Sign in | Log in

PBS “Italian Americans” Documentary Perpetuates Garibaldi Myth … Poor Donna Gabaccia – “Sandbagged” or OMG! she doesn’t know?!?

PBS “Italian Americans” Documentary Perpetuates Garibaldi Myth … Poor Donna Gabaccia – “Sandbagged” or OMG! she doesn’t know?!?

Tom Verso (April 2, 2015)

Is there any Euro-American people so systematically denied their European history and heritage as the southern-Italian Americans? Surely, not the American progeny of England, Ireland, France, Germany, Greece, etc. Southern-Italian Americans are not only systematically denied the history of their Patria Meridionale. Nay More! They are systematically Misled about their European history. /// /// For example, the recent Public Television Series “The Italian Americans”: a four-hour (240 minute) documentary with 5 minutes and twenty seconds devoted to what the “vecchi” use to call “the old country.” (see: 8:40 to 14:00 on the first hour tape) /// /// Admittedly, there was no reason to expect more. The stated theme of the documentary was “The Italian Experience in America”. Accordingly, the ‘same-O’ ‘same-O’ stories we have all hear time and again about poverty, prejudices, hard work, family, we're not all gangsters, but a lot of good singers, etc. etc. etc. In short, Mario Cuomo’s renowned “callused hands” speech put to film. /// /// Worst than ignoring our European history; what little such history is presented is a gross misrepresentation of reality. With the exception of Tom Santopietro’s 17 seconds between 11:48 and 12:05 on the first hour tape, who said: “… to southern Italians, Garibaldi was just another invader instead of from another country it was from the north of Italy and the north Italian government did nothing for the southern Italian peasants” /// ///Actually Tom is mistaken here; the northern Italian invaders did much for the southern Italian peasants … All BAD! They inflicted physical and economic pain far greater than any foreign invaders ever did and certainly more than the Bourbon Kings of “The Two Sicilies” ever did (see e.g. Dickie’s “Darkest Italy”; Smith’s “Modern Sicily”; Gilmour’s “Pursuit of Italy”). There was no history of mass emigration from the South until the northern colonization. Garibaldi et al not only did not liberate, but in fact created the conditions of de facto forced migrations. /// /// Nevertheless, PBS viewers were treated to standard Garibaldi mythology. To wit: Garibaldi came as a liberator, he wanted democracy for all Italians, he and his 1,000 men defeated the Bourbon army in Sicily and the Mezzogiorno and unified Italy. /// //// Significantly and curiously, even Donna Gabaccia got in on the act. Unlike the vast majority of Italian American scholars who hail from the language and literature curriculums, and therefore lack historiographic acumen; Ms. Gabaccia is a hardcore, social scientific number cruncher and past president of the Social SCIENCE History Association. It is hard to believe that a social scientific historian would lend herself to the blatant Garibaldi mythology. I can’t help but wonder if she is a victim of film editors taking her out of context. Thomas DiLorenzo an Abraham Lincoln scholar reported that the History Channel once interviewed him for one and a half hours. Then used 20 seconds in a documentary that made him look as though he held positions that absolutely contradicted his own. Did the same happen to Prof. Gabaccia? Did she get ‘Sandbagged”? I hope so! If not the likes of her, who will bring our European reality to us?


 As with past American presidents, on any given day of President Obama’s administration, the United States has bombed one or more of seven countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Syria).

An unimaginable volume of explosives, killing and maiming unknowable numbers of people, destroying incredible amounts of property at enormous expense to the American working class have been and continue to be ordered by a Noble PEACE Prize winning President.

