The poets and the World War: "This is no case of petty Right or Wrong" by Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas (1878 - 1917)
War poet, late poet. The meeting with poetry for the Welsh poet Edward Thomas happens only in 1914, three years before his death in action, during the Battle of Arras on the 9th of April. The poem we propose today is  a good example, a helpful start if we think of approaching the problem of patriotism before, during and even after the First World War. It seems Thomas wrote This is no case of petty Right or Wrong after a blazing altercation with his father, a person showing a strong yet common disdain of Germans. What is interesting today in these lines is the (modern) patriotism they are inspired by, without resembling a patriotic poem like many others we know. It seams there is a second new way of being patriotic without following the guidelines of politicians and newspapers. It is a new, personal, sincere patriotism far from populism. In our opinion this poem can be considered as a third way differentiated from intervention and neutrality in World War One (up to a point, we think there might some points of contact between this position and the one of Renato Serra). Before leaving you to this poem, we would like only to point out the remarkable metaphor of England as the phoenix.


This is no case of petty right or wrong
That politicians or philosophers
Can judge. I hate not Germans, nor grow hot
With love of Englishmen, to please newspapers.
Beside my hate for one fat patriot
My hatred of the Kaiser is love true:–
A kind of god he is, banging a gong.
But I have not to choose between the two,
Or between justice and injustice. Dinned
With war and argument I read no more
Than in the storm smoking along the wind
Athwart the wood. Two witches' cauldrons roar.
From one the weather shall rise clear and gay;
Out of the other an England beautiful
And like her mother that died yesterday.
Little I know or care if, being dull,
I shall miss something that historians
Can rake out of the ashes when perchance
The phoenix broods serene above their ken.
But with the best and meanest Englishmen
I am one in crying, God save England, lest
We lose what never slaves and cattle blessed.
The ages made her that made us from dust:
She is all we know and live by, and we trust
She is good and must endure, loving her so:
And as we love ourselves we hate her foe.

Novels of the Great War: "Contro-passato prossimo" ("Past Conditional: A Retrospective Hypothesis") by Guido Morselli

Today novel is one of the few Guido Morselli’s books that has been translated into English. People outside Italy cannot count on a full range of translations from this writer who lived between 1912 and 1973, the year when he committed suicide after many rejections of his manuscripts. Contro-passato prossimo. Un'ipotesi retrospettiva was first released by the Italian publisher Adelphi. An English translation by Hugh Shankland is available with the tiltle Past Conditional: A Retrospective Hypothesis. Incidentally we would like to inform our French readers that the novel was translated also into French (Le Passé à venir, translation by Dominique Hauser). This is an atypical World War I novel, so distant from the ones we wrote about in the past months. Why atypical? Before leaving you with some insights on the plot, we would like to list a series of key points that no other novel, as far as we know, can show. 1) It is a book generated decades after the end of the war and far from the anniversary mood that can distort the real artistic result of a work of fiction (still today we can think that some novels appearing in these years suffer from their fulsome "anniversary mood"); 2) like the subtitle states, it’s a “retrospective hypothesis”, that is like saying that is something extremely far from what happened in the reality of warfare (but not so far from what could have happened); 3) the counterfactual strategy is full of consequences and has a great impact on the study of history (it’s not true, like everybody here in Italy keeps on saying, that is not possible to approach history with a counterfactual narration; beside of that the new story starting with a strong and big “if” and by turning upside down the facts can be full of consequences for our reasoning); 4) what can the result of such strategy be in the hands (in the pen) of one of the 20th century highest talented Italian writers?

So, what happens if the war was won by the Central Empires and not by the Triple Entente plus the disloyal Italy? This is basically the plot of Past Conditional: A Retrospective Hypothesis
What is the masterpiece of engineer that allows the Austrians to flood rapidly the northern Italian valleys and the rest of the country changing forever the evolution of war and the future development of European politics? Where does this strategy come from? In other words, who is the author of this ingenious logistic plan called Edelweiss Expedition? And what comes later in a new European scenario where Walther Rathenau is the leader? And what about Russia and Lenin, Italy and Giolitti? As far as we know, this novel by Guido Morselli is an almost unique case of counterfactual history applied to the First World War years and able to enlarge its heuristic value to history itself. We can read it is as a totally renewed strategy and a deep revision of the historical novel which goes straight against fatalism, determinism and, at the end, against historicism.

