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NEW! English translation of "L'obbedienza non è più una virtù"


don Milani. "I had to teach my pupils well how a citizen reacts to injustice. How he has freedom of speech and of the press. How a Christian reacts also to the priest and even the bishop who errs. How each one has to feel responsible for everyone else."
10 agosto 2008 - don Lorenzo Milani (translated by Gerry Blaylock ©)
Fonte: testo originale - L'obbedienza non è' più una virtù, Firenze 1965

Libreria Editrice Fiorentina

Don Lorenzo Milani




translated by Gerry Blaylock ©


"It is well known that the only 'defence' possible in an atomic war will be to launch your missiles around twenty minutes before the 'aggressor' launches his. But in the Italian language firing first is called attack, not defence. Or let us imagine a State who plays fair and in its own defence launches its missiles twenty minutes afterwards; that is, its submarines - the only survivors of a country by now wiped off the face of the earth - fire them. But in the Italian language this is called vendetta, not defence." ... " Therefore, a defensive war no longer exists. Therefore, a 'just war' no longer exists; neither in the eyes of Church nor the Constitution."

The man who wrote this in 1965, Lorenzo Milani, was a Catholic priest who was on trial for "instigation to commit an offence", in that he had publicly, in writing, defended young men who had refused military service at a time when conscientious objection was punishable with a prison sentence.


don Lorenzo Milani - priest and educator

Lorenzo Milani (1923-67) was born into a well-to-do, upper-class Florentine family. Though he had had no religious upbringing, he embraced Catholicism when he was twenty, entered the seminary and was ordained at the age of twenty four. He was sent as a curate to a parish in a town not far from Florence where he started a night school open to people of all political and religious persuasions, atheists included. This was the first of a series of actions which upset some of his fellow priests, leading parishioners and local members of a political party close to the Church. As a result complaints were made to the local curia. In 1954 the ecclesiastical authorities sent him to a small hamlet in the mountains above Florence with the aim of isolating him.

However, this plan backfired: shortly after arriving in the new parish he opened a night school and also started teaching the local children, whose days were often spent looking after the livestock. Reading the newspaper together and discussing the news were an important part of every day's lessons. Some text books were used. When necessary the Penal Code and the Constitution were consulted and debated. Foreign languages were learnt. Process writing practised. Don Milani wanted to transform those who lacked education, those who were exploited, into "sovereign citizens" able to think for themselves, to act according to their conscience, to express their ideas and defend them. There was also the practical side: in order to study astronomy, for example, the pupils made their own instruments of observation. Soon, visitors began arriving from far and wide, sometimes they found themselves as the focal point of a lesson, with the pupils 'interrogating' them. His first book on his pastoral experiences as a curate, published in 1958, caused a sensation and was removed from circulation by order of the Vatican. Subsequent articles and books also caused a stir, in particular "A reply to the Tuscan Armed Forces Chaplains", "Letter to the Judges", "Letter to a Schoolmistress." In 1960 he showed the symptoms of Hodgkin's lymphoma; radiation treatment was to no avail and he then contracted leukaemia. He died in 1967.

The primacy of conscience; dialogue; openness towards other cultures; methods of struggle and change which are legitimate, e.g. the strike and the ballot; upholding the Constitution, e.g. article 11 "Italy repudiates war as an instrument of aggression against the freedoms of other peoples and as a means for settling international controversies; ..."; awareness of how our daily actions can contribute to reinforcing violence and injustice; non-cooperation with those forces which bring injustice and violation of rights. These are some items in the legacy which don Milani has left us as individual citizens and members of associations and movements promoting peace, justice and dignity.




The book with the above title (published by Libreria Editrice Fiorentina 1965) contains documents regarding the trial of don Milani. It starts with a declaration made by retired Armed Forces Chaplains, then follows don Milani's reply to them. The third document is the accusation levelled against him by a group of ex-combatants. As a result of this, trial proceedings were begun. At this time, October 1965, he was already quite ill, so he wrote a letter to the judges in his defence. The final document is the court sentence, which acquitted him.

The following are: 1) the retired Armed Forces Chaplains' declaration, which appeared in the local newspaper La Nazione on 12th February 1965, 2) don Milani's reply to them and 3) his letter to the judges.


From La Nazione :

On the anniversary of the concordat between the Church and the Italian State (11 th February 1929 - translator's note ), a meeting of retired Tuscan Armed Forces Chaplains was held yesterday at the Holy Family Institute in via Lorenzo il Magnifico.

At the close of business the following resolution, proposed by the chairman, don Alberto Cambi, was approved:

"In the spirit of the recent National Congress held in Naples, the retired Armed Forces Chaplains in Tuscany pay reverent, fraternal homage to all of Italy's fallen, hoping that finally, in God's name, all discrimination and partisan division may end in the face of all the soldiers on all fronts and of all uniforms who by their death sacrificed themselves for the sacred ideal of Fatherland.

This so-called 'conscientious objection', extraneous to the Christian commandment of love, is an expression of cowardice and considered by the chaplains an insult to the Fatherland and its fallen."

The assembly ended with a prayer in intercession for all the fallen.



don Milani's reply :


For some time now I would have liked to invite one of you to speak to my boys and girls about your life. A life they and I do not understand.

Nevertheless, we would have wanted to make an effort to understand and, above all, to ask you how you dealt with some practical problems of military life. I did not manage to organise this meeting between you and my school in time.

I would have preferred it to be in private, but now that you have broken the silence through the pages of a newspaper, I cannot forgo asking you those same questions publicly.

Firstly, because you have insulted citizens whom we and many others admire. And nobody, to my knowledge, had invited you to make a contribution, unless the thought were to arise that the very example of their heroic Christian consistency might be gnawing away at some of your inner insecurity.

Secondly, because you used words that are too big for you with excessive flippancy and without having a clear idea of their gravity.

When you answer me, mind that public opinion today is much riper than in days gone by and will not be happy with silence or a sweeping statement which evades the specific questions. Pompous sentimental words or vulgar insults aimed at the conscientious objectors or me are not argumentation. If you have good arguments I will be well happy to acknowledge them and change my mind if in the hurry to write I have let slip something unfair.

I am not going to discuss the idea of Fatherland itself here. I do not like such distinctions.

However, if you have the right to split the world into Italians and foreigners then I shall tell you that, according to your interpretation, I have no Fatherland and I claim the right to split the world into the under-privileged and oppressed on the one side and the privileged and oppressors on the other. The former are my Fatherland, the latter are foreigners to me. And if you have the right to teach, without being called to order by the Curia, that Italians and foreigners can legitimately, even heroically, butcher each other, then I claim the right to say that the poor, too, can and ought to fight against the rich. At least in their choice of means they are better than you. The arms you approve are horrible instruments for killing, mutilating, destroying, creating orphans and widows. The only arms I approve are noble and without bloodshed: the strike and the ballot box.