Surely exceeding the volume of bombs is the volume of documents generated in the form of political speeches, talking-head commentary and typing finger analysis attesting to the high moral virtue of such bombings. 
For at least 200 years, the nations of Western society have relentlessly engaged in war in the name of peace, freedom and justice, and against aggression, tyranny, communism, fascism, terrorism, etc. Again, the documentary evidence supporting such high moral contentions is overwhelming.
No sooner than a given war ends, ‘court-historians’ are pressed into service writing the histories of war based on ‘authoritative source documents’ such as the political speeches, talking head commenters and typing finger analyst proving that the war was fought for high moral purposes.
Accordingly, when the next war presents itself, the politicians cite the court-historians of the previous war as evidence of the need to go to war in order to preserve the peace and protect the people from tyranny and terrorism.
So the mainstream war / history cycle continues.
However, during and after every war, there are a few ‘outsider’ historians who don’t treat speeches, commentary and analysis in a biblical sense of indubitable truth. Rather, they critique the documents in an effort to ascertain the extent to which, what’s reported and contended is consistent with actual reality.
Thus, for example, a critical historian in the future might notice that all the countries bombed during the Obama administration were either oil producing countries (e.g. Libya), oil pipeline countries (e.g. Afghanistan) or oil sea-lane countries (e.g. Yemen). Those historians may wonder if there may be ulterior economic motives for the bombing; i.e. reasons other than peace and justice.
Further, they might notice a parallel of the Obama bombing era with English history. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century England was virtually in a constant state of war: “French & Indian War”, “Anglo-Sikh War”; “Zulu Wars”; “Anglo-Afghanistan War”; “Mahdist War”; “Anglo-Chinese (aka Opium) Wars”; “Boer Wars”; and many other wars.
All of these wars, literally all over the world, vast distances from England against people who were no physical threat to England, were politically, journalistically and historically justified as efforts to bring the benefits of civilization to the ‘great unwashed’ primitive people of the world. In short, per volumes of English, political, mass-media and academic documents, the defeated and conquered people benefited from the English invasions.
Consider, for example the 1997 “Farewell speech” read by the Prince of Wales on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II at the British ceremony celebrating the handover of Hong Kong control to the Chinese. She said:
“…the Union Flag will be lowered and the flag of China will fly over Hong Kong. More than a century and a half of British administration will come to an end.
“During that time …Britain is both proud and privileged to have been involved with this success story. Proud of the British values and institutions that have been the framework for Hong Kong's success. Proud of the rights and freedoms which Hong Kong people enjoy.
In short, the Chinese have been luck and fortunate to have been militarily defeated in the Opium Wars and fortunate to have been a British Colony for a hundred and fifty years. Similarly, of course, the militarily defeated and colonized people of India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, etc. were equally fortunate.
However, historians who do not blindly accept the vast library of “politically correct” court history documents justifying the English wars of domination on moral high grounds, notice that coincidentally, the English perpetrators of the wars (i.e. the English Aristocracy) accumulated an enormous amount of wealth from the Empire on which “the sun never set”. Such aristocratic wealth recent dramatically depicted on the PBS series Downton Abby. Albeit, consistent with the Queen’s message to the people of Hong Kong, PBS showed the kindly and loving aristocrats for whom the English working class were lucky to be serving … ‘yasaboss’.
Similarly, when southern-Italian Americans encounter histories of their European heritage, such as the recent Public Television Series “The Italian Americans”, they are informed of the high moral principles that motivated the Piedmontese to invade the South. (see video:
Thus, for example, the narrator says:
“In 1860 in hopes of riding the peninsula of foreign rulers Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi began a military campaign to create a new republic (10:49 on tape)
Than Donna Gabaccia, acting in the role of court historian, says:
“Garibaldi wanted an Italy to be unified as what we would think of as a democracy with representative government. (11:00 on tape)
This ‘court historiography’ of high moral motivations of Garibaldi et al, ignores such fact as:
- the NOT-foreign Piedmont General Garibaldi was born and raised in Nice and never wavered in his loyalty (devotion) to his Piedmont/Savoy King Victor Emmanuel II.
- the NOT-foreign King Victor Emmanuel II’s father Charles Albert was educated in Paris and Geneva and his mother was the Archduchess of Austria.
- the NOT-foreign King Victor Emmanuel II’s first and primary language was French, and his broken northern Italian dialect was a regular embarrassment to his Prime Minister when in the presence of foreign dignitaries.
- the NOT-foreign bureaucrats of the NOT-foreign King regularly said that “Italy ends at the Garigliano”, and southern Italians and Sicilians were Africans (i.e. NOT-Italian) with all the pejorative racist connotations implied. 
- the NOT-foreign Army of the NOT-foreign King conducted itself in the virtual Africa, feeling no compunction about brutalizing the people of southern Italy, as the English did in the real Africa, because the people were “unwashed” and racially inferior.
The PBS narrator goes on to add absurdity to the ridicules. He says:
“… in battles throughout southern Italy Garibaldi and his band of 1,000 volunteers confronted the much better equipped Bourbon army …(11:11 on tape) … by 1861 Garibaldi had forced the Bourbon rulers to leave the country for good .. (11:33 on tape)
The fact of the matter is that Garibaldi’s 1,000 was an expeditionary force sent to organize the Sicilian guerrilla fighters and give the Piedmont King plausible deniability that he invaded a Europan country in violation of the 1815 Vienna Accords, if the expedition failed. In the months after the fall of Palermo, which involve thousands more Sicilians than Garibaldi’s 1,000, twenty-one thousand "freedom loving liberatoring" Northerners poured into Sicily for the siege of Messina. After Messina fell, the Piedmont King tore the fig leaf off of the notion that Garibaldi (a Piedmont Army General) was an independent operative. War was de facto declared on the Two Sicilies and the Piedmont Army came in mass.
After the “liberation of the Southerners”, still more NOT-foreign Piedmont armies came to fight the Southerners who did not feel so liberated. Guerrilla war raged though out the South and Sicily against the Not-foreign Piedmontese. The viciousness and unspeakable brutality of the Not-foreign Piedmont "freedom loving liberators" is well documented (e.g. Dickie’s “Darkest Italy”, etc. etc. etc.).
By 1870, the Not-foreign Piedmontese army crushed the rebellions and liberation of the South came to mean liberation to migrate. Thus began the emigration of millions and continued unabated for over fifty years until in 1922 the United States refused to take any more liberated Mezzogiorni and Sicilians. One wonders if the US had not stop the immigration, if the whole of the Mezzogiorno and Sicily would have been emptied of liberated people.
In short, PBS court history would have southern-Italian Americans believe:
The born, breed and raised Piedmont Army general Garibaldi, who repeatedly stated his absolute allegiance to the Piedmont King, along with a Piedmont Army that eventually grew to the hundreds of thousands; conquering, subjugating and inflicting massive physical and economic pain on our ancestors in the Mezzogiorno and Sicily, suffering and pain unheard of during the ‘foreign’ Bourbon reign;
all this was done in an effort to bring “liberty” and “representative government” to the people South of Rome.
Southern-Italian Americans who believe this court history should stay away from bridge salesmen.
Sadly this mythology vis-a-vis the ‘real history’ of the Piedmont invasion is not know to the southern-Italian American people. Tragically we have more singers than (non-court) historians.

DISCLAIMER: Posts published in i-Italy are intended to stimulate a debate in the Italian and Italian-American Community and sometimes deal with controversial issues. The Editors are not responsible for, nor necessarily in agreement with the views presented by individual contributors.
This work may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission.
Questo lavoro non può essere riprodotto, in tutto o in parte, senza permesso scritto.