The Great War on the big screen. An exhibition in Trento

We would like to thank Luca Giuliani, curator with Patrizia Marchesoni, Luca Caracristi and Roberta Tait, for sharing with us the main information related to this Italian exhibition dedicated to cinematographic representation of the Great War on the big screen. Visitors can walk and watch along the special layout developed in the 300 meter Black Gallery location in Trento. All this compelling project was feasible thanks to the cooperation among Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin, Cineteca del Friuli, Cineteca Nazionale of Rome, Istituto Luce, Rai Storia and hosted in this very special location of Museo Storico del Trentino. More than 70 titles coming from Washington, Belgrade, Paris and Wien are here available (some previously unpublished). The introduction of the brochure states: "The years of the Great War (1914-1918) coincide with the birth of cinematographic language. To propose an exhibition that examines the relationship between World War I and cinematography also means to tackle the more disquieting aspects of modernity. This approach has generated authoritative historical interpretations of the last decades, and the layout of this exhibition illustrates the outcomes based on a set of comparisons. Different images, themes and points of view are set side by side in analogy or in contrast so as to highlight the areas of ambiguity and of contradiction typical of history and its representations. At the core of this tale the exhibition has left the protagonists, namely the men, the individuals who interacted with the masses and with other individuals, with the destruction and with the technology." 

More information and a precious overview on the titles can be found in the exhition's *.PDF leaflet that you can view and/or download here. 

Trento - Piedicastello, Spazio espositivo “Le Gallerie”
From July, 28 2014 to June 14, 2015
Tuesday to Sunday 9.00 - 18.00; closed on Monday
Free entrance
Fondazione Museo Storico del Trentino 
+39 0461 230482 |

A Cultural History of the Soldier in Europe 1800-2014 (Call for contributions)

A single war is not an island, even if it is a local war, even if it's a war of many years ago and even if it's the First World War, that is to say the first war the world itself recognizes as huge and global. For example it's not wise to forget the Franco-Prussian war while studying the bigger war occurring 45 years later in the same areas. This means that a long, wide perspective is a support and for this and other reasons we would like to highlight the project of this informal workshop and its uncustomary and long time frame. Before sharing with you text of this call, that according to our standpoint is remarkable for its introduction, a special thanks is addressed to Dr Ian Roberts, German Studies, School of Modern Languages and Cultures at University of Warwick. 

Imaging War – Imagining the Nation
A Cultural History of the Soldier in Europe 1800-2014

Call for contributions to an informal workshop to be held at the University of Warwick, 29-31 May 2015 organised by Dr Ian Roberts (Warwick) and Dr Andrew Plowman (Liverpool)

Images of conflict and of soldiers engaged in conflict have featured in European cultural thought since the inception of the modern nation-state. The representation of a nation’s fighting soldiers has played a critical role in establishing national identity: in poetry, literature and fine art, and more recently in film and TV productions, the way that nations and societies have chosen to depict conflict, and particularly the soldiers engaged in conflict, sheds light on the ways that these societies would like to be regarded – a form of national/military imaginary which is heavily dependent on concepts of ‘the other’, constructions of heroism, notions of humanitarianism or fair play, and other socially-determined qualities.

More recently the protracted ‘War on Terror’ has seen a new phenomenon emerge as European nations – now wrestling with cynical, post-colonial populations which have become over-saturated with images of conflicts in remote locations – seek to represent their soldiers as honourable peace-keepers, even as their forces have become embroiled in wars in all but name. The cultural response within these societies has been markedly different across Europe, ranging from overwhelming support of the soldiers even as the war is opposed, through to outright rejection of these men and women and even denial that war is even taking place. In a contrast to the imagery of smart weaponry and surgical strikes which dominated the first Gulf War of the 1990s, however, the embodies experience of soldiering has returned squarely to such engagement with the topic as there has been.

‘Imaging War – Imagining the Soldier’ seeks to provide a preliminary and informal forum for academics working in a wide range of disciplines who are variously investigating aspects of cultural depictions of soldiers in Europe, both from a historical and contemporary perspective. Areas of relevance may include War and Historical Studies, Sociology, Art History and Film Studies, and Literary and Cultural Studies in Britain in European Languages. The workshop format will allow for the presentation of both finished papers, or early work in progress, on any topic covered by the broad subject area. It will include time for delegates to discuss informally and in plenary how this hitherto relatively under-researched area might be developed into a research network, incorporating input from the European militaries, as well as poets, novelists, journalists and filmmakers, in order to convene a major international conference on the subject in the near future.