So, we have very different ideas. I can respect yours if you can justify them in the light of the Gospels or the Constitution. Show respect for others' ideas yourselves. Above all if they are men who pay in person for their ideas.

You will surely admit that the word "Fatherland" has been used amiss on many occasions. Often it is nothing but an excuse, believing we are dispensed from thinking, from studying history, from choosing, when necessary, between the Fatherland and much loftier values.

In this letter I do not wish to refer to the Gospels. It is too easy to demonstrate that Jesus was against violence and that he did not even accept self-defence for himself.

I shall refer to the Constitution instead.

Article 11: "Italy repudiates war as an instrument of aggression against the freedoms of other peoples..."

Article 52: " The defence of the Fatherland is a sacred duty for every citizen."

Let us use these as the yardstick in order to get the measure of the wars the Italian people have been called to wage over a century of history.

If we see that the history of our army is all bound up with aggressions against others' Fatherlands, you shall have to make it clear to us whether in those cases the soldiers should have obeyed or objected to what their conscience dictated. Then you shall have to explain to us who defended the Fatherland and its honour more: those who objected or those who by obeying made our Fatherland hateful to the whole civilised world? Enough of high-sounding, vague speeches. Get down to the nitty-gritty. Tell us exactly what you taught the soldiers. Obedience at all costs? And what if the order was to bomb civilians, reprisals against a harmless village, the summary execution of partisans, the use of atomic or biological or chemical weapons, torture, the execution of hostages, summary trials for simple suspects, decimation (choosing some soldier of the Fatherland at random and shooting him in order to strike terror in the other soldiers of the Fatherland), a war of obvious aggression, orders from a rebel officer to the sovereign people, to put down popular demonstrations?

Yet these and many other similar things are common practice in every war. When they happened before your eyes you either lied or kept quiet. Or do you want us to believe that on every single occasion you told your "superiors" the truth to their faces, defying prison or death? If you are still alive and keep your rank it is a sign that you have never objected to anything. Besides, you have given us proof by showing in your communiqué that you do not have even the most elementary notion of the concept of conscientious objection.

You cannot avoid giving your opinion on recent history if you want to be, as you should be, our soldiers' moral guides. Apart from anything else you are paid by the Fatherland, i.e. us and we have paid you to do that. And if we maintain the army at a very high cost (a trillion lire per year) it is only so that it should defend the Fatherland along with the lofty values this concept contains: the sovereignty of the people, freedom, justice. So then (historical experience at hand) it was more imperative that you educate our soldiers to object rather than obey.

As for objection, they have known far too little during these one hundred years of history; as for obedience, they have known far too much, unfortunately for them and the world.

Let us run through history together. Each time you shall tell us what side the Fatherland was on, which direction we should have shot in, when it was time to obey and when it was time to object.

1860. An army of Neapolitans, brimming with the idea of Fatherland, tried to force back into the sea a handful of brigands who were attacking their Fatherland. Among those brigands were various Neapolitan officers who were deserters from their Fatherland. In point of fact it was the brigands who won. Now, here and there in squares in Italy, there are statues to every one of them in their capacity as hero of the Fatherland. ( Garibaldi, for example. The context is the unification of Italy - translator's note ).

A hundred years on and history repeats itself: Europe is at our gates. The Constitution is ready to welcome her: "Italy consents to the necessary limitations of her sovereignty...". Our children will laugh at your concept of Fatherland, just as we all laugh at the Bourbon Fatherland. ( The House of Bourbon ruled many territories and were Kings of the two Sicilies - formerly the kingdom of Naples and the kingdom of Sicily - translator's note ). Our grandchildren will laugh at Europe. Soldiers and armed forces chaplains' uniforms will be seen only in the museums.

The war following 1866 was another aggression. Rather, a pact was made with the most quarrelsome, warmongering nation in the world ( the Prussians - translator's note ) to attack Austria together.

The wars against the people of Rome (1867-1870) were certainly aggressions. The people of Rome did not love their age-old Fatherland much, in point of fact they did not defend it. But they did not like their new Fatherland which was attacking them much either, so much so they did not rise up to help it win. In his diary Gregorovius writes: "the uprising due to take place today has been called off because of the rain".

In 1898 our "Good" King ( Umberto 1 of Savoia - translator's note ) conferred The Grand Military Cross on General Bava Beccaris for his merits in a war which we would do well to remember. The enemy was a crowd of beggars who were waiting for soup in front of a convent in Milan. The General fired on them with mortars and cannon just because the rich demanded the privilege (then as they do now) of not paying taxes. They wanted to substitute the tax on cornmeal for something worse for the poor and better for them. They got what they wanted. Eighty dead, numerous wounded. Among the soldiers not one wounded, not one objector. After their period of military service was over they went back home to eat cornmeal mush (polenta) . Just a little, though, for the price had gone up.

And the officers kept on making them cry "Savoia" even when they led them in attacks twice (1896-1935) on a peaceful people far away ( Ethiopia - translator's note ) who were certainly not threatening our Fatherland's borders. They were the only black people who had not yet been infected by the plague of European colonialism.

When whites and blacks are fighting are you on the side of the whites? Is it not enough for you to force the Italia Fatherland on us? Do you want to force on us the White Race Fatherland, too? Are you the sort of priests that read "La Nazione"? Be very careful because that paper considers a white person's life more than that of a hundred blacks. Have you seen how it gave prominence to the killing of sixty whites in the Congo, forgetting to describe the appalling massacre of the blacks, which was happening at the same time, and without looking for those pulling the strings behind the scenes here in Europe? The same goes for the war in Libya.

Then we are in 1914. Italy attacked Austria with whom she had been allied this time. Was Battisti a Patriot or a deserter? It is a small detail that needs to be cleared up if you wish to talk of Fatherland. Did you tell your young men that it was a war which could have been avoided? That Giolitti ( Prime Minister -translator's note) was certain to be able to secure gratis what was then secured with 600,000 deaths? That the vast majority of the Chamber of Deputies was with him (450 out of 508)? Was it, then, the Fatherland that issued the call to arms? And even if it was, did it not call them to a "useless massacre"? (it was not a cowardly conscientious objector who used the expression, but a Pope).

