Machiavelli’s Advice

Advice From Machiavelli to the Presidential Candidates

Imagine a person so revered his tombstone has these words inscribed on it: “To so great a name, no epitaph can do justice. “

Do you think this phrase could be put above W’s grave?  How about Clinton’s? Obama’s?   How about Nixon’s?   Would you believe this is what is written on the gravestone of the infamous Niccolo Machiavelli?  I say infamous because an adjective is derived from his name – Machiavellian – it describes an unscrupulous person.   The English have an expression for the devil – ‘Old Nick,’ which is derived from their very black opinion of Machiavelli.  A person or politician who is Machiavellian is:  ‘cunning, dishonest, duplicitous, opportunistic, looks askance of morality in personal life.’  I guess today’s politicians have not evolved very much.  If we look at past political leaders you certainly could ascribe more than one of these attributes to them.

Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was born on May 5, 1469 in Florence, Italy.  Machiavelli earned the distinguished epitaph on his gravestone for his devotion to the service of Florence for which he was not duly compensated throughout his life.  He never became rich in spite of his dedication.  During his 58 years on earth, dying in 1527, Machiavelli  was a statesman, politician, a poet, a novelist, a translator of classical works as well as a playwright.  However, he is best known around the world for his work ‘The Prince,’ which is based on the behavior and actions he observed while serving  Duke Cesare Borgia.

He liked what he saw, so in 1513, Machiavelli wrote this treatise on political advice for present and future monarchs.  From then on Machiavelli and politics are inseparable.   His work is deemed a politician’s how-to manual and therefore he is considered the father of modern political science.  The truth hurts so his book did not garner him much love in his lifetime.  He made many enemies and at one point was tortured with the strappado.

The witches in Salem, Massachusettes were subjected to the strappado in an effort to get them to confess they were witches.  They had nothing to confess.  Neither did Machiavelli.  He was accused of being part of a conspiracy to murder Giuliano de Medici.

Torture using the strappado is very painful.  A person’s wrists are tied behind his back and then he is hoisted into the air.  This method usually dislocates the shoulders, tears muscles and you are left with two useless appendages.  Believe it or not, Machiavelli survived the strappado and there was nothing for him to confess.  He was thrown in prison and decided to write Giuliano a pair of sonnets in an effort to be exonerated.   Machiavelli called these poems the “Magnificant Giuliano.”  It worked.

Upon close observation of Cesare,  Niccolo Machiavelli believed all people are motivated by their desires and their fears, especially politicians.  It is how you deal with your desires and fears that create the type of politician one becomes. Since the 16th century politicians have used the recommendations in The Prince as their playbook whether they knew it or not.  With the invention of the printing press only a few decades before publication, ‘The Prince’ was widely distributed across Europe.  The Church and political leaders of the time had very harsh opinion of Machiavelli –thus the word Machiavellian – but if you are a student of history you will see his truths surfacing during every century since his words were written.

Let’s have some fun and see what Machiavelli would say to President Obama and to the field of candidates for the US presidential election.  To President Obama he might have said during his run for the Presidency:   “For a leader to be naïve or credulous can be dangerous, even fatal “ and remember, Barry, “when choosing your cabinet that the first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at  the men he has around him.”

To the dwindling field of candidates he would recommend many things.  To Bernie Sanders who proposes a very socialist agenda Niccolo would be prompted to make the following comment:  “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order.”

To Jeb: “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”

To Trump:  “Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great.  To understand the nature of the people, one must be a prince and to understand a prince one must be of the people.”

To Hillary:  “I know politics has no relation to morals but there is no surer sign of decay in a country than to see the rites of religion held in contempt.”

To Cruz who tried to sabotage Carson: “I know the end justifies the means” but do you not understand that “one change always leaves the way open for the establishment of others.”

To Carson: “The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among the many who are not virtuous.”

So relevant, don’t you think so?  Perhaps the Republican Party and the Democratic Party can send each candidate a gift – the book ‘The Prince.’  It couldn’t possibly hurt.


Italian Prisoners of War in the US.

Written for L’Idea Magazine.

Italian Prisoners of War in the United States


As the years pass, 68 to be exact, the memories of WWII fade further and further away. Unfortunately, parts of history are not always remembered and often not acknowledged. I wonder how many young people today realize that captured Italians, Germans, Japanese were removed from their theaters of war and brought to camps in the United States. The subject of these POWs doesn’t come up, I suspect. The number of WWII veterans is steadily dropping.

