This essay explores the concept of enemy in Emilio Lussu’s WWI memoir Un anno sull’Altipiano
(A Soldier on the Southern Front, 1938). The memoir portrays the conflict on the oft-forgotten Alpine Front, where Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies clashed from 1915 to 1918 in a series of battles fought at high altitudes. I argue that two crucial dynamics of modern warfare shape the concept of enemy in WWI literature: the impossibility of close-range encounters, which was due to the superiority of defensive firepower, and hatred for one’s own officers, which stemmed from the corrosive environment of the trenches, where the aggressive attitude of high-ranking officers often led hundreds of thousands to pointless death. I show how, in Lussu’s memoir, these dynamics subvert the traditional image of the enemy as imposed by military propaganda, and finally elicit feelings of empathy.
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