Armando Diaz, the general who saved Italy and loved American Indians

by Federico Quagliuolo

When you appoint Armando Diaz, you immediately think of the Great War, perhaps associating to his figure the "classic" personality of a ferocious, severe and cunning general forged by hardship on the battlefields. Mistaken. Diaz was a great scholar, which he worked most of his life in office. A strategist who, against all odds, managed to turn the tide of a war by thinking above all of rebuilding the morale of the troops.
But let's go in order.

Family tradition, was born in Naples, in a palace of the Cavone, during the conquest of Garibaldi with a surname, that Diaz sounding like this Spanish, which recalls the deeds of some ancient conquistador of the Americas. Grandfather was a senior officer by Ferdinand II; the father a highly esteemed one Bourbon admiral and his first Neapolitan ancestors were very faithful officers of that Spanish nobility who frequented the court of Charles of Bourbon.

Armando Diaz monumento
The monument to Armando Diaz on the seafront

A story of office battles

Armando was born in times of revolutions: Garibaldi had recently declared the fall of the Bourbons and Vittorio Emanuele II was about to enter, triumphant, in Naples. In a period like this tormented, while Naples was beginning one of the most troubled periods of its history, while the very young Diaz grew up reading the exploits of the great Indian leaders that resisted the American army.
Thanks to his good family, he could also afford imported products. At 15 he read, devoured, newspapers and books who, like a deferred chronicle, arrived in the old port of Naples with the American merchant ships: he dreamed of the battle of Little Big Horn, he thought at the end of General Custer and to the victory of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. I continue to study the Indian-American affairs even when he started school at the Nunziatella.

Released from military school, quickly climbed the top of military institutions: he left for various campaigns, but in Libya he was wounded to one shoulder and spent most of his life At the office, studying and admiring the general Pollio, his compatriot, at the helm of the General Staff. He was never distinguished by daring or courageous deeds, than his colleague Luigi Cadorna, who was instead an iron man, who became famous for his "decimations“, A cruel practice used by the generals of ancient Rome: it consisted in killing one soldier at random for every 10 in the brigade, in order to punish any acts subversive.

1917, however, he saw yet another disastrous defeat of Cadorna under the blows of the highly organized Austrian army. The morale of the Italian troops was in pieces and, having revoked the assignment to the Piedmontese general, the command of the General Staff to Armando Diaz, among many perplexity of politicians: why nominate a moderate man? Why not impose order and discipline on a weak, straggling, hopeless army?

Armando Diaz Generale
Armando Diaz in the guise of a general

A general attentive to the morale of the troops

Armando Diaz he was famous for his own humanity and for his methods too frank and cordial to be those of a military man. Indeed, at the front, he spoke in Neapolitan to cheer up the terrified southern soldiers, peasants torn from their lands who, for reasons unknown to them, they found themselves struggling with death as they sank into the mud of the Alps with the cardboard boots.

Kept repeating that war is won with men and not only with strategies and it was his own care for the military, combined with an undoubted tactical ability, which, according to many historians, led Italy to an epochal victory against the Austrians.

There, Armando Diaz became a hero for the soldiers and for the Italian people. After the war, while Northern Italy was now reduced to rubble, occupied the highest management roles at the request of Vittorio Emanuele III, but, after the advent of fascism and a couple of years as a minister of war, he retired to private life disgusted with politics. However, the image of Diaz could not fail to be courted by the fascist hierarchs and, precisely for this reason, a personal title was even created for him: the Duke of Victory.

Armando Diaz indiano
Armando Diaz in traditional Indian clothing

Armando Diaz meets the Indians

And only in old age, like a child who sees make his dreams come true, the Neapolitan conquistador in 1921 traveled to America for the inauguration of the World War I memorial and, on that occasion, it was crowned and welcomed by indian tribe of the Crow as a brother, a comrade in arms: at fifteen the young Armando dreamed of participate in the battles of the American Indians, at sixty, with a world war behind him, it was appointed general of one of the last surviving tribes to the American ferocity.

A romantic general, a war gentleman, a crossroads of history: the Spaniard who loved the American Indians, the Neapolitan who saved Italy.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Isnenghi, Rochat, The Great War, Il Mulino Editore, Bologna, 2014
Armando Diaz, The Duke of Victory

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