It was in 1922 that the Fatherland under attack needed to be defended. But the army did not defend it. They were waiting for orders that never came. If their priests had taught them to let their Conscience guide them instead of "blind, prompt, absolute" Obedience how much harm the Fatherland and the world would have been spared (50 million dead). That is how the Fatherland ended up in the hands of a gang of criminals who violated every human and divine law and, their mouths full of the word Fatherland, brought the Fatherland to ruin. In those tragic years those priests whose minds and mouths were only filled with the sacred word "Fatherland", those who had never wanted a deep understanding of its meaning, those who spoke like you do, did immense harm to the Fatherland (and, incidentally, let it be said, they dishonoured the Church).

In 1936 fifty thousand Italian soldiers found themselves embarked on a new, vile aggression. They had received the call-up papers to "volunteer" to attack the ill-fated Spanish people. They hurried to the aid of a general who was a traitor to his Fatherland, who rebelled against his legitimate government and sovereign people. With the help of the Italians and at the cost of a million and a half lives he managed to secure what the rich wanted: wage freezes but not price freezes; abolition of the strike, the unions, parties, of every civil and religious liberty. Still today, in defiance of the rest of the world, that rebel general imprisons, tortures, kills (or rather, garrottes) whoever is guilty of defending the Fatherland back then or trying to save it now. Without the obedience of the Italian "volunteers" all of this would not have happened. If in those sad days there had not been Italians on the other side, we could not look a Spaniard in the face. In point of fact those Italians were rebels and exiles from their Fatherland. People who had objected. Have you told your soldiers what they should do if they happen to have a general like Franco? Have you told them that one must not obey officers who disobey their sovereign people?

Then from 1939 onwards it was downhill all the way: Italian soldiers attacked one after another six other Fatherlands that had certainly not attacked theirs (Albania, France, Greece, Egypt, Jugoslavia, Russia). It was the war in which Italy was fighting on two fronts: one against the democratic system and the other against the socialist system. They were and are for now the two most noble political systems that humanity has given itself. One represents the loftiest attempt by humanity to give freedom and human dignity to the poor, right here on this earth. The other is the loftiest attempt by humanity to give justice and equality to the poor, right here on this earth.

Do not trouble yourselves to reply accusing one or the other of these systems of their considerable defects and errors. We know they are human things. Tell us rather what was happening on this side of the front. Without a doubt the worst political system that unscrupulous oppressors have ever been able to come up with. Negation of every moral value, of all freedom except for the rich and the wicked. Negation of every justice and religion. Propaganda of hate and extermination of the innocent. Amongst others the extermination of the Jews (the Fatherland of the Lord, dispersed all over the world and suffering).

What had Fatherland got to do with all this? And what meaning can Fatherlands at war have anymore from the moment that the last war was a battle between ideologies and not Fatherlands?

But in this hundred years of Italian history there has also been a "just" war (if such a thing exists). The only one that was not an aggression against others' Fatherlands, but a defence of ours: the partisan war. On one side there was the civilian population, on the other, the military. On one side soldiers that had obeyed, on the other, soldiers that had objected.

According to you which of the two contenders were the "rebels", which the "regulars"? It is a notion that demands clarification when you talk of Fatherland. In the Congo, for example, who are the "rebels"?

Then by the grace of God our Fatherland lost the unjust war it had unleashed. The Fatherlands that had been attacked by ours managed to repel our soldiers.

We surely have to respect them. They were wretched men who worked on the land or as labourers transformed into aggressors by military obedience. That obedience you chaplains extol without a hint of any distinction (distinguo) which could reconnect you to St. Peter's words: "Does one owe obedience to God or to men?" And in the meanwhile you insult a few brave men who ended up in prison for doing what St. Peter did.

In many countries (in this more civil than ours) the law honours these people by allowing them to serve the Fatherland in other ways. They are asking to sacrifice themselves for the Fatherland more than the others, not less. It is not their fault if in Italy they have no other choice than to serve by idling away their time in prison.

Moreover, in Italy, too, there is a law which recognises a form of conscientious objection. It is that very Concordato you wanted to celebrate. Its third article gives its blessing to the fundamental conscientious objection of the Bishops and Priests.

With regard to the other objectors, the Church has made no pronouncement, neither against them nor against you. The human sentence which condemns them only says that they have disobeyed the law of men, not that they are cowards. Who authorises you to make bad worse? And then when calling them cowards doesn't it occur to you that nobody has ever heard tell that cowardice belongs to only a few and heroism belongs to the majority?

Pause before you insult them. Maybe tomorrow you will discover that they are prophets. It is true that the place for prophets is prison, but it is not very nice to be on the side of those that keep them there.

If you tell us that you chose your mission as chaplains to attend the wounded and dying, we can respect it. Gandhi himself did it as a young man. Later on in life he harshly condemned this error of his youth. Have you read his life story?

But if you tell us that the refusal to defend yourself and your family according to the example and commandment of the Lord is "extraneous to the Christian commandment of love" then you do not know which Spirit you belong to! What language are you speaking? How can we understand you if you use words without weighing them? If you do not want to honour the objectors' suffering, at least keep quiet!

We hope, then, for the very opposite of what you hope for: we hope to see an end finally to all discrimination and partisan division of Fatherland in the face of all the soldiers on all fronts and of all uniforms who by their death sacrificed themselves for the sacred ideals of Justice, Freedom, Truth.

Let us respect suffering and death, but before those young people who look to us let us avoid making a dangerous confusion between good and evil, between truth and error, between the death of an aggressor and that of his victim.

If you agree, let us say: we pray for those wretched men who, poisoned through no fault of their own by a propaganda of hatred, sacrificed themselves for the misunderstood ideal of Fatherland inadvertently trampling on every other noble human ideal.



Letter to the Judges - Barbiana, 18th October 1965:

My absence

Your Honours,

I am putting down in writing here what I would have willingly said in the courtroom. It is unlikely that I will be able to come to Rome because I have been unwell for some time. I enclose a doctor's certificate and beg you to proceed in my absence.


Nothing implicit

The illness is the only reason I am not coming. I want to make this very clear because since the time of Porta Pia (20 September 1870 when the Italian government sent a military expedition against the Pontifical State, putting an end to the temporal power of the Popes. Porta Pia was the gate which the soldiers breached to enter the Pontifical State - translator's note ) Italian priests have been suspected of having little respect for the State. And this is the very accusation levelled against me in this trial. But it is unfounded as regards many of my fellow priests and has no foundation whatsoever as regards me. Indeed, I shall explain how much I care about impressing on my boys and girls a feeling for the law and respect for the courts of men.


