‘Silenzi di Guerra’ – silences of war – a moving monologue by Renato Raimo and acted by the writer and actor Raimo closed Bagni di Lucca’s theatre season last Friday, the 18th of March.
A hundred years ago this year the Battle of the Somme began and Italy had already been at war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a year. ‘Silenzi di Guerra’ did not overplay the heroic rhetoric so often associated with war but emphasised the long silences that accompanied the waiting-game before ‘going over the top.’
It was something that several veterans told me. War isn’t a Germanic Blitzkrieg with perpetual fighting, It’s, in fact, a time of long anxious silences – waiting for news from home, waiting for orders, waiting for the next water and food ration, waiting for medical supplies, waiting for death. And waiting doesn’t promote much talk. It’s a time of silence to think about one’s family, children, friends, loved ones.
The play started with the call-up papers and the encouragement by the recruiting sergeant that the young soldier-to-be would ‘make friends’ on the front. I thought of that inexorably powerful line ‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend’ from Wilfred Owen’s ‘Strange Meeting’. ‘You are going to do an honourable thing fighting for your country’, continued the generals. But the novice couldn’t quite reconcile this with the fact that his main job was to kill other humans. Then he remembered the last words from his mum: ‘be a good boy. Behave yourself well’ …. yet another ironic slant on the soldier’s main job of either to kill or to become cannon fodder.
At several points in the play a lone accordionist Marco Lo Russo walked slowly on stage to play his poignant music leading to further reflections on the audience’s part – an audience which was pitifully small as if to suggest that too many of us had heard enough of the whole bloody business.
Incidentally, Renato Raimo, who was born in Puglia 1963, is a well-known and highly respected actor on television crime and ‘fiction’ – Italian for mini-series – like Don Matteo, Un Posto Al Sole d’Estate etc. so there was really little reason for the poor attendance.
War is a waiting game. During the Great War it was waiting for orders to leave the trenches and go over the top into the barbed wire and grenades and wonder how many more minutes one might still be able to live. During the Second World War it was a wait for sealed orders for a major tank and artillery campaign. At home it was a wait to see whether the drone of the enemy air fleet announcing the next bombing raid would hit one’s home.
As so appallingly demonstrated yesterday in Brussels (a beautiful but under-rated city where I spent memorable days as a teenager) today is yet another wait to fathom out where the next terrorist attack might take place. Some Italians believe we are now entering inexorably into a Third World War. Unprepared for the consequences of the first, and certainly for the second (gas masks were still being issued for that) we appear to be unprepared for the third where the enemy is acting ever more presently within our own society.
In a minor way I, too, have experienced the waiting game and the uncanny silence of war. I was an overseas student at Delhi University during the Indo-Pakistan war when East Pakistan broke free and became Bangla Desh. I happened to be in Orissa at the time and managed to find my way through a crepuscular subcontinent to my room in Delhi. I was immediately told to black out my window and shown where the nearest air-raid shelter was. Every night was the personification of silence and darkness. Delhi was completely in the dark and I even imagined I’d come across local equivalent of Chief ARP warden Warren Hodges (remember Dad’s Army?) shouting ‘put that light out!’ Fortunately, Delhi wasn’t bombed although Agra and Amritsar were.
Whatever will happen one thing is certain. Death is the only conqueror in any war and as much as we shall say ‘let’s lead our lives like we’ve always led them, with friendships, love, work and joys’, there will now be, regrettably, throughout the civilized world, a feeling that we’ll have to make many new excuses because ‘there’s a war on’, as Captain Mainwaring would inevitably say when people were frustratedly kept waiting in silence.
I am sure we will all have our moments of silence today to remember the victims of yesterday’s atrocity which will not dim the light of our great European way of life to any degree.