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Italy's War Against Libya Presages America's Defeat in Iraq
by Dennis Rahkonen
January 6, 2005

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It’s a scarcely believable folly of staggering proportions:

The world’s most powerful Christian nation sends its armed forces half way across the world to illegally aggress -- totally without provocation or valid reason -- a devoutly Muslim state with a painful history of colonial subjugation.

The invading country’s leaders mendaciously profess to be liberating a victimized people from “evil” when, in fact, no soldier would have ever left home were it not for the abundant oil that’s the cynical and massively destructive assault’s hidden motive.

As the attack and ensuing occupation become more brutal, with escalating civilian casualties plus widespread destruction of Islamic mosques and other holy sites, the invaders embrace their own propaganda.

Clutching preposterous myths and lies, they wonder why they -- the purported “good guys” -- weren’t welcomed with jubilation, kisses and flowers. Why the roadside bombs, the rocket-propelled grenades, and the simmering hatred permeating an entire populace?

In the aggressor’s homeland, architects of the completely gratuitous, horribly bloody war that their own abysmal greed and overall moral bankruptcy precipitated tell of how they “never anticipated” such a fiercely resistive insurgency.

They thereby reveal themselves to posterity as among the greatest fools to ever have misapprehended objective reality!

It’s not that such debacles as George Bush’s crusade against Iraq haven’t occurred before, however.

In fact, the reason why no empires have survived the march of time is attributable to colonialists similarly attempting to twist history into shapes it ultimately wouldn’t accept.

One of the most instructive parallels is virtually unknown to Americans, which is a pity, for we could have spared ourselves our present debacle if we’d studied the Italian/Libyan example of the early years of the last century.

In 1911, Italy invaded Libya out of the “New Rome” imperial ambition that, especially after Benito Mussolini assumed power in 1922, would shape Italian foreign designs until their welcome obliteration in World War II.

After initially occupying Tripoli and Benghazi, the Italian expeditionary force expected quick victory. It instead encountered a determined resistance by unrelenting national patriots and religious faithful led by an unlikely hero, the elderly Sheikh Omar al Mukhtar.

Facing constant attacks much like those currently being endured by U.S. troops in and around Baghdad, Mussolini feared that his grand goal of establishing Italy as a colonial power on a par with Britain and France would founder.

His misguided solution was to entrust the Italian campaign to a singularly ruthless strategist, General Rodolfo Graziani, who would be the first to utilize tanks and aircraft on a large scale in desert warfare, and whose harsh methods detained or killed anyone who didn’t meekly acquiesce to the delusional “goodness” of Italian goals.

Countless villages were destroyed, their vital wells filled with cement, farm fields razed, and thousands of Libyans were dispatched to mass concentration camps that would become the model for Nazi German camps in later decades.

Hundreds of thousands of Libyans perished during a war that wouldn’t be illusorily won by the Italians until 1931, when Mukhtar was finally captured and hanged. The dictator Mussolini, of course, would eventually suffer the same fate, being lynched by his own citizens.

The Libyan resistance was decisively seminal on several levels. It was one of the first manifestations of successful people’s revolutionary war, inspiring later victories everywhere from Kenya and neighboring Algeria to Vietnam. It also marked the first modern appearance of Muslim Mujahideen as warriors on the world stage.

In 1980, a $34 million motion picture, The Lion of the Desert, brought this important story to a Western and a global audience. Although now recognized as a great epic revealing an even greater truth, and having since become a definite cult classic, the movie bombed at the box office at its release.

Despite featuring such major actors as Rod Steiger and Anthony Quinn, the film dealt with too obscure a topic in too radical terms to gain an audience at the onset of the conservative Reagan era, when movies like Star Wars were the big box-office draw.

Masterfully directed by Syrian-born filmmaker Moustapha Akkad, it’s a searing exposition of why Mussolini’s war was destined to fail -- and, by extrapolation, why all such “shock and awe” efforts by the First World to impose its imperial will on the Third World are bound to end in catastrophe.

Much more so than even the harrowing Mogadishu scenes in Blackhawk Down, The Lion of the Desert foretells the Middle Eastern disaster that inexorably awaits Westerners seeking to self-servingly remake the region in reflection of their own patently corrupt and savagely exploitative “values”.

The fierceness of the Iraqi insurgency -- and the popular support it enjoys among the Iraqi people -- is no mysterious surprise. And there’s nothing unclear about the war’s outcome.

Failing coming to our senses before then, we Americans will ultimately be driven out in a colossal embarrassment that will make our hasty helicopter retreat from Saigon in 1975 seem like little more than a junior high school pantsing.

The Lion of the Desert ends with one of the most powerful scenes ever filmed.

As all of fascist Italy’s murderous military might is unleashed in an orgy of indiscriminate slaughter and the last of the old rebels are killed (along with multitudes of entirely innocent women and children), a young boy emerges from the smoke and fire.

He picks up a fallen insurgent’s rifle, symbolizing that people’s struggle does not stop until true sovereignty and self-determination are finally achieved.

Victory may be deferred for decades, even generations, but it can’t be permanently held in abeyance.

It’s that basic historical lesson that America is doomed to learn, much to its terribly hurtful harm.

There can be no other consequence when the warning voices of peace and justice are stubbornly, persistently ignored.

Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, WI, has been writing progressive commentary and verse for various outlets since the ‘60s. He can be reached at

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