Brief Thoughts on the Arditi

This is a small excerpt from an upcoming paper. I just love the Arditi. They, along with the Decima Mas and Brigate Nere of the RSI, are the best examples of what a fascist man is supposed to be: courageous, strong, proud, violent, and honorable.

In a pre-war attack on Socialist and bourgeois neutralists, Mussolini explained that the general population’s will to passivism and to scorning military duty was symptomatic of the cowardice and economic rationality of liberalism. War, he said, had less to do with economics and race hatred – as the Socialists argued – than with will, courage, duty, and extreme love.[1] “The purely economic man does not exist,” he said, before adding that those who believe in such a creature will be seen by history as accomplices in the destruction of Italy’s (and man’s) greatest and most noble traditions.[2]

After the war, hardened by trench warfare on the Carso plateau, Mussolini and the other founders of fascism, many of them members of the arditi (The Bold) shock troops, conceived of the militant anti-liberal movement in direct contradistinction from the weakness of the typical Italian and the liberal state. The arditi played a central role in this, so much so that without them, some scholars claim, fascism would have never even been born.[3] The arditi were modern warfare’s first shock troops. Their sole purpose on the Austrian front was to break the stalemates frequent in trench warfare. To do this, they used small speedy groups, daggers, flamethrowers, and grenades; but, as their name suggests, boldness and audacity were their greatest weapons.

The arditi were selected from the infantrymen already fighting on the warfront, provided they had brothers or male heirs. They were trained in the previously mentioned weapons, but faced rigorous screening techniques – such as training under fire of live ammunition – designed to test courage and confidence.[4] Running, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, and “dagger combat” subsidized the arditi military training, which also contained a fair amount of indoctrination.[5] Classical literature, Greek and Roman mythology, and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra are known to have been used to inspire the arditi, a fact promoted by the army to dispel rumors that it was creating a band of murderous thugs.[6]

Indeed the “Ten Commandments of the Ardito” provide much fuel for the legend of the arditi (they remain central to the heroic ideology of contemporary Italian fascism). Commandment Two is a case-in-point: “To win, numbers and weapons do not count: above all discipline and boldness are the sole values. Discipline is the most beautiful and the highest moral force; boldness is the cold, firm will to demonstrate to the enemy your superiority, whenever and wherever”.[7] The other commandments are of the same spirit, and are peppered with such words as courage, loyalty, strength, beauty, violence, cleverness, attack, and terror. “You are the best example of the genius of our people,” the ardito is told.[8]

With their proven military, physical, and ethical virtue, the arditi provided Mussolini and fascism with muscle, as well as a model of the Italians’ capacity to become new (fascist) men. “One courageous man is worth a hundred men,” they demonstrated with their vitality and audacity.[9] For Mussolini, though, the lesson of the arditi transcended the war. He saw in them an example of the corollary relationship between bodily strength and virtue, and he decided early in his role as Duce of Fascism to transform the weak and decadent bodies and minds of the Italian people.

[1] Benito Mussolini, Mussolini as Revealed in His Political Speeches, November 1914-August 1923, trans. Barone Bernardo Quaranta di San Severino (London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1923), pgs. 10-13

[2] Mussolini Speeches 11.

[3] Paul Baxa, Roads and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), pgs. 17-18.

[4] Angelo L. Pirocchi, Italian Arditi: Elite Assault Troops, 1917-1920 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2004), pgs. 19-24.

[5] Pirocchi 25.

[6] Pirocchi 56.

[7] Translated from an original document in the author’s collection.

[8] From Commandment Ten.

[9] From Commandment Six.

2 thoughts on “Brief Thoughts on the Arditi

  1. Greetings Mark,

    excellent article, many thanks.
    You quote from the “Ten Commandments of the Ardito”, and mention in your notes that you have a copy in your personal collection,is it possible that you could make available to the wider audience a text or pdf version of all of the commandments here on your blog?
    It would be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks, and keep it coming,

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