The aims of the workshop are:
- to bring together academics working across a range of disciplines in order to identify points of collaboration;
- to examine the changing representations of combat soldiers in European cultures;
- to consider how contemporary conflicts have impacted on European cultural expression;
- to determine how literary, artistic and cinematic representations contribute to a cultural history of the soldier in European art, literature and the visual media ca. 1800-present;
- to devise a framework for future collaboration between academics and members of the European military and creative arts communities.

The workshop will centre around two themed panels. Panel 1 will consider the changing face of the European soldier over history, with foci possibly including (but not limited to) the armies of the early modern nation-state, the Napoleonic Wars, post-colonial wars and the World Wars and the Cold War period. Panel 2 will cover European representations of soldiers engaged in contemporary conflict, most notably the ongoing War on Terror. Proposals for informal papers/outlines of work in progress lasting approx. 15-20 mins should be submitted by no later than 27 March 2015: proposals should be 200 words long, plus a short biographical statement. Please submit to Ian Roberts ( and Andrew Plowman (

Finally, discussions will centre around the subsequent formation of a research network covering some, or all of the above, with a view to organising a full conference which will bring together academics, military personnel and members of journalism and the creative arts from around Europe. The organisers intend to seek guest editorship of a relevant journal in order to showcase the event and to provide a springboard for a future conference once the network has been fully established.

Informal enquiries to Ian and Andrew are welcome. We hope to be able to offer some support to postgraduate students. The event will be supported by the University of Warwick and the University of Liverpool

The Great War in the drawings of Lorenzo Viani and in the photos of Guido Zeppini. The exhibition in Viareggio

There will still be time until the 12th of April to visit the double exhibition hosted in the recently restored Liberty Villa Argentina (in the sea town of Viareggio, Italy), with the works of the painter Lorenzo Viani and the photos of Guido Zeppini. Two artists mean a double opportunity to get closer to the Great War through different "media" in the same location. On one side you have Lorenzo Viani, considered an important representative of the Italian expressionism and on the other you can meet the interesting photographies of the Captain and doctor Guido Zeppini. This is just a reminder of the extension of this successful exhibition that was supposed to end last Sunday, the 1st of March, and a link to a meaningful gallery with some pictures of the works here temporary lodged.

"La Grande Guerra di Lorenzo Viani. Viareggio-Parigi-Il Carso. 
Pittura e fotografia della Grande Guerra in Lorenzo Viani e Guido Zeppini"
From 06 December to 12 April 2015
Viareggio (Lucca, Italy) - Villa Argentina
Curator: Enrico Dei
Free entrance - Opening time: 10 - 13; 15:30 - 18:30
+39 0583 417486-87

The First World War in the drawings of the Italian painter Giuseppe Cominetti

If you chance to travel in the Venice area and in the province of Padua in particular (in this case the village is Piazzola sul Brenta, one of the many nice places along that riverside filled with an unbelievable heritage of Venetian Villas) you may take into consideration a stop at Villa Contarini for the recently opened exhibition dedicated to the war drawings of Giuseppe Cominetti. The inauguration was on the 21st of February and there will be time up to the 2nd of June (public holiday in Italy) to visit this event. Giuseppe Cominetti (1882 - 1930) was a divisionist artist and later protagonist of a short and shy participation to Futurism, the movement founded by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. The link was possible also thanks to Cominetti's long stay in Paris, where Marinetti ended to establish his "headquarter" and loud megaphone. The war's outset, far from being a total stalemate for Cominetti's art, turned into an unexpected possibility to investigate new paths of his sign. The Villa Contarini exhibition follows 85 years later the one in Teatro Quirino in Rome, projected in full development of the Fascism in Italy and close to the artist's death. Today we are probably free of that kind of bombast used to describe his work; his drawings taken first in the Ardennes then in the Monte Grappa where he volunteered can be approached with a different state of mind, as a powerful new testimony of warfare, different from the one we get with photography or videos. The layout of the exhibition gathers 80 works obtained with pencil and oil based chalk on pounce paper.

"Istanti dal fronte. La Prima guerra mondiale nei disegni di Giuseppe Cominetti"
Curator: Beatrice Buscaroli Fabbri
Villa Contarini - Piazzola sul Brenta (PD) - Italy
From Feb. 21 to June 2 2015
Opening time: 10-18 (closed on Wednesday)
Free entrance - - T. +39.049.8778272 - 73