Friday, February 1, 2019

A Wall In Libya

The Rome of Romulus and Remus was a small territory surrounding the seven hills of what is now Rome. Soon enough Romans took control of the entire Peninsular of Italy. Then in 476 ad the Western Roman Empire collapsed, Italy divided into regional states controlled by regional Princes, and Italy disappeared as a united country until 1800's when once again a social movement inspired the Peninsular toward the more romantic idea of a unified Italy. In 1871 Rome again became the Capital of Italy. Back then to really make its mark on the world a country needed colonies. Italy looked around for likely spots on the Horn of Africa, came away with the beginnings of an Italian East Africa, and in 1911 they decided to take Libya from the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans had no control of the sea, no question of reinforcing their Libyan garrisons and the Ottoman soldiers were forced into a series of guerilla actions, none of which ended well for Istanbul. Much of Libya is desert, it goes from a reasonable well watered coast in the north and as you go south it's basically down to a more nomadic existence of sheep and goats in hilly terrain, until you reach miles and miles and miles of sand rock and if you can get water there are plenty of places to hide. Libya is also the 17th largest country in the world, it's not big on the census but in 1911 the population would have been well less than a million souls.

 I mention all this because during the Italian occupation of Libya, great swaths of the country remained wholly independent and for Italian leadership this became increasingly unacceptable, particularly when the indigenous people reckoned they should be treated fairly by their overlords. And it was in the 1920's, with fascism on the rise, economic problems at home that Mussolini dropped all pretence of being an elected Prime Minister and basically became dictator. He turned his eyes to Libya and he directed his army to embark upon a campaign to subdue all of Libya's many factions and get them all to start behaving like conquered people and pay their taxes without demanding something in return.  It was a brutal business, suspect tribal groups were rounded up and put into concentration camps, land was confiscated, there were public executions, reports of mustard gas being used against villagers. All of which seemed to only encourage the insurgents and it started to cost the Italian Government more and more. Pride has it's place of course, but what with one thing and another it was decided to cut off the insurgent's eastern supply lines, the gun runners from Egypt who'd been much encouraged by the problems the Italian Empire was having in Libya. Again and again military attempts to cut off the supply lines failed, so the Italian Army went into the wall building business. It wasn't so much a Hadrian's Wall as it was a barbed wire fence and it ran about 160 miles south from the Mediterranean to where the Sea of Sand begins. The question, did the wall work? Well in conjunction with pretty much a third of the indigenous population of  Eastern Libya being starved to death in concentration camps and the remainder deported, their property and land given over to Italian Colonists, the Italian Military called it a win.

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