much self-propaganda and Washington directives, that the Soviets are going to be partners in this enterprise, junior partners to be sure, because they lack the technology to support the future world and the experience to govern it, which are concentrated in the Western countries and America. He wants to Americanize the world.
The front is boiling up continuously around Cassino with terrible losses and small gain. It is the last month of the struggle. The 15th army group is throwing against the Germans' mortars and machine guns French troops, Australians, Indians, Poles, Italians, New Zealanders, anybody who comes to hand, as well as the depleted American and British Forces, which have been losing numbers to casualties, to deployment at Anzio, or by removal and shipment to England for transhipment to the invasion forces readying for assault upon the West Wall.
While he is visiting Fifth Army Headquarters, the Polish Corps liaison officer introduces himself and congratulates him on the Folgore Report from Sardinia; it had evidently reached its target, the Army Command; you are right, he says, especially in your analysis of the distinction between fascist and nationalist attitudes, and how the nationalism factor would make the Italians reliable in the line. At this point the Lieutenant should have pushed in to see the Chief of Staff or an Assistant, but he does not think to do so; the Army does not encourage an Officer or Enlisted Man to go over anyone's head to make suggestions; Alfred is unusually bold for a twenty-three-year- old Lieutenant, witness the Report itself, but here he lets the intelligence work weakly its own way up. He is surprised at how far the idea has gone.
Finally, with pressures from four directions and the Vatican pleading against turning Rome into a Montecassino, the German positions begin to crack -- around Cassino, in the mountains, along the Sea and at the Anzio beachhead. He putters around for a week longer in Naples. He finishes reading Dos Passos' USA: Trilogy, Borgese's Common Cause, and several other books and writes a couple of reports. He writes letters, too. Why should he be so critical of Dos Passos, who has tried to write realistically and sincerely about World War I and American Society? He says that the Author provides goodness in his characters but destroys their environment such that they must fail, and he can do so because in retrospect the country has failed its people.
In other words, the thoughts he reads into a character's mind in an early stage of their life (including the tone of his literary treatment which is more important than the direct thoughts themselves) are the thoughts of an old and frustrated personality, shamed, beaten, and resentful. We can look back at our past, and pick out things we are ashamed of now, of incidents that were silly, of attitudes that were stupid. But their meaning and associations at that time were altogether different, and if a picture of the psychological state at that particular time is desirable, the cynical increments of time shouldn't be added.
Ironically, these remarks must apply to me, the writer, as well as to Dos Passos, for here am I, adding the lugubrious nostalgia and hyper-criticality accumulated over fifty years to Our Boy and the forces affecting him then.
Alfred contemplates D Section and asks what they are achieving. He expects too much, of course; he asks whether they are significantly helping the generals to win the war and exaggerates what they are not doing and what they might be doing. Top generals and politicians almost always have their minds made up along several leading lines -- as with Churchill's obsession with attacking Hitler's "Fortress Europe" from the South and his fondness for Italian culture, or Adolf Hitler's obstinacy when a withdrawal is called for, or General Ira Eaker's belief in precision bombing and victory through air power, or General Clark's insistence that Rome can be taken by any means so long as he takes it first. In the end these are non- rational feelings coloring all directives and suggesting subordinate forms of behavior: "`Oh, Shit,' said the King, and ten million subjects squatted," as his school-chum R. Elberton Smith used to say.
As he views it, "D Section" is a fine case of muddling through; totally uninstructed and unrehearsed, but effective. It is hardly credible: despite all the different jobs he has done and all of the communal living, not once has anybody said, "Now here is what `D Section' does, Alfred," nor has anyone had the temerity to propose that they hold program-planning conferences or engage in any of the dozen different procedures that were elsewhere employed and recommended in the new science of public administration and business management in America. A spy observing what he and the others did might correctly surmise that "D Section" provides liaison with political factions and lends them active support where suggested by top policy. An army, whether liberating or occupying, must deal with the many conflicts and political needs of the region. Its officers, not party to the obsessions of the top, need a continuous flow of balancing information, to keep their mental equilibrium, to feel that they are moving properly, even though in the dark, to feel real and alive in the middle of large events; they cannot be let to feel that their machine is driving like a great power drill into a mountain tunnel.