The counsel for the defence

I would like to clarify something regarding the counsel for the defence. The things I wished to say in the letter under accusation are close to my heart as teacher and priest. In these two capacities I am capable of speaking up for myself. Thus, I asked my court-appointed counsel for the defence not to speak. But he explained to me that he cannot promise not to do so, either as a lawyer or as a man. I understand his reasons and have not insisted.


Too much honour given to "Rinascita"

Another clarification regarding the magazine which is accused alongside me for having given space to my letter. Since 23rd February I had distributed the letter on my own. Only afterwards (6th March) did "Rinascita" publish it, followed then by other newspapers. Therefore, it is for procedural reasons - that is, totally accidental - that I find a Communist magazine incriminated together with me. I would have no objection if we were dealing with other matters. But it does not deserve the honour of proclaiming itself upholder of ideas which do not become it, like freedom of conscience and nonviolence. This is of no benefit to clarity, i.e. to the education of the young people that are following this trial.

Now I shall come to the reasons why I felt it a duty to write the letter under accusation. But first you will need to know the reasons why as well as being a parish priest I am also a teacher.


The milieu

Mine is a mountain parish. There was only an elementary school when I arrived there. Five forms in one classroom. The children left the fifth form semi-literate and went to work. Shy and scorned. So I decided there and then that I would spend my life as parish priest not only for their religious, but for their civil edification. So, for eleven years now the largest part of my ministry has consisted in a school. The city-dwellers marvel at its timetable: twelve hours a day, 365 days a week. Before I arrived the youngsters worked the same hours (and what's more, doing hard work) to provide those in the city with wool and cheese. Nobody objected. Now that I make them spend the same time at school people say I am working them to death.


We live together

The above is relevant to this trial simply because it would be difficult for you to understand my way of reasoning if you did not know that the children and I practically live together. We receive visitors together. We read together: books, the paper, the post. We write together.


As a teacher

First part: Even if it is an offence I had the moral duty to speak out.

a) the reason arising from the circumstances

b) the deep reason

a) The Reason Arising From The Circumstances

The provocation

We were together as usual when a friend brought us a newspaper clipping. It purported to be a "Communiqué from the retired armed forces chaplains in Tuscany". Later we came to know that already this expression was incorrect. Only 20 out of a total of 120 were at the meeting. I was not able to ascertain as to how many had been informed. Personally, I only know one: don Vittorio Vacchiano of Vicchio. He declared to me that he had not been invited and he is indignant about the substance and the form of the communiqué.

"expression of cowardice"

In fact the text is gratuitously provocative. It is enough just to think of the phrase "expression of cowardice". Prof. Giorgio Peyrot of the University of Rome is compiling a collection of all the sentences against Italian conscientious objectors. He tells me that since the Liberation (1945 ) up to now there have been more than 200 of them. He has sure data for 186 and the texts for 100. He assures me that nowhere has he found the word "cowardice" or any equivalent. Indeed, in some he has found terms showing respect for the moral character of the accused. For instance, "From the entire behaviour of the accused it must be retained that he has incurred the rigours of the law out of love for his faith" (2 sentences of the Military Tribunal of Turin, 19th December 1963, defendant Scherillo; 3rd June 1964, defendant Fiorenza). In 3 sentences of the Military Tribunal of Verona he found the motive was recognised as being of particular moral and social value (19th October 1953, defendant Valente; 11th January 1957, defendant Perotto; 7th May 1957, defendant Perotto). I enclose the complete text of the research findings, which Prof. Peyrot has been good enough to prepare for me.

The children were indignant

Now, I was sitting before my boys and girls in my double role as teacher and priest and they were looking at me with indignant and impassioned expressions. A priest who affronts a prisoner is always in the wrong. All the more so if he insults those who are in prison for an ideal. I had no need to point this out to my pupils. They had already understood. And they had also intuited that at this point I was committed to giving them a lesson in life.


I could not say nothing

I had to teach them well how a citizen reacts to injustice. How he has freedom of speech and of the press. How a Christian reacts also to the priest and even the bishop who errs. How each one has to feel responsible for everyone else.

On one wall of the school written in large letters there is "I CARE". It is the motto of principled young Americans, and difficult to translate in our language. It is the exact opposite of the fascist motto "I couldn't give a toss".


The silence of those who should have spoken out

When the communiqué reached us it was already a week old. We knew that neither the civil nor the religious authorities had reacted. So we reacted. An austere school like ours, which knows no recreation or holidays, has plenty of time available for thinking and studying. Thus it has the duty and the right to say what others do not say. It is the only recreation I allow my pupils.


Looking for a "just war"

So we took our history books (serviceable middle school books, not monographs written by specialists) and we went back over a hundred years of Italian history in search of a "just war". Of a war which was in conformity with article 11 of the Constitution. It is not our fault if we did not find one.


Unpleasant things

From that day to this many unpleasant things have happened: dozens of anonymous letters have arrived full of insults and threats signed with only a swastika or the fascist symbol. We have been harmed by some journalists with "interviews" which were a tissue of lies; other journalists have reached incredible conclusions drawn from those "interviews" without taking pains to check how genuine they were. We have been little understood by our own Archbishop (Letter to the Clergy 14/4/1965). Our letter has been incriminated.


Those 31 brothers of ours

However, it has been comforting to keep our gaze fixed on those 31 young men who are at this very moment in prison for an ideal. They are so different from those millions of young men who crowd the football stadiums, cafés and dance floors; who live to buy themselves a car, who follow fashion, who read the sports papers, who are not interested in politics and religion.


Whereas their critic

The teacher of Religion at the Technical Institute one of my boys attends is the head of those armed forces chaplains that wrote the communiqué. They say that in class he talks about sport a lot. That he tells them he is very keen on hunting and judo. That he has a car. It was not his business to call those 31 young men "cowardly and extraneous to the Christian commandment of love". I want my boys to be more like them than him. Notwithstanding that, I do not want them to grow up anarchists.


b) The Deep Reason

What school is

At this point I need to explain what the essential problem of every school is. We have arrived at the key point of this trial, I think, since I, a teacher, am accused of instigation to commit an offence, i.e. of bad schooling. We shall have to agree on what good schooling is. A school is different from a courtroom. Only that which is established law counts for you judges.


The delicate art

A school, however, stands between the past and the future and has to keep both in mind. It is the delicate art of leading pupils along a razor's edge: on the one hand, developing a sense of respect for the law in them (and in this it is similar to your role), on the other, a desire for better laws i.e. political sensibility (and in this it is different from your role).


