In This Review

A Nation Collapses: The Italian Surrender of September 1943
A Nation Collapses: The Italian Surrender of September 1943
By Elena Agarossi
Cambridge University Press, 2000, 187 pp

This fine case study uses recently released documents to chronicle the chaotic weeks following Italy's capitulation to the Allies on September 8, 1943, when the Germans pushed through with their disastrously speedy occupation while the Italian military and political establishment disintegrated. Agarossi shows that the Anglo-American commitment to "unconditional surrender" made a separate peace with Italy impossible and required invasion instead. But the Allied preparations for the Normandy assault meant that only limited forces could be used for landings in the south in autumn 1943. Underestimated by the Allies, the Germans quickly realized this and reacted decisively. Meanwhile, the "total inaction and irresponsibility" of the Italian government was seen by Italian soldiers as a high-level decision not to fight the Germans; the few Italians who did resist were massacred. Fascism's legacy, argues the author, had eradicated all sense of responsibility among the ruling and military classes. She also debunks the myth of the Italian resistance as a popular struggle and revolutionary movement. Her provocative conclusion argues that the idea of the Italian nation was nevertheless strong on both sides -- and began to weaken only later, owing to the political hegemony of the leftist and Catholic parties and their international sponsors.