Further there is little way of their knowing the effects of an action in their totality by military intelligence alone. The waves of a military event go out in ever-widening circles and splash here and there against obstacles, or for that matter assist in the launching of boats into favorable winds under fresh crews. His reports are filled with snippets: an Austrian POW, back from convalescent leave, says: the Austrians are cracking up; a partisan passing through the lines says a good-sized gang of them is holed up near Lago Trasimeno; a letter of a dead German mentions a riot in Modena against the Fascist conscription drive; an Italian civilian says that two downed British airmen are hiding in a sculpture studio at Pietrosanta; the Badoglio Government is detested in Bologna, where Communist activity and organization are strong. Put it all together, it spells, it may spell, it may hint at -- well something, a something that might be useful in detail and in the broad.
He writes to Jill more grandly now that he is reading reports from everywhere. The German soldiers in Russia use two acronyms, he quotes her from a DNB despatch: `Kik' and `Kak', "Kamerad im Kessel," meaning "Comrade encircled" and "Kamerad aus dem Kessel," meaning "Comrade out of encirclement." Funny, tragic. "Today it is Kik, tomorrow hopefully Kak," they say.
He comments on the world scene. He is beginning to sense important developments in Palestine. He is irritated by an article in an April 3 issue of Time Magazine that comes to hand. (It and others are being sold now in Naples.) It is "the story of the oilmen's opposition to the trans-Asia-Mediterranean pipe-line. It is so obviously a case of a few men racketeering against our interests and the people. If they get out, the Russians and the British will do exactly what they would have done." The other gripe is the bumbling over Palestinian independence.
I am more than ever convinced that an independent Palestinian state would be a good thing. For the United States, in that area, a friendly advanced state would be helpful (since we aren't especially interested in empire there, but others are). For a most sweeping settlement of the Jewish problem which is as simple as it is misunderstood (I am not ideologically a Zionist). For the development of that area which would help the benighted and misguided Arabs. While I'm warmed up on the subject, you might send a check for ten dollars or so to that committee for a free Palestine." (May 8)
I have not been saying enough of the Home Front. You must realize by now, should you not have known before, that half the Army lives half its life mentally voyaging four thousand miles away. Utterly foreign to American military experience is the Army without home ties; it would be ghoulish. Think of it: they would seem to be zombies. He is writing now to Jill that her letters are "the nuclear element in my life," and they certainly become more so as they enlarge in number and regularity to describe the Home Front and life with an infant.
She sends him pictures of herself and Kathy (She always shows to disadvantage in pictures, but not her baby!):
I showed the pictures to three neurotic and unattractive English girls at lunch today and they said you are both beautiful. The poor things are in Italy for a rest cure I guess... Granted they do succeed in doing very necessary typing and one of them, Rowina Vining, a little, dumpy Irish girl, is very intelligent. Unfortunately every woman I see actually makes me more angry that she isn't you.
He has also, however, to answer her inquiry about the problems of sexual abstinence during their prolonged period of separation, an inquiry prompted no doubt by a justifiably incomplete belief in his continence.
Now to answer the sixty-four dollar question. Do I find it difficult to get along without a woman, specifically you? Well, taking the query component by component, every letter I send you is an affirmative answer to the `specifically you' part. As for getting along without woman simply, there is a natural safety valve the male fortunately possesses when the biological accretion gets pressing. It's annoying but effective, even though it disturbs one's sleep. So that's the answer to your inquisition, there are day-dreams, some glimpses of women (three's a universal appeal about a flash of legs and swirling skirt), letters from the woman, pictures of Her and pictures of others, night dreams and nocturnal emissions that I mentioned above. You can well say that these are all frustrating nasty bits of life. But I am not defending them. They are typical of most men in the Army, and some think of them less and some more. And so strange a thing is the human mind, its habits, fancies, failure to distinguish between reality and fiction, indistinguishability between actual experience and sensual experience, its unconscious adaptation to sensual famine by creating the food for its own appetite, and especially in the sexual, so indisputably mental is the sexual experience, that actually life is tolerable and doesn't become divided into blacks and whites on the basis of when one was getting it and when one was not. And then, of course, the more active one is, the more work he does, the less he is physically uncomfortable.
Fine words, fine ideas, but not the whole truth. I have already shown the Lieutenant's sexual dormancy for what it is: a lazing tomcat that can suddenly spring alive.
Ian Greenlees dines in a fancy night club. Robbie goes along. Also the Lieutenant. A notorious Italian playboy, charming and suave, is at table, his relationship to Ian quite mysterious. But then too, an incredibly beautiful woman accompanies him. Alfred's buddies are not interested in women for their bodies. He is. After several glasses of wine, he is getting ready to climb over the table upon her. Pasta, quail, more wines, flambeaus, he has to call for help. Greenlees, he beseeches, sotto voce: who is Toni, who is Gloria, how are they related, she is smiling engagingly at me, what shall I do?
