Right after a 78-year-old woman in Sicily jumped to her death because her pension had been reduced, a middle-aged Roman entrepreneur in economic distress also killed himself. After that, in late April, another middle-aged businessman, this one in Sardinia, shot himself through the heart. Around 33,000 businesses have failed since 2009, and a total of 25 Italians have taken their lives, a figure which doesn’t include the construction worker in March who set himself on fire in front of Verona’s city hall, but survived.
People in Italy, in other words, are killing themselves, or trying to, because they have no money, because they have to dismiss longtime employees, because they are (incredibly in a country where no one used to get fired for any reason) out of work, because they have debts and are ashamed to tell their wives. In Bologna, the widows of these men are marching in protest, and in Bergamo, a more prosperous northern town, a resident armed with a pump-action shotgun took a tax agent hostage and demanded to see the country’s prime minister, Mario Monti.
And what of Monti? you ask. What’s he up to? Well, in April he began a process of much need pension reforms, part of a $26 billion austerity package that so enraged Italians that hundreds of thousands gathered in central Rome to protest, and Nicola Marinelli, a prominent London asset manager, told Bloomberg news, “I don’t think younger workers have really realized they will have starvation-level pensions.”
What else has Monti done of late, now that Italy is in its fourth recession since 2001? He’s going to cut public spending by 4.2 billion euros. And oh, yes—to offset those painful cuts, the misery, fear, shame, and self-destruction of his countrymen, the unpopular prime minister is about to buy arms from the US for Italy’s Reaper drone aircraft, which until now have been used strictly for surveillance.
There are, much to the consternation and derision of most Italians, 4,000 of their countrymen currently deployed in Afghanistan, and early reporting on the subject indicates that armed drones would initially be used to protect them. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, “U.S. officials indicated they might be used elsewhere in the future.”
And what, exactly, does that mean?
Italy, to put it delicately, is not a particularly successful nation, either in picking its wars or in fighting them. It had grave difficulty during World War II, for example, deciding whom to side with and whom to string up, and there is no reason, given its muddled past, to suspect its bellicose betting will improve in the future. Especially since, as US officials claim, it will take at least a year for Italy to upgrade its Reapers and train its pilots to use those US weapons it wants to purchase. By that time, as NATO has suggested, the war in Afghanistan will be over.
Which, all things considered—for Italy, for the US, and very likely for the Afghans—will be just as well.
Photo Credit: danacreilly