The judge

The tragedy of your profession as judges is that you know you have to judge with laws that still are not all just. There are judges still alive in Italy who in the past even had to condemn people to death. If today all of us are horrified at the very thought, we have to thank those luminaries who helped us to make progress, teaching us to criticise the law which was in force then. This is why, in a certain sense, schooling lies outside of your jurisdiction.


The youngster

Young people are not yet legally chargeable and still do not exercise their sovereign rights; they simply have to prepare themselves to exercise them tomorrow, and so on the one hand they are our inferiors because they have to obey us and we are responsible for what they do, while on the other hand they are our superiors because tomorrow they will promulgate better laws than ours. So the teacher has to be a prophet as far as he can. He has to scrutinize the "signs of the times", to divine in the eyes of the young people the splendid things they will see clearly tomorrow and which we only see vaguely.


The schoolteacher

The schoolteacher too is therefore in some respect outside the range of your regulations and yet at your service. If you condemn him you will be attacking the legislative process.


Real love for the law

As for their lives as sovereign young men and women tomorrow, I cannot tell my pupils that the only way to revere the law is to obey it. I can only tell them that they should hold mankind's laws in such esteem as to observe them when they are fair (that is, when they uphold the weak). When they see that they are not fair (that is, when the laws sanction abuse of power by the strong) they should fight to change them.


The lever of all levers

The official lever for changing the law is the ballot box. The Constitution places the lever of the strike alongside it. But the real lever of these two levers of power is to influence other voters and strikers by words and example. And when it is time there is no greater schooling than to pay in person for an objection based on conscience; that is, to break the law your conscience tells you is bad and accept the punishment foreseen by the law. Schooling is, for example, our letter in the dock and schooling is the witness of those 31 young men in prison at Gaeta. Whoever pays in person testifies that he wants a better law i.e. that he reveres the law more than others do. I do not understand how he can be taken for an anarchist. We pray that God might send us more young men capable of so much.


Our reading

I learned this technique of constructive reverence for the law together with my pupils while we were reading the Crito, Socrates' Apology, the life of Our Lord in the four gospels, Gandhi's autobiography, the letters of the Hiroshima pilot. The lives of men who tragically clashed with the rules in force in their time, not to undermine them but improve them.


My example

I have applied this, in my own small way, also in my whole life as a Christian with respect to the laws and authority of the Church, being strictly orthodox and disciplined and at the same time passionately attentive to the present and future. Nobody can accuse me of heresy or indiscipline, nor of making a career: I am 42 years of age and parish priest of 42 souls!


The fruits of our schooling

However, I have brought up admirable youngsters; excellent citizens and excellent Catholics. Not one of them has grown up an anarchist. Not one of them has grown up a conformist. Find out about them for yourselves; they testify in my favour.

Second part: But is it really an offence?

Three principles of law:

a) Italy repudiates war

b) A soldier, too, has a conscience

c) Joint responsibility

So far I have declared to you that even if the letter under accusation amounted to an offence, it was my moral duty as a teacher to write it all the same. I have pointed out that taking this liberty away from me you would be attacking schooling i.e. legislative progress. But then is it an offence?


The Constitution in schools

The Constituent Assembly invited us to give space in schools to the Constitutional Charter "in order to make the new generation aware of the moral and social achievements that have been attained" (Resolution approved unanimously 11th December 1947).


a) Italy Repudiates War

One of these moral and social achievements is article 11: "Italy repudiates war as an instrument of aggression against the freedoms of other peoples". You jurists say that laws only concern the future, but we ordinary folk say that the word repudiates has a much richer significance, it embraces the past and future. It is an invitation to heave it all out of the window: history as we were taught it and the concept of absolute obedience to military authorities as they are teaching still.

Pardon me if I have to dwell on this point, but a letter which is a glimpse of a hundred years of history in the light of the verb repudiates has been interpreted by the public prosecutor as an apologia of disobedience. It is from the premisses of how those wars are to be judged that it follows whether one should or should not obey with regard to future wars.


They falsified everything

When we went to school our teachers, God forgive them, misled us so basely. Some poor souls really believed it all - they misled us only because they themselves had been misled. Others knew they were deceiving us, but they were afraid. Most of them were perhaps simply superficial. If you listened to them all wars were "for the Fatherland". Let us now examine four kinds of war which were not "for the Fatherland".


No. 1 - for the ruling class

Our teachers forgot to point out to us something totally obvious: armies march upon the orders of the ruling class. In Italy till 1880 only 2% of the population had the right to vote. Up to 1909 it was 7%. In 1913 23% had the right to vote, but only half of them knew it or wanted to exercise it. From 1922 to 1945 people no longer received an electoral certificate, but everyone got their call-up papers for three dreadful wars.

Today there is universal suffrage by right, but article three of the Constitution warned us in 1947, with disconcerting sincerity, that workers were de facto excluded from the reins of power. Since no request has been made to revise that article it is legitimate to think (as I do) that it describes a situation which has not yet been superseded.


Class-conscious army

So it is officially recognised that labourers and those who work on the land, that is, the bulk of the Italian people, have never been in power. Therefore, the army has marched only on the orders of a restricted class of people. What is more it bears their stamp: included in military service is a monthly payment of 93,000 lire for those from wealthy families, and of 4,500 lire a month for those from poor families. They do not eat the same food at the same mess, the sons of the rich have the sons of the poor as their attendants. So the army has never, or almost never, represented the Fatherland in its entirety or in its equality.


The people as defences, a class as aggressors

Moreover, in how many wars throughout history have armies represented the Fatherland? Perhaps the army which defended France during the Revolution. But certainly not Napoleon's army in Russia. Perhaps the British army after Dunkerque. But certainly not the British army in Suez. Perhaps the Russian army at Stalingrad. But certainly not the Russian army in Poland. Perhaps the Italian army at the Piave. But certainly not the Italian army on 24th May (when they entered the First World War - translator's note).

At school I have solely the children of labourers and those who work on the land. We got the electric light at Barbiana a fortnight ago, but they started delivering the call-up papers to people's homes back in 1861. I cannot refrain from pointing out to my pupils that their unfortunate fathers suffered and caused others to suffer to defend the interests of a restricted class (which they were not even part of!), not the interests of the Fatherland.



Even the Fatherland is a creation, that is to say it is something less than God - an idol if one adores it. I think that you cannot give up your life for something less than God. Even if you should allow that one's life can be given up for the good idol (the Fatherland), you certainly cannot concede that it can be given up for the evil idol (speculation on the part of the industrialists).


No. 2 - to give up your life for nothing

To give up your life for nothing is worse still. Our teachers did not tell us that in 1866 Austria had offered us the Veneto region gratis. That is, that those who died had died for no purpose. That it is monstrous to go and kill and die for no reason. If they had told us fewer lies we would have glimpsed how complex the truth is. How also that war, as every war, was a mix of the heroic enthusiasm of some, the heroic indignation of others, and the criminality of others still.