Greenlees merely chortles and gestures magnanimously, no problem, I'm sure... The Lieutenant goes to the toilet, stumbling over his third leg. Robbie, with him, has to laugh, watching him as he straightens himself out. Robbie, she is amazingly beautiful, don't you think? How would Robbie know: the lovelier, the worse, so far as he is concerned. Greenlees is murmuring to Toni, always murmuring he is, whether secretive or in anger or commanding, but when informing or discussing rationally he speaks in a normal louder voice -- they burst out laughing.
Toni laughs, they all laugh, the girl smiles, and he grins, too, because he can see that everyone is enjoying the proverbial spectacle of the deprived soldier with a few drinks under his belt. Amazingly, they all turn to him, saying, why not? of course! Gloria, the principal, after all, is herself laughing and obviously interested.
The party cannot break up soon enough for him, and he ends up in her apartment in the center of Naples, in her bed -- either Toni is supporting my evening, or she is, or she is an heiress or war widow or a super-courtesan. Whatever she may be otherwise, in the here and now she is the most deliciously curvaceous of any woman he would ever have occasion to envelop, delectably deliquescent. (Over the long run, I think I have so indicated, his tastes and female comrades lean toward the less conspicuously rounded). With all he has drunk and his sexual intensity, he is lucky to come off, and again in the dawn, and is too fast and doesn't play around enough. He probably should have been kicked out of bed, but there is something to the lithe body, the smile, the Americano, the stereotypical young officer, that even gets to a sophisticated woman, to a sensitive woman, which perhaps Gloria is not quite.
Gloria is a pretty sight in the sobriety of morning, too, he is glad to see. He drops in on her once more; she has sweet eyes and swishes around smooth and curved like a seal; he brings her a carton of her favorite Chesterfields and a PX eau de cologne. Withal that she is cast in the ultra-feminine ideal and a decent gentle person too, he is not enthralled and anyway must get along. The Front is cracking and it is time to write some special orders to get him up and into Rome. "Arrivederci, cara Gloria!"
On the Eighteenth May, the Abbey falls to the Poles. On May 23, he is back in the field with, this time, a remarkable driver, Alfredo Segre, a corporal in the Army Engineers, who has been a translator for the General heading a regiment of engineers. Someone had pried him loose on the plea of an emergency, and he must return soon enough. He is an author of novels and a political publicist, an American now, a refugee from Fascism, whether because of communism, socialism, Jewishness, or general opposition to the regime, Our Man does not know or ask. He has knocked around, a solid type, well-built, not talkative, ruddy-faced. (Much later, his book came to hand, Mahogany, a powerful novel of Central Africa.)
They proceed into the newly liberated area of Gaeta, a fine Bay that perhaps should have been a debarkation point in the very beginning of the Italian campaign. Elements of the Fifth Army Team are there. Men come running in as he arrives, a mine has exploded beneath an American soldier who, with several others, has been bathing in the sea; our men have pulled him out. They should get a medal for heroism, Lieutenant; put them in for a medal.
He does think that they are brave and deserve a medal, although he never thinks about medals and has no idea of how they are given out. But he never gets around to filling out whatever papers are involved. He has to get going. Although he does not stress the issue, because it would only stir up indignation, he wonders mildly, deliberating, at how lucky they were not to be blown up, too, rushing in like that to drag out the crippled soldier. What would the medics do, creep into the waves with a stretcher? Medics have the highest casualty rate behind riflemen and Lieutenants. They die on these occasions, rather frequently in fact. Corpses are booby-trapped, too. What is foolhardiness? Should it be discounted or discouraged. It's a riddle; what's the answer? Lacking a firm answer, he lets the matter slip out of mind; so it is not a matter of filling out papers.
Pushing ahead, he and Segre drive through the collapsing Tyrhennian Coastal Front. The Americans have taken to the Coastal roads with ponderous armor. The French Expeditionary Force, which accomplished the breakthrough, is sent into the mountainous area between the coastal roads and infamous Highway #6, so long blocked at Cassino. The "French" troops are mostly French-led Moroccans and Algerians, and a rough lot they are. The French have not been long in Italy and feel little sympathy for the Italians, a feeling that conveys itself readily to their colonials, who anyhow regard looting, rape, and the killing of unfriendlies (whether in uniform or civilian) as combat pay.
