The Legacy of the Italian Resistance: Philip Cooke

Panelists: Philip Cooke, Elena Aga Rossi, Luca de Caprariis, Federigo Argentieri

On Monday, November 28th, the Guarini Institute screened a chapter from The History of Italy by Istituto Luce, as a historical background of the Resistance.

After the screening, Professor Argentieri introduced the evening lecture and the speakers, specialists on the Italian Resistance. Philip Cooke’s book, The Legacy of the Italian Resistance, provides an interpretation of the movement in the decades following World War II.

Dr. Cooke began the introduction of his study wiThe Legacy of the Italian Resistanceth an explanation of the book cover. The cover shows two street signs that are perpendicular to each other. One says “XXV Aprile” and the other “Via della Republica.” (The 25th of April is the symbolic date of Italy’s victory over fascism.) The aim of his book is to show how the Resistance influenced the Italian Republic over different periods of time. The books’ chapters are divided into the following periods; 1945-1948, 1948-1955, 1955-1960, 1960-1970, 1970-1989, and up to the present day. He incorporates different genres such as literature, short stories, songs, films and monuments that are about the Resistance and analyzes their perspective in each time period.

Instead of going chapter by chapter through the various time periods, Dr. Cooke showed the audience a few images that are part, or he wishes that were part, of the book. Many were snap shots from the film Rome Open City, which reflected the horrors of fascism and the strength of a few good men.

Dr. Cooke also pointed out a famous quote by Pietro Calamandrei – “Ora e Sempre Resistenza”. This is meant to show the strength and unity of the Resistance. (A question about how much the Resistance was actually unified was brought up later during the discussion of the book.) During his presentation, he also showed a poster that describes the Resistance as the “Secondo Risorgimento.” This has become a “hot topic” with scholars today, with the 150th anniversary of the Risorgimento. Dr. Cooke went on to describe graffiti as a way of showing a different point of view of interpretation the Resistance.

Elena Aga Rossi described the book as not only focusing on interdisciplinary topics but also incorporating the impact on Italian life. There became a problem of legitimacy as the war materialized and two competing Italian States emerged, the North vs. the South. This made it very difficult to have a clear historical interpretation of the resistance.

The new Italian Republic found its legitimacy in the Resistance, therefore creating a myth that very few Italians were fascist or communist. This leads into another issue of the unification of the Resistance participants because there were communists, monarchists, liberals etc. The third issue that Rossi deemed important was the lack of credit given to the Allies, who in fact liberated Italy when they arrived on April 21st, not the partisans.

Luca de Caprariis agrees with Rossi on this point. He believes there is a problem with consensus both within the Resistance movement and those reading and writing about it years after. Caprariis kindly critiqued that although Cooke did analyze fascism, he did not provide a sufficient background of it. He also questioned the validity of comparing the Resistance as a Secondo Risorgimento.

Dr. Cooke answered these comments and critiques by saying that his book is not intended to be a reconstruction of the history between 1943 and 1945, or to answer questions of the Allies’ role. He explained that his book attempts to look at the nature of the debates that discuss the armed resistance topic. Dr. Cooke examined this one topic throughout the first and second republic, all the while not simply discussing various topics and then providing his point of view but rather showing different points of view; in his own words, “perhaps at the expense of other topics.” As for the unity of Resistance myth, he was grateful to Rossi for suggesting it but said he was not given space given by his publisher.

A very brief question and answer section followed with Father James McCann, Adviser to the Guarini Institute. Asked About the role of professional historians when dealing with issues such as politics and memory, Dr. Cooke answered that in the specific case of Italy and the Resistance, there exists a general problem of communication between the general public and the historians. The historians will write books over 600 pages that people buy and put on their shelves pretending to have read them. As for the historian, the main issue is getting the archival text and then interpreting it. The texts are subjective so it is impossible for the historian to be objective.