Respect for the fallen

I am saying this because there are some who accuse me of a lack of respect for the fallen. It is not true. I do respect those unfortunate victims. For this very reason it would seem to me an insult to them if I were to praise those who sent them to die and then saved their own skin. For example, our former king who ran off to Brindisi with Marshall Badoglio and various generals, and who in his hurry even forgot to leave any orders. Further, my respect for the dead cannot make me forget my pupils who are alive. I do not want them to come to the same tragic end. If one day they will be capable of offering their lives in sacrifice, I shall be proud - but let it be for God and the poor, not for signor Savoia and signor Krupp.


No. 3 - to give up your life for some strategy

We shall also have to remember those wars to extend the borders beyond our national territory. There are still some poor old fascists who write pathetic letters to me to tell me that before saying the holy name of Battisti I should wash my mouth out with soap and water.



This is because our teachers presented him to us as a fascist hero. They had forgotten to tell us that he was a socialist. That had he been alive on 4th November when the Italians entered the South Tyrol he would have objected. He would not have taken one step beyond Salorno for the very same reason that four years beforehand he had objected to the presence of the Austrians on this side of Salorno and he went off and deserted, just as I say in my letter. "We would deem it foolish to set up a claim to Merano and Bolzano" (Political writings of Cesare Battisti, vol. II, pp. 96-97). "Certain Italians mix up the Tyrol with Trentino too easily, and quite illogically want the borders of Italy extended right up to the Brenner Pass". (ibid.)

Under fascism the mystification was systematically organised. Not only by means of books, but even to the landscape: the Alto Adige, where no Italian soldier had ever died, had three bogus war cemeteries (Colle Isarco, Passo Resia, S. Candido) filled with the exhumed bodies of those who had really fallen at Caporetto.


The world is one

I am talking of borders for those who still believe, as Battisti believed, that borders should make a clean cut between nation and nation, and certainly not to give satisfaction to those antiquated Nazis who shoot at twenty-year-old carabinieri. As for me, I teach my pupils that frontiers are an obsolete concept. When we were writing the letter we saw that our boundary stakes were always shifting here and there. And whatever continues changing position according to the whims of military fortunes cannot be a dogma of faith, either civil or religious.


No. 4 - to give up your life overseas

They presented the Empire to us as a glory for the Fatherland! I was 13 years old. It seems like yesterday. I jumped for joy for the Empire. Our teachers had forgotten to tell us that the Ethiopians were better than us. That we were off to set fire to their huts, with their women and children inside, while they had done nothing to us.

That cowardly schooling - consciously or unconsciously, I do not know - paved the way for the horrors three years later. It prepared millions of obedient soldiers. Obedient to Mussolini's orders. Or rather, to be more precise, obedient to Hitler's orders. Fifty million dead.


Civic duty to demystify

And after being so grossly mystified by my teachers when I was 13 years of age, now that I myself am a teacher and have before me these 13 year-old children that I love, would you want me not to feel the obligation - not only moral (as I wrote in the first part of this letter), but also civic - to demystify everything, military obedience as they taught us back then included?

Prosecute the teachers who still today tell those lies, those who since then have not studied or thought anymore. Prosecute them, not me.


b) A Soldier, Too, Has A Conscience

We wanted to write this letter without the aid of a jurist. But we do have a copy of the legal Codes at school. In the text of article 40 of the Peacetime Military Penal Code and in the case-law for article 51 of the Penal Code we found that a soldier is not obliged to obey when the act he is commanded to perform is manifestly criminal. That an order must have a minimum semblance of legitimacy. A sentence issued by the Special Court-Martial convicted a soldier who obeyed an order to massacre civilians (13-12-1949, defendant Strauch).

So, also your regulations recognise that even a soldier has a conscience and must know how to use it when the time comes. How could the following have a minimum semblance of legitimacy: decimation, retaliation upon hostages, deportation of the Jews, torture, colonial war?


International Law

Or, could an act condemned by international agreements which Italy has signed have a minimum semblance of legitimacy?

Our Archbishop, Cardinal Florit, has written that "it is practically impossible for the single individual to evaluate the many and various aspects regarding the morality of the orders he receives" (Letter to the Clergy 14-4-1965). He surely did not mean to refer to the orders that German nurses received to kill their patients. Nor the orders to train their sights on hospitals which Badoglio received and passed on to his soldiers (telegram from Mussolini 28-3-1936). Nor the use of gas.


Gas in Ethiopia

It is a fact that the Italians used gas in Ethiopia and there is no point in shutting our eyes to it. The Geneva Protocol of 17th May 1925, ratified by Italy on 3rd April 1928, was first violated by Italy on 23rd December 1935 over the Tekeze river. The Encyclopaedia Britannica states there is no doubt about it. Even the Catholic papers now denounce it ("L'Avvenire d'Italia" articles by Angelo del Boca in 13th May and 15th July 1965). We have read Mussolini's telegram to Graziani: "use of gas authorised" (telegram n. 12409 of 27th October 1935), to Badoglio: "renew authorisation use of gas any sort or scale" (29th March 1936). Haile Selassie has authoritatively confirmed it in detail (interview in "L'Espresso" 29th September 1965 and ff).

Those obedient officers and soldiers who dropped barrel-loads of mustard gas are war criminals and still have not been put on trial. Yet I have been put on trial because I wrote a letter which many consider noble. (Among the many letters of solidarity from the Internal Commissions of the main Florentine factories most dear ones from the officials and activists of the C.I.S.L. trade union of Milano and Florence, and from the Waldensian Church).

What sort of idea can the youth form of what constitutes a crime?

And then today international conventions have been included in the Constitution (art. 10). I teach my mountain children to hold the Constitution and the treaties their Fatherland has signed in greater esteem than orders to the contrary of any general.


The common sense of the poor

I do not believe that they are halfwits incapable of distinguishing whether it is lawful to burn a child alive or not. They are sovereign, responsible citizens. Rich in the common sense of the poor. Immune from certain intellectual perversions that the children of bourgeois families sometimes suffer from. Those, for instance, that used to read D'Annunzio and brought fascism and its wars upon us.



At Nuremberg and Jerusalem men who had obeyed were convicted. Humankind as a whole agrees that they should not have obeyed, because there is a law that mankind has not yet got firmly put down in their codes perhaps, but which is written in their hearts. A large part of mankind calls it God's law, the other part calls it the law of Conscience. Those who do not believe in either of these are but a low, sick minority. They are the worshippers of blind obedience.



