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Colonial rule, colonial repression and war crimes in the Italian colonies

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A strange silence has long reigned in the public memory as well as in Italian historical studies regarding possible crimes committed by Italy in its colonial territories. The aim of this article is to reflect on the reasons for this silence through an examination of the major historiographical questions and a review of the few studies available on the subject. The historiographical use of the judicial category of 'crimes' or 'war crimes' should not be taken for granted, above all in examining the history of the colonial experience. The most important authors have ignored the risk that the sensationalistic use of the category 'crime' - in itself an extraordinary and exceptional event - can make one forget the weight of the ordinary running of a colonial power. With these precautions, the article offers a list of the principal episodes historians now unanimously define as crimes. These episodes eliminate any possibility of taking refuge in the self-absolving and vague appeals to stereotypes of Italians as 'good people'. The article concludes by defining precisely the triple order of silences that together produced the general silence that the author considers an obstacle and a post-colonial stain on the memory of colonial Italy.

Keywords: Italy; empire; historiography; war crimes

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2004

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