The Americans steer their jeep into the hills on a detour. (The country is the same that you penetrate by broad smooth Autostrada today.) It has suddenly grown quiet, few heavy vehicles, no firing to be heard. They move slowly, passing among swarthy helmeted long-gowned goumiers, often indistinguishable from the soil and stone when resting. They see a line of women at one village, then another at the next. Some are weeping. They hardly appear liberated. Is food so short here, he wonders. Actually, they are in line for medical examination. They've been raped. They need treatment. Some want testimony, also, that their virginity had been violated -- for when they would marry.
He is incensed, Segre even more so. Segre urges him to do something! He knows what to do. Get a report into "D" Section -- to Ian Greenlees, Edmund and Hubert Howard, Albert Spalding and the others. They would stick it properly into the Generals' hierarchy -- Alexander, Clark, Juin, who would not wish the Nazi and Fascist propagandists of Rome and the North to play the story, nor the Home Front press.
More immediately, he sights a couple of French officers at their command post, a cafe' table amidst bombing debris, and decides to speak to them. So that he might speak bluntly, he sends Segre off in the jeep to scout the village above, and joins the Frenchmen. Your attack was splendide, he tells them, pleine d'allant, vraiment brave, and so it was: unlike any of the Allies except the Poles, the French know the meaning of "toujours l'attaque." Too bad they had not spearheaded the Cassino operation from the beginning.
They speak of Paris before the War, and he speaks of women -- then, naturally, of these poor women being raped by their "goumes". They excuse themselves: "We know... But things are getting better. We just shot two of our men ..."
Segre is returning, his ruddy face swollen with suppressed excitement. He can hardly wait to get the Lieutenant away before exclaiming, "There is a couple from Rome in hiding, the farmers told me, in a shack up there. They are writers." He thinks he knows who they are. "Their name sounded like `Moravia.'" The name means nothing to the Lieutenant; Segre is a little disappointed.
"Let's go, then," the Lieutenant says. They drive up a steep path, in and out of woods, and must stop short of the hut indicated by a farm woman and climb by foot. The woman runs ahead yelling excitedly. They are, of course, armed to the teeth, and the pounding on the door and the sight of them might have been distressing. "Siamo Americani," says Segre, and a most complicated expression overcomes their faces, incredulity, relief, wonder, and, still, some fear, because these are the ones who had just destroyed the magnificent Abbey of Montecassino and were laying waste much of the country by land, sea and air.
Alfred looks first more at the woman than at the man. She is Elsa Morante, all right -- so she informs them -- wearing a shapeless dress and old shoes; her hair is a curly light-brown, uncombed, with intimations of grey, though she looks young. She has a smooth round sweet face, a soft buxom figure. Now that she smiled, with even teeth that parted in the middle, what she conveys is a mild and generous soul.
Alberto Moravia, her husband, who is answering Segre's questions, is a head taller than she, well put together, save for a gimpy leg, a bit slumped of shoulder, of a satanic countenance that refused to transform itself pleasantly. His lips are tight, his jaw clenched, his attitude grim. When he smiles, he might be sincere, but you would never be sure. He appears to be retaining secrets. Apparently intelligent, he either cannot or will not express all he knows or feels. Just now, he has every reason to feel anxious and fearful, but now and ever after he seems to be expecting the worst, and to be suspicious of good fortune.
The Lieutenant hands him a cigarette and sits him down. Segre interrogates him further. Segre's feelings had been declared on the way up. At least some of them. He wonders whether Moravia had not been collaborating with the Fascists: how else could he have spent the war years in comfort? Moravia, partly Jewish by origin, had always rejected identification as a Jew, which was his own business, to the Lieutenant's way of thinking, but the Nazi lexicon had finally caught up with him. True, now, he might fall victim to the Neo-Fascists and Gestapo, but, before then, whose friend was he? The question is whether a person, particularly an intellectual, should be adjudged guilty for having subsisted under a totalitarian regime relatively undisturbed. Segre adduces no hard evidence. Nothing Moravia answers or says -- nor certainly his gentle moon-faced Sicilian -- could be fashioned into a condemnation.
