Exclusive interview to General Antonio Bettelli: LEONTE, a novel

(di Maria Grazia Labellarte)

It ‘s May 27th 2011. In two days the Italian UNIFIL peacekeepers in Lebanon are remembering their fallen, among them the Italian soldiers of Operation Leonte, too. At 15:55, a bomb exploded on the edge of the highway linking the Lebanese capital with the ancient Phoenician city of Sidon. The agencies break news : an Italian soldier died. Soon after, the Defense Staff Spokesman replies "No injuries risk their lives"; Antonio Bettelli is there, as the Defense Attaché officer at the Italian embassy, ​​and he knows that now, after fourteen years another Italian soldier might struggle between life and death : it’s the young Giovanni Memoli, whose story is dramatically intertwine with the history of the Land of the Cedars.
The author is an Italian Army officer, repeatedly engaged in peace support operations in various international theaters. Among them, there are the post-Saddam Iraq, in the southern province of Dhi Qar, the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, monitored by the operational command of Tampa in Florida, and in Lebanon, where he worked as a Defense Attaché at the Italian Embassy in Beirut and as commander of Sector West of the UNIFIL mission in the south of the country.

General Bettelli, why the writing of a novel entitled Leonte?

Lebanon is a controversial country, charming, unintelligible. LEONTE (the novel) tries to describe it. LEONTE however, is also the name of the operation of the Italian Armed Forces within the decades-long mission UNIFIL in the south of the country of the Cedars; LEONTE for it is the western name of one of the two most important rivers of the land - the Litani - which is the northern limit of the area of ​​operations of the UN multinational contingent, as well as Israel's military action in the appellation ' 78 gave birth, by an international agreement, the same mission UNIFIL.

A chain of situations and events since forty years have described some of the most important pages of our Armed Forces contemporary history. These were announced by the white liveries of the three Army helicopters landed in March 1979 on the cliffs of Naqoura, for the UN mission.

LEONTE is Lebanon but it too is the condition in which suddenly, on May 2nd 2011, then-Corporal Giovanni Memoli went to meet the experience that has definitely changed his life: an explosion treacherously caused by unknown hands, initial encouragement of a still unbroken passion.

At that juncture made of a desperate need of assistance that Giovanni’ s family brought urgently to his son in agony, I was in Beirut as Defense Attaché at the Italian Embassy. Since that occasion, in an unexpectedly almost- summer crisp afternoon in the Lebanese capital, I felt that Giovanni's passion and his family became, in the exercise of my duty, also my passion. LEONTE is therefore my story along with the story of Giovanni, but it is also a tribute to the sacrifice of many colleagues for the service, who have lost their lives or have been seriously injured. Those sacrifices reproduce today the attention of public opinion and the national political picture military honor, revealed not only by institutional commemorations in memory of the fallen, but also from the decorations worn with firm dignity by the injured soldiers.

In the novel, the protagonist Colonel Qa 'id lives steeply emotions irreversibly affecting him deeply and "the encouragement, lived together with the family of the young Giovanni the victim of the attack, becomes a reason for living."Do you believe General that a military engaged in the peacekeeping missions ( a not always easy environment and challenging both physically and spiritually) is to acquire a greater awareness of the reasons for living the beauty of life, in a peaceful country like ours ?

It’s an opportunity to observe the common phenomena of life with a very special magnifying glass. The contingencies of the mission puts our soldiers in a microcosm characterized by influences that repeatedly stress their spirits. It is not easy, for instance, to remain indifferent to the need of those who have suffered from the violence of war or who still suffers acutely because of the privations of extreme poverty. The mission days, passed in the service routine, are rich of important stimuli and anomalous, they can unhinge the learnt certainties and they lead you to the deepest reflections about the meaning of life, the relations we have with our affections, and the values of both friendship and discipline. The reasons of living.

Currently in my opinion, we witness in our social context the dominance of "relativism" in ideals, in suffering, in life choices, as well as in everyday life. Values ​​such as hope, faith and Christian charity, in your opinion, can they still have the same force as already in the past?

Our society has witnessed the weakening of the value system which it has adapted to, such as the cultural trail, politics and society in recent decades. Today, it seems as if we move within a deprived area of ​​borders to be respected and the blurring of the boundary behavior is the main cause of social disquiet. The changes stimulate the dynamics constantly enliven the society, so that the latter takes steps to ensure that, thanks to its dynamism, the redefinition of itself, but if the changes are beyond its control, there is no doubt that the fear of disorder will prevail. Military like us, trained to service discipline, the scope is very clear to. In those limits, evocative of the commitment of those who preceded us in the service, we are educated since the first steps in training institutions. In the moments of difficulty those limits become our references.
Urged by the Giovanni Memoli’ s event, which I shared with his family in the days following the attack – I’ve thought a lot about the Christian values ​​of acceptance, living in a land that is an authentic denominational kaleidoscope, feautured by the places described in the Old Testament and the Gospel. I so personally found myself in the religious message which I was brought up to, like, if not most, of the many messages sent by the military training: subordination, discipline, service.
The circumstances of the attack force today Giovanni in an intense way, sometimes hard, to the “acceptance”. In need of the unexpected path neo-natal, his family - mum and dad Maddalena and Nicola, with his dear sister Marianna, who was always close to. Giovanni did not deserve the proof of a new life, it is obvious. Through the encouragement of acceptance caused by the attack, I hope he can, however, strengthen the sense of belonging to his family and to the military community. Today, Giovanni Memoli is Marshal of Honor Role. For all of us is a fundamental and indispensable reference.


Marshal Memoli, on May 27th 2011 (date of the terrorist attack the novel Leonte inspires to ) you are among the six Italian Peacekeepers, most severely suffered the effects of the bomb blew up by the side of the highway between Beirut and the south, currently your life has changed tremendously because of that fateful day. May I ask you what message would you send to young people who today make so much effort to find meaning in their daily, by some even considered ordinary and boring?

To live their lives as best they can, to find joy in each moment and experience, and never give up, just like ME and many others who have lost something unfairly, but we try to get it back, and to live the best life we can.

You received the”Cross of honor to the victims of terrorism” and a gold medal for bravery, too. What do these recognitions mean to you ?

These medals have certainly a high symbolic value, built on the sacrifice and suffering of the servants of the state, often unknown to the public. I can only be honored to bear.
If I had to choose, I’d ask to live as I used to, of course. With the option to return to have other experiences in the Operating Theaters, side by side with my fellow soldiers. Yes, I confess that if I have one regret, it is the one of not being able to go on a mission with my UNIT-, with my commanders and my colleagues.