A hero for our times, too


(Canscene) — This year, Italy and the rest of us who care, celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the remarkable Giuseppe Garibaldi, son and grandson of merchant sailors , whose own career began at sea.

Although Camillo Cavour and Giuseppe Mazzini played equally significant roles –on the political front — in the unification of Italy, it was Garibaldi who became the public image of the Risorgimento.

Joining a clandestine “united Italy” movement at an early age, Garibaldi escaped imprisonment and execution and fled to South America. His birthplace remained a land of divided states under Austrian, Bourbon and Vatican rule with only Piedmont in the northwest a kingdom with nationalist ambitions. Italy remained, in the scornful words of the Austrian Chancellor Metternich, “a geographical expression.”

As a brilliant naval commander and guerilla fighter, the exiled Garibaldi fought against oppression in South America before returning to Italy to lead a major but abortive uprising in Rome in 1848. He escaped once again but returned to conquer Sicily and the south of Italy in 1860 with a nuclear 1,000 volunteers who on landing swelled into a massive force that began to sweep northward.

Cool heads prevailed
Another champion of a united Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, King of Piedmont and Sardinia, fed by fears that Garibaldi would lead a socialist republic, began to match southward. The two armies met at Teano, not far from Naples.

Although a diehard liberal republican and in the knowledge that his own loyal forces were spoiling for a fight, Garibaldi made a historic decision.. To preserve peace, he ceded to Victor Emmanuel who. at least ruled a constitutional monarchy with its own parliament. With the exception of the Papal States and Venice Italy was now a geographic entity; Pope Pius IX’s forces capitulated ten years later and Italy was finally united geographically.

Garibaldi was revered by others than his own countrymen. In England enthusiasm for the Italian patriot reached hero-worship levels, while in many South American countries, Garibaldi statues and street names still bear witness to his memory. His own personal ideals went beyond that of a united Italy to hope for an eventual federation of free, sovereign nations.

Heck, I nearly got ito the whole thing, but just in time, remembered my striving for brevity. Before this anniversary year is over watch out for a blogroll with my illustrated profile of Giuseppe Garibaldi whose choice for peace over conflict paved the way for the Italy that we know today.

Comments are closed.