Segre has only been with the Lieutenant for a couple of days and nights, but this is a lot of togetherness -- worth a month of café encounters. Much has been spoken and noticed. He gathers that Segre would like to arrest Moravia and finally even try him in court on the title of his first novel, The Indifferent, and on the basis of his several other works, too, that spoke against the Fascists only in ways that even ordinary Italians could employ, with words that only in retrospect and among the unknowledgeable or forgiving could be considered true anti-Fascism. Segre, that is, presents himself as a committed guy, whereas Moravia does not. And, Segre would ask, where were the denunciations of Nazism and racism during the increasingly terrible years from 1932 to 1944, twelve years of silence?
Moravia had never been politically committed and could not put on a big act for our benefit. Segre wishes for more but would settle on punishing him for indifference alone. To their credit, Morante and Moravia do not defend profusely their thoughts or conduct; they do not plead a case; nor for that matter are they being accused.
The situation descends to this: They could stay hidden where they were and risk murder and rape, and French or American gunfire and strafing, or even a German counter-attack, bringing with it the Gestapo and, worse, the desperate Neo-Fascists, killers who find informants everywhere. But, if all went well, when Rome fell, they could manage the journey home. Or, perhaps with help, they could move with greater safety behind the American lines, and scrounge around as best they could until Rome was freed.
He broaches still another option; he can deliver them to "D Section" at the Palazzo Caracciolo in Naples, where, if they proved themselves useful, they might go to work for the Allied cause. He has little doubt that this would be the case. He does not want to hurt the feelings of Segre, who is right in his own way, if inordinately exigent, and who, although the true hero, would soon be back dogging it for some Engineer General.
Alfred has in mind a plan that requires trusting Segre. For himself, he is intent upon getting to Rome. But he can and does write a letter to Major Greenlees, explaining his action, to be delivered by Segre upon arrival, along with the report on the case of the raped women and other notes. He gives the Moravias, too, a letter, signed by himself, cavalierly authorizing them, in the name of the Commanding Officers of Intelligence, G2, Fifth Army (American), and of Operations (G3), Eighth Army (British), to travel by military conveyance from the battle zone to Headquarters, "D" Section, AFHQ, Naples. He figures that this trick, logically defensible were he to be called on the carpet about it, is needed, lest otherwise the trio might be arrested en route and disappear from sight; moreover, the jeep with them, would be returned, if at all, as a wreck.
Moravia jots a message for his relatives in the Lieutenant's ragged little notebook, finding space amidst a welter of notations dealing with the Lieutenant's prior mission to Sardinia: "At Via Donizetti 6, our relatives, the Pincherle-Moravia's live (telephone 80592). Please, if possible, inform them that they are well, they will return as soon as permitted and they beg them to keep an eye on our house and to keep it ready for our return." This would be Via Sgambati 9.
They drive over to Highway 7, where the American II Corps is thrusting Northwards. There Alfred turns them South, wishes them well, and gets out. He catches a ride up and into the Anzio beachhead, which has finally burst open along this road the day before. He locates the cave where several members of the Combat Propaganda Team have been holed up, following the unhappy blasting of the across-the-line crew by German artillery and machinegun fire. They are eating rotten food, but deep in the cave Sergeant Harrari is playing fine music on the patched-up equipment. Duke Ellington is there, along with several others. The food is bad.
Shells have been arriving now and then near the mouth of the cave.
The Germans are covering their retreat from Cassino. The Front is degenerating, but as usual the Germans know just the right tactics for pulling out their troops before the clumsy and un-avid allied troops can catch them in a trap. Here is where the French troops should be used. The French are more daring than any of the others and are very ready to attack and pursue. But this is a bureaucratic army. They are pushed out of the way. You have to follow orders. Now here, you move up, now there, you move up, no, wait, not too far, and so on. It's a hell of a way to fight a war, he thinks, but then he is not leading the attack. Nevertheless, Allied troops are moving massively up Highway #6.There is little fear of air attack.
The Germans are first thought to be defending Rome, then it is apparent that they will do civilization the favor of not fighting through the City. They do allow themselves the right to retreat through it, and the SS and the Neofascists commit some barbarities before fleeing. Yet the absence of an enemy does not faze the Allies in entering and establishing a passel of offices.
Mark Clark need not march through Rome. He is intent upon it, though. He is especially eager to do so quickly, because he knows a secret: that world headlines and radios on June 6, just two days off, would scream "Landings in France!" It is a costly useless unmilitary gimmick, another victory handed the Germans: they escape around Rome and out of Rome, half-heartedly pursued, actually crossing a couple of Tiber bridges farther North that the innumerable Allied planes had not hit, and uniting thus their dispersed Armies.
