Technical Innovation and Social Conservatism in the Narrative of the Turco-Italian War

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The Italo-Turkish war of 1911-12 saw the widespread application of the most modern military technology. It saw the first tactical deployment of military aircrafts, the first air bombing, and the first widespread use of wireless communications. For the first time, Italian troops deployed armoured cars in an operative setting, and a sizeable amount of modern machine guns. Barbed wire, modular shelters and sandbags protected the troops ashore, while the heavy naval guns ‘softened’ the Turkish resistance at the eve of the landing. Although not comparable with the Russo-Japanese war of 1905-06, the Libyan expedition required a strong modernizing effort (far more relevant in the social and economic conditions of early XX century Italy), and was presented as a great deed of a country then celebrating its first fifty years of national unity. In this perspective, the campaign became (and so was perceived, among the most politically aware part of the public opinion) the showcase of the ‘Young Italy’, struggling to assert its role in the face of the other, well established Great Powers. The stark contrast with the ‘old and corrupted’ Ottoman order grew a centrepiece in wartime propaganda, both at home and (to a lesser extent) among the country’s allies, having, as one key element, the physical and narrative depiction of the Italian technical and operational superiority. In popular press as well as in military iconography, airplanes – despite their limited role – soon imposed as one of the war’s main symbols. In the same way, the organizational effort ‘made the greatest impression in the country, because Italy aimed at being what it wasn’t: well-organized, methodical and efficient’. At the same time, an equally strong effort was made to channel this ‘modern’ vision of war as a technological and organizational business into the more traditional framework of the military value and the individual bravery. While technology provided the icons to depict the Libyan experience, tradition provided the language. The reference to the memories of the Roman past as well as to the accomplishment of the Risorgimento were two cornerstones of the process. Another key element was the emphasis placed – both in written and artistic descriptions produced for the benefit of the ‘home front’ – on individual and collective feats, making the solider – i.e. the man – the true focus of the war and projecting the combat experience into a sort of ‘perennial past’, dangerously different both from the real campaign and from the evolutions that – in the same years – were paving the way to the bloody stalemates of World War I.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationActa del 39° Congresso della Commissione Internazionale di Storia Militare, “Le operazioni interforze e multinazionali nella storia militare”, Torino, 1-6 Settembre 2013, Tomo II
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventCongresso della Commissione Internazionale di Storia Militare, “Technology and Warfare” - Sofia
Duration: 25 Aug 20121 Sep 2012


ConferenceCongresso della Commissione Internazionale di Storia Militare, “Technology and Warfare”


  • Social Conservatism
  • Technical Innovation
  • Turco-Italian War


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