To convict our letter is the same as telling young Italian soldiers that they must not have a conscience, that they must obey like automatons, that their crimes will be paid by those who gave the orders. Instead we need to tell them that Claude Eatherly, the Hiroshima pilot, - who each night sees women and children on fire and melting like candles - refuses to take tranquillisers, he does not want to sleep, he does not want to forget what he did when he was "a nice young fellow", a "disciplined soldier" (according to the definition used by his superior officers), a "poor, irresponsible idiot" (according to the definition he uses now about himself). ("Burning Conscience" by Claude Eatherly told to Gunther Anders).

c) Joint Responsibility

Then in Moral Theology I studied an ancient principle of Roman Law which you, too, accept. The principle of joint responsibility. Ordinary folk know it in the form of a proverb: He that holds the swag bag is as much a thief as he that does the stealing . When we are dealing with two people who commit a crime together, e.g. the killer and the person who hired him, you give them each a life sentence and everyone understands that the responsibility is not halved.


Fractionized responsibility

A crime like that of Hiroshima needed some thousands of direct accomplices: politicians, scientists, technicians, labourers, aviators. Each one has silenced his conscience pretending that that figure should function as a denominator. Remorse divided by thousands does not disturb the man of today's sleep. And so we have reached this absurdity: that the caveman if he clubbed somebody, he knew he had hurt them and repented; the airman of the atomic age fills the tank of the airplane that shortly after is going to pulverize 200,000 Japanese and he does not repent of it.

If we listen to the theorists of obedience and to certain German tribunals, only Hitler would be answerable for the murder of six million Jews. But Hitler was irresponsible since he was mad. Therefore, that crime never happened because it had no perpetrator.


Obedience is no longer a virtue

There is only one way of escaping from this macabre word play: to have the courage to tell the youth that they themselves are all sovereigns - thus obedience is no longer a virtue but the most deceptive of temptations - that they should not believe they can use it as a shield before men or God, that each one of them needs to feel as though they alone are responsible for all. On this understanding humanity could say that in this century it has seen moral progress side by side with and comparable to its technical progress.


As a priest

My letter is in the soundest Catholic tradition. If it is an offence, prosecute us all.

a) History

b) Doctrine


So far I have spoken as a citizen and a teacher who believes that he has done civil society a good turn with his schooling and his letter, not that he has committed an offence. But let us suppose again that you consider it an offence.

If this accusation is made against me alone and not also against all my brothers, it questions my orthodoxy as a Catholic and a priest. In fact, it will appear that you are condemning the personal ideas of an odd priest. Whereas I am a living part of the Church; indeed, her minister. Had I said anything foreign to her teaching, she would have condemned me. She has not done so because my letter says things which are basic Christian doctrine that all priests have been teaching for 2,000 years. If I have committed an offence, prosecute us all.



I have avoided speaking from a non-violent standpoint on purpose. Personally, I am a non-violent person. I have tried to educate my pupils in this way. Wherever I could, I pointed them in the direction of the trade unions (the only organisations that employ non-violent techniques on a large scale). But non-violence is not yet the official doctrine of the whole Church. While the doctrine of the primacy of conscience over the law most certainly is. It will be simple for me to demonstrate that in my letter I spoke as a thorough Catholic- indeed, often as a conservative one.


a) History

The history of the reactionaries

Let us begin with history. In my letter the history of Italy up to 1929 is exactly the same as how it was recounted by the priests in the seminary before that date. My old parish priest told me that the Catholic paper of Florence "La Squilla" had at the top and bottom a thick black stripe. It was in mourning for what had happened during the Risorgimento! (a movement for the unification of Italy from about 1750 to 1870. See reference to Porta Pia at the beginning of this letter - translator's note).

All antifascists!

As for more recent history, i.e. opinions regarding the fascist wars, it may well be that some of my brothers feel nostalgia deep inside, but it is well known that the vast majority of priests support a democratic party which was the principal author of the Constitution (hence the word repudiates ).


b) Doctrine

Basic doctrine

Let us turn to doctrine. The doctrine of the primacy of the law of God over the law of man is shared, or rather extolled, by the whole Church. I shall not go and look up the works of modern, abstruse theologians in order to demonstrate it. You can ask a child who is preparing for his First Holy Communion about it: "If your father or mother orders you to do something bad should you obey them? The martyrs disobeyed the laws of the State, were they right or wrong?"

There are some who quote St. Peter inopportunely: "Obey your superiors even if they are evil". Indeed. It does not matter whether those who give us orders are personally good or evil. They shall answer for their actions before God. It does matter, though, whether they order us to do good or bad deeds, because we shall answer for our actions before God. In fact St. Peter was writing those wise recommendations to obedience from the prison where he had been shut up for having solemnly disobeyed.


The Council of Trent

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) is explicit on this point (Catechism: third part, fourth precept, sixteenth paragraph): "If the political authorities order something iniquitous, they are absolutely not to be heeded. In explaining this to the people, the parish priest should point out that a great, proportionate reward is reserved in heaven for those who obey this divine precept", i.e. to disobey the State!

Certain extreme right-wing Catholics (perhaps the same ones who denounced me) admire the Exhibition of the Church of Silence (organised by neo-fascists sometime in the sixties using photographs in order to recount the persecution of Christians in communist countries - translator's note ). That exhibition is the exaltation of citizens who rebel against the State for reasons of conscience. So, even my most superficial accusers see the matter as I do. Their only fault is to remember that eternal law when the State is Communist and the victims Catholics, and to forget it in the cases when the State declares itself Catholic and the victims are Communist (as in Spain).

These things are unpleasant, but I have recalled them to show you that on this point there is a complete range of Catholics who see the matter as I do.



We all know that the Church honours her martyrs. Not far from your courthouse she built a basilica to honour a simple fisherman who paid with his life for the conflict between his conscience and the regulations in force. St. Peter was a "bad citizen". Your predecessors in the Roman court of justice were not completely in the wrong to condemn him. Yet they were not intolerant towards religions. In Rome they had built temples to all the gods and they took care to offer sacrifices at every altar. In only one religion did their deep feeling for law recognise a mortal danger for their institutions. The one whose first commandment says: "I am a jealous God. You shall have no other God before me".


