heat and thirst by day, cold and hunger by night . . . exhausting vigils, extreme marches, and fighting at every step


Suddenly you are looking in his eyes. Officially, they’re brown, but for you they’ll always be blue. He is speaking in a soft, seductive voice. Glory if you follow, eternal shame if you don’t. Rome or Death. In a moment, your destiny shifts. Incredibly, you have volunteered. You are given a red shirt, an obsolete rifle, a bayonet. You are taught to sing a hymn full of antique rhetoric recalling a magnificent past, foreseeing a triumphant future. You learn to march at night in any weather and over the most rugged terrain, to sleep on the bare ground, to forgo regular meals, to charge under fire at disciplined men in uniform. You learn to kill with your bayonet. You see your friends killed. You grow familiar with the shrieks of the wounded, the stench of corpses. If you turn tail in battle, you will be shot. Those are his orders. If you loot, you will be shot. You write enthusiastic letters home. You have discovered patriotism and comradeship. You have been welcomed by cheering crowds, kissed by admiring young women. Italy will be restored to greatness. From Sicily to the Alps, your country will be free. Then, with no warning, it’s over. A politician has not kept faith. An armistice has been signed. Your leader is furious. You hardly understand. Rome is still a dream. Your group disbanded, you receive nothing: no money, no respect, no help in finding work. But, years later, when he calls again, you go. You will follow him to your death.

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