As for the Liberation of Rome, it is a great party which the Lieutenant desires as badly as his vainglorious General. Since he has little idea of the General's tactics, he cannot be blamed; in fact, he has a real job to do in Rome, "D Section" and all of that.
The night before the Liberation of Rome finds the Lieutenant in a field outside the city with two men. No one has gotten in yet, but the rumor is that American troops will snatch the honor, General Clark being so insistent upon it. You sense that there are great armies breathing somewhere nearby, but just here it is fairly quiet. It is remarkable how you can step aside from the Allies' 4000 aircraft, 1900 tanks, 10,000 cannon, 20,000 trucks, 23 divisions, 67,000 riflemen of 182 battalions, a total of 675,000 men grousing about the center of Italy. Not to mention their scanty match, the German forces, fielding one-tenth the number of tanks, aircraft, cannon, one- twentieth the ammunition, one-twentieth the trucks, one-third the riflemen, one-third the soldiers, practically all of these passing around and through Rome at the moment. It has been a bloody battle for the small units, the fifty fiery points of contact of the past ten days, where half those engaged become casualties. This has been the "real" war.
Another set of casualties has randomly befallen mostly Germans from long-range artillery and dive-bombers. The Allied forces, so huge and potentially mobile, are tripping over themselves, while the Germans are plodding up the roads ahead by whatever means can be found, under constant aircraft attack. There seems to be no way the jammed-up British can catch up with them. Or the French, who have been side-tracked. Or the Americans, who are enticed into the Liberation of Rome at the price of letting the enemy disengage and escape.
There are two main roads and several minor ones. They all lead to Rome, of course. Alfred chooses Highway #7. Darkness. Rumor has it that a German rearguard with Panthers and Panzerfausts and Nebelwerfers and Schmauzers are blocking the road ahead. Unlikely... Still, who would want to get into Rome in the middle of night? Nothing would be open. He finds a small stone cabin littered with electrical junk and they occupy it, possibly for sleeping, anyhow for refuge in the event of bombing or a smashing runover by one of the friendly tanks or half-tracks lumbering about.
The night continues quiet. Then voices. He hears voices in what sounds like German. He calls halt in three languages, moving his position with each translation, then fires a couple of shots unenthusiastically in their general direction. Amicide, enemy ..who knows. A plane comes over and drops a couple of bombs at a safe distance. Amicidal? Or enemy? Hell will freeze over before the "Stars and Stripes" or "Union Jack" mentions the U.S. P-40's that have just knocked out a hundred Americans of that Third Division Column at Valmonte, or the cooperative effort by German and American artillery to decimate yet another U.S. infantry battalion, or the repeated strafing of the First Armored Division by friendlies, or the U.S. strafing of the French at the very gates of Rome.
A figure, American by silhouette, moves over from the road. "What the fuck you shooting at, you want to catch enemy fire?" Argument ensues. Enemy is looking to escape, not fight! Civilians.. they don't count much. (There is a contradiction in Tactical Doctrine: you find the enemy by making him open fire and then call down your pieces upon him; but, don't give your position away. The answer: fire, then move; nice trick if you can manage it; apropos, don't step on a mine. Corollary: if you don't open fire, you are useless. Fact is, a lot of soldiers are continuously useless unless forced to fire.) Anyhow, there is no room at the inn for this dark character; let him fuck off into the night; he doesn't, though; he curls up nearby. The Lieutenant and his two men lay in the hut. Then the Lieutenant moves out to several yards away from the hut and sleeps better; he didn't want to be grenaded through the window of this nutshell.
At dawn they climb into their jeep and join the stream of vehicles that is converging from all directions to enter the city. The Romans are up, dressed in their finest, and out on the street, a million of them. The streets become crowded. Dusty cloth, canvas, metal are polished by the pressing people. They climb up on the vehicles shouting and cheering. Kids ride cannon barrels. Out of the crowd, a young woman and her friends fix themselves upon the Lieutenant. This will be Bianca Moffa, a slant-eyed, dark-haired Neapolitan beauty, with the figure of a Minoan bull-dancer. A blonde slender man with her, he will be her husband, Paolo. Someone else, too, Bruno Leonardi. "Su!" says the American, with an inviting smile, and they climb into the back and upon the hood. They direct him to their elegant modern apartment building. The archetypical scenario: all the insignia of the Liberation surround him, human and material. The dream of the soldier: to capture and be captivated by the Eternal City.