Your laws are making progress

Thus, it was inevitable that in those days good Hebrews and good Christians might appear bad citizens. Then State laws made progress. Let me say, no disrespect to the secularists of course, that little by little they were drawing near to the law of God. So, each day it is getting easier for us to be recognised as good citizens. However, it is by coincidence and not because of something in its nature that this is happening. Do not marvel, then, if we still cannot obey all the laws of men. Let us improve them still and one day we shall obey them all. I have told you that as a civil teacher I, too, am giving a hand to improve them. Because I have faith in the laws of men. During the brief course of my lifetime it seems to me that we have made rapid progress. Today people condemn many bad things which yesterday they approved. Today they condemn the death penalty, absolutism, the monarchy, censorship, colonies, racism, the subjection of women, prostitution, child labour. They highly respect the strike, the trade unions and political parties.


They almost correspond

All of this is an irreversible move towards the laws of God. Already today the correspondence is so great that normally a good Christian can pass an entire lifetime without ever being forced by his conscience to violate a State law. For instance, I have a clean record up to now. And I hope it remains so at the end of this trial. It is a wish I make for the patriots. Who knows how they would writhe if they could read the many letters I receive from abroad. From countries where there is no national service or where they recognise conscientious objection. Those who write them are convinced they are writing to a nation of savages. Some of them ask me how long poor Father Balducci will still have to stay in prison (Ernesto Balducci 1922-1992. In 1964 stood trial for the same offence Don Milani was accused of. He was acquitted, but then condemned in appeal and sentenced to eight months imprisonment- translator's note ).


But not always

So, we were saying that today our two laws almost coincide. There are, however, exceptional cases when the old difference and the commandment of the Church to obey God rather than men are in force. I listed some of these cases in the letter under accusation. I can add some other considerations.


Conscientious objection and the Council

Let us start from conscientious objection in the strict sense of the term. In these very days I have had support from the Church on this specific point, too. The Vatican Council invites legislators to show respect (respicere) for those who "either to bear witness to Christian meekness, or out of reverence for life, or out of horror of doing any violence whatsoever, reject for reasons of conscience either military service or some single acts of appalling cruelty which war leads to." (Schema 13, paragraph 101. This is the text proposed by the Special Commission which reflects all the trends within the Council. It is therefore very likely that it will be the definitive version)[it does not seem to appear in the final version. However, one of the Vatican Council documents called "Gaudium et spes" did mention the need for a law in recognition of those who are conscientious objectors but are willing to perform other services to the community instead of military service - translator's note] . Those twenty militarists in Florence said the objector is a coward. I only said perhaps he is a prophet. It seems to me that the Bishops are saying much more than I.


Three symptomatic facts

I shall recall three other symptomatic facts:

In 1918 seminarians returning from the war who wanted to become priests had to ask the Holy See to make amends for canonical irregularities they may have incurred through obeying their officers. In 1929 the Church asked the State to dispense seminarians, priests and bishops from military service. Canon 141 forbids clerics to volunteer unless they do so in order to finish the service at the first opportunity (ut citius liberi evadant!). Whoever disobeys is automatically reduced to lay status.

So the Church considers military activity on the whole unseemly, to say the least, for a priest. With its zones of light and shade. What the State honours with medals and monuments.


The killing of civilians

Lastly, we face the burning question of the recent wars and those of the future: the killing of civilians. The Church has never admitted that it was lawful to kill civilians in war, unless it happened accidentally while trying to hit a military target. At school we have recently read an article, recommended by the "Giorno", written by the Nobel prize winner Max Born (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 1964).


In the last three wars

He says that in the First World War the percentages of deaths were 5% for civilians and 95% for the military (one could still maintain that the civilians had died "accidentally"). In the Second World War we have 48% for civilians and 52% for the military (you could not maintain any longer that the civilians had died "accidentally"). In the Korean War the numbers are 84% for the civilians and 16% for the military (by now one can maintain that it was the military who died "accidentally").


The current strategy

We all know that the generals are studying today's strategy with megadeath (a million dead) as the unit of measurement. That is to say, today's weapons directly target civilians and perhaps only the military will escape death. To my knowledge no theologian allows that a soldier can directly (we may now say "exclusively") target civilians. Thus in such cases a Christian must object even at the cost of his life. I would add that it seems consistent to me to say that a Christian cannot take part in such a war even as a cook.



Gandhi had already understood this even before there was any talk of atomic weapons: "I draw no distinction between those who wield the weapons of destruction and those who do Red Cross work. Both participate in war and advance its cause. Both are guilty of the crime of war." (Non-violence in Peace and War). At this point I wonder whether it is not simply academic to go on talking of war using terms which already served badly for the Second World War.


The wars of the future

Yet I have to talk also about the war of the future, because by accusing me of instigation to commit an offence reference is made to what our young men should or should not do tomorrow.

But in the war of the future the inadequacy of the terminology used in our theology and your legislation is more evident still.


Shoot first

It is well known that the only "defence" possible in an atomic war will be to launch your missiles around twenty minutes before the "aggressor" launches his. But in the Italian language firing first is called attack, not defence.



Or let us imagine a State who plays fair and in its own defence launches its missiles twenty minutes afterwards; that is, its submarines - the only survivors of a country by now wiped off the face of the earth - fire them. But in the Italian language this is called vendetta, not defence.

I am sorry if the argument takes on a science fiction-like tone, but Kennedy and Krushchev (the two architects of détente!) have hurled threats of this nature at one another in public.

"We are fully aware of the fact that if this war is unleashed, from the very first hour it will become a thermonuclear and world war. This is perfectly obvious to us" (Letter of Kruschev to Bertrand Russell, 23rd October 1962). So we are tragically in this real state of affairs.

Therefore, a defensive war no longer exists. Therefore, a "just war" no longer exists; neither in the eyes of Church nor the Constitution.


The survival of the human species

Several times over scientists have warned us that the survival of the human species is at stake. (For example, Linus Pauling - Nobel prize winner for chemistry and peace). And here we are asking whether it is lawful or not for a soldier to destroy the human species?

I hope with all my heart that you will acquit me: the idea of going to play the hero in prison does not amuse me. But I cannot refrain from declaring to you explicitly that I shall go on teaching my pupils what I have taught up till now. That is, if an officer gives them orders worthy of a paranoiac, their only duty is to truss him up tightly and take him off to a mental clinic.

I hope that all over the world my fellow priests and teachers of every religion and every school will teach what I teach. But then maybe some general will find a wretch anyway who will obey him and so we shall not be able to save the world.


Saving our soul

This is no reason not to do our duty as teachers to the fullest. If we cannot save humanity we will at least save our souls.




As mentioned at the beginning, they were acquitted. However, the matter duly went to the Appeal Court. Don Milani had died before the verdict was reached, so his name was taken off the act of accusation. That left the editor of "Rinascita" on his own as defendant. Don Milani's letter was condemned.


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