In recent years, we’ve witnessed a slow breakdown of Italian military institutions. It’s a crisis that affects the whole of Europe but in Italy, has consequences that reflect on the dignity of the army environment. The most worrying data related to the investment which, with Italian Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta, has reached an all-time low. All these problems stir up troubles in the military circle: what’s being questioned is the identity of the soldier himself. The traditional view of the soldier trained to make war is disappearing: today, the Italian government prefers to see its military engaged primarily for the public asset.

Op-Ed: Where Does the Italian Army Go?
(Photo: Esercito Italiano/Difesa)

For example, Operation “Safe Street” (Strade Sicure), pictured above, engages the army in tasks such as maintaining public order by assisting law enforcement officers. Historically, this is an anomaly, because the army engagement for citizens’ safety is always the ultimate ratio. The time spent on the cities’ streets is taken away from drills and training camps. According to many military experts, this initiative weakens the army’s ability to operate.

A few months ago, Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi requested the use of the military’s engineers to repair the streets of the city: specialized military units to cover the asphalt holes! On 25 April—Italy’s Liberation Day, which commemorates the end of Nazi occupation in Italy during World War II—a representative of the Italian Partisans National Association (Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d’ Italia, or ANPI) publicly accused the army of killing innocent people in Afghanistan.

An army general, present for the day’s events, defended his honor and that of his men. The charges were intolerable: not only for the militaries but especially for the Italian authorities. What was the reply of the defense minister? Instead of defending this representative, she considered it more appropriate to initiate an investigation against him!

Op-Ed: Where Does the Italian Army Go?
(Photo: Esercito Italiano/Difesa)

Minister Trenta, above, is the selected reserve’s officer, but it’s not enough to wear the uniform for a few months to be a good minister. It’s a typical Italic defect to assess skills by relying only on appearance or political color. In the various specialized magazine, some retired generals have communicated their disagreement to the minister without getting any result. Here too, appears to be a classic “Italian” behavior: today the same officers who vigorously protesting did not dare to open their mouths when wearing the uniform.

The last news that divided the Italian soldiers’ opinion was the introduction of military unions. Some people think that even soldiers should have an inspection body that defends their rights, in the same way as workers in factories. Others, the more conservative, consider this measure a dangerous attack on the hierarchy or chain of command. The word “army” often means “defense of traditions”, even if wrong. It’s wise to strive for change, but it always involves risks. The stronger structure is in a better position of absorbing changes: but for a too long, the Italian army has suffered the damage of wrong policies. The worst thing is that the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Rome was a silent partner to such abominations for long years.

Among the things that astonish us, there is a severe inability to communicate all that is “military.” The designated press is kept at a distance from any important event, and reports of the army’s activities are tamed according to convenience.

But is it the new minister’s fault? Trenta has inherited an uncomfortable situation. In the first months of this mandate, many saw it positively. But after a while, the ideas of the political party prevailed. The Five Stars Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle) has never shown any friendliness for the military, considering the defense spending unnecessary and therefore expendable. The problem is that while Italy has lost its international credibility, military personnel don’t deserve the same treatment. We must not forget their sacrifices in Iraq or Afghanistan. If Italy succeeds in making a good impression during the missions abroad, it’s thanks to them—certainly not its politicians.

No one wants an aggressive government, but nor do they want to see the moral destruction of a noble and challenging profession like that of the soldier. An army is also a foreign policy instrument, but Italy has been excluded from every exceptional bargaining table.

The Italian de-militarization process seems unstoppable. Italy is perhaps the only country where the concept of “soldier of peace” survives: this is dangerous nonsense.