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Marshall Carpet One
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In the area of Palermo between the thirteenth century Basilica of the Magione (shown here) and the never-completed Church of the Spasimo (16th century), one encounters a rather expansive square often referred to as "Piazza Magione," even though that square actually lies on the edge of this small grassy park, which spans several city blocks. A grassy park in the center of a southern Italian city? Why not? Trees, grass, and even a built-in sprinkler system complete the picture, with the lawns bordered by a low wall. Nothing wrong with that, right?
The story of the Piazza Magione "restoration" begins in Spring 1943, when the Allies, in preparation for the eventual invasion of Sicily, began the "carpet bombing" of Axis defensive positions protecting the Port of Palermo. Precision bombing, as we know it today, did not yet exist, and areas as far as a kilometer from the coast suffered damage. Civilian casualties were high, as homes, shops and churches were damaged. In the end, the intimidated Fascist troops surrendered Palermo to General Patton's American forces without a fight, the Germans having already fled. (Incredible though it may seem, few Italians under the age of about 60 have much knowledge of such facts, which are not taught in most schools; the civilians killed in Palermo in 1943 are among the war's "Forgotten Italians.")
Following the war, the Marshall Plan provided funds for rebuilding this neighborhood and others. Under the auspices of ecclesiastical administration, the Basilica of the Magione and the Church of Saint Francis Assisi were restored to their medieval condition (both had been defaced by Baroque additions over the centuries), an important factor which makes them tourist attractions today. On the secular (non-ecclesiastical) front, however, the city's corrupt post-war administrators and the Mafia made short work of most of the monies provided by the United States or by the central government in Rome, using the funds to "develop" new parts of Palermo or build vacation homes. The Magione district was abandoned. Even aristocrats abandoned their palaces. Those poorer Palermitans who remained in the surrounding neighborhoods are the "Forgotten Sicilians." By the 1960s, the state of crumbling decay was so extensive that it was decided to level the entire Magione area, forming what became, in effect, a large parking lot.
The vast ancient and medieval historical district of Palermo is one of Italy's largest, eclipsed only by those of Rome and (perhaps) Naples. Europe's "most historical street," street, Corso Calatafimi, which runs from Palermo Cathedral to Monreale Abbey, boasts a Phoenician-Carthaginian burial ground, Roman ruins, a Norman-Arab palace (the Cuba) and castle (the Norman Palace) and other treasures. Against the backdrop of this unique heritage, most of Palermo's recent historical restorations have been disasters planned by semi-competent architects who happen to be the friends of local politicians; the Zisa and the Steri are lasting examples of the mediocre reconstruction of medieval castles. But Piazza Magione presented a different problem altogether. By the 1990s, the city had purchased the property where the old buildings had once stood. The immediate issue was no longer a question of what could have been, but of what was by then a fact of life. In reality, the Magione district which existed in 1945 had not existed for decades. Viewed in that context, the grassy park didn't seem like such a terrible idea.
It has been criticized on the basis that such parks, popular in places like London and New York, are not part of Sicilian tradition. The new park has been called "the right idea in the wrong place." Such observations overlook certain things. At the very least, the park may provide local children a place to play. A few more trees would make it more inviting. The debate will continue.
Chiang Kaishek Jumped Through This Window
........to escape the Young Marshal, Zhang Xueliang, Xi'an Incident, 1936
In December 1936 Chiang Kai-shek moved to Xi'an to pursue what he believed would be the final phase of his Communist extermination campaign. Despite what you'll read, there seemed to be a fair chancce that he would succeed. The communists were weakened after the long march and supply from the Soviet Union was so difficult as to be almost impossible.
However during the early morning of 12 December, two of his generals, Yang Hucheng and Zhang Xueliang, conspired to capture Chiuang and hold him as a hostage against negotiations of a common front against the Japoanese with the communists.
There was a tense stand-off off fortwo weeks. In the Nationalist capital Nanjing many were for immediate carpet bombing of Xi'an. This was of course opposed by Chiang's wife Soong Mayling, a powerful figure in her own right
She had been close to Zhang Xueliang, known as the Young Marshall, and managed to establish a line of communication between the Nationalists and Zhang using as her main negotiator the adviser to the Nationalists, and former mentor to Zhnag Xueliang, the Australian former journalist W H Donald. Finally on 24 December 1936, through the offices of Donald, surely one of the most amazing characters in modern Chinese history, a deal was brokered and Chiang was released.
Zhang's motives have been speculated on ad nauseam. What is most interesting is that there isa wide-spread belief in China at the moment that he was a crypto communist which makes a certain amount of sense. From the communist point of view, lots of rubbish is printed about who wanted to do what to Chiang but the reality is whatever various people's personal views might have been, ultimate power in the Chinese Communist Party rested with Stalin and Stalin's policy was the united front. Which is what he got.
Zhang and Yang were held as personal prisoners of Chiang. Ultimately Yang was murdered in prison in Taiwan. Zhang was luckier. In an interview which he gave at the age og 100 he says quite clearly that Soong Mayling protected him. But he languished in house arrest in Taiwan until he was well into his 90s.
At the time of the incident, Chiang was headquartered at the Huaqing Hot Springs, an ancient and beautiful resort made famous by the Tang Emperor Xuan Zong who spent far too much time there dallying with his beautiful concubine, Yang Guifei, with whom he was besotted.
Chaing has been the butt of much ridicule over this incident. When disturbed, he jumped out the window of the pavillion where he had been sleeping and ran into the forest, leaving behind his much discussed false teeth. It is interesting that Mao Zedong is not ridiculed over a similar imncident during the Cultural Revolution. In 1967 there was a right wing military ulprising in Wuhan. Mao. who was in Wuhan, escaped capture by jumping through a window and running out barefooted into the forest. He was saved only when Lin Biao sent a gunboat up the Yangtse to protect him.
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General George C. Marshall was a skillful and compassionate leader with a unique legacy. He never fired a shot during WWII and led no troops into battle—his brilliance was purely strategic and diplomatic, and incredibly effective. He was responsible for the building, supplying, and, in part, the deployment of over eight million soldiers. In 1947, as Secretary of State, he created the Marshall Plan, a sweeping economic recovery effort that pulled the war-shattered European nations out of ruin, and gave impetus to NATO and the European Common Market. It was for the Marshall Plan that he won the Nobel Peace Prize—the only time in history a military commander has ever been awarded this honor.
Marshall’s skilled combination of military strategy and politics, emphasis on planning as well as execution, and his expertise in nation-building holds lessons for military and civilian leaders today.
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