Occasionally, a novel will be published which will shine a light on an all but forgotten aspect of the war. Two books come to mind, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and The Anguish of Surrender – Japanese POWs of WWII. One tells of the internment of Japanese Americans, their round-up, the conditions they endured and the implications after the war. The other is about the Japanese aversion to surrender. No American novel that I am aware of tells the story of the Italian POWs in the United States.

prisonersinparadiseA number of years ago, a documentary entitled Prisoners in Paradise told their story, but a novel (historical-fiction or non-fiction) has not surfaced. In Italy, prisoners of the U.S. have published works about their experience in US POW camps, but I am not aware of any of those books being translated and marketed here. It’s a pity because their story should be remembered.

Between 1940 and 1945, 425,000 POWs landed on American soil. The majority of these men (350,000) were from Germany. There were camps for the German, Italian and Japanese in all but three states – Nevada, Vermont and North Dakota. They were on the East Coast in places such as Governor’s Island (NYC), the Raritan Arsenal (NJ), Fort Monmouth (NJ) Port Johnson (NJ), Brooklyn (NY), Camp Shanks (Rockland County, NY), (Bayonne (NJ). On the West Coast they were housed in an old fort on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, the Los Angeles area, the Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Illinois), the Northwest, (Wyoming, Utah, Colorado) and the South (Louisiana, Texas, Alabama.)   Usually these camps were put into areas where facilities to house them already existed, and where there was some type of labor shortage because of the war (factories, farms, munitions depots, ports, etc).

powimageThe Italian POWS numbered 51,000 and were placed in the 21 camps in 18 states. Generally speaking, the Italian soldiers were sympathetic to the Allies. Knowing this, the government gave them the option of renouncing Italy and joining the Italian Service Units. If they did this, they would be treated well, be given a job on their facility and could have freedom of movement with permission. The general enlisted man readily agreed for fear of being put in divisions being sent to fight Japan. The officers who were more educated and indoctrinated in Fascism were more reluctant. They had a real crisis of conscience and felt more loyal to their cause. If the men continued to swear allegiance to Italy they were considered non-compliant, referred to a NONS, and many were shipped to Hereford, Texas. Four thousand Italian officers were put on the Hereford Reservation.

POW UtahOne would think that the Italian prisoners would be welcomed with open arms in the NY/NJ and Boston area, but they were looked upon with suspicion when they first arrived. The Italian-Americans were finally convincing people they were Americans first, and now all these enemy combatants arrived to spoil things. However, that did not last long and in a short time the Catholic parishes near the installations were inviting the men to Sunday dinners, dances and outings. Those housed in the NYC area were treated to trips to museums, the Bronx Zoo, the Empire State Building and the usual tourist attractions of New York City. All social and cultural events were denied to the NONS in all the other states where they were placed.

Bocce field built by Italian POWs in Benicia Arsenal

To Californians, Japan was the real enemy. In the land of farmers and wine-makers, California, the Italian soldiers were enthusiastically received. Men were put to work in the fields or on fishing boats, earning $8.00 a month. The Catholic parishes ministered to their religious needs as well as social needs.

Italian prisoners of war contributed one millions hours of labor to the war effort. They were farm workers, bakers, ditch diggers, dock works, freight handlers for trucks, railcars, fulfilling the needs of the communities in which their camp was located.

pow artwork two

To the Italian prisoners, the camps were almost paradise. Although there were instances of mistreatment, especially toward the NONS, they were kept in clean barracks, had hot showers, an abundance of food and they could spend the money they saved from their work at the local PX. The educated officers would often buy books, writing papers and utensils, supplies for painting, sculpting, woodworking, for activities which they would do in their spare time. With these skills they also earned extra money. They made jewelry from scrap metal, made furniture and cabinets for people who sought their expertise, painted portraits and even religious frescos for churches. Often, they did not take money for their work.

Hereford Chapel fully restored

Five Italian prisoners died in Hereford, Texas, not too long before the war ended. It is not known if they died from disease, accident, or mistreatment. We do know that the NONS in Hereford built a chapel to inter their fellow officers there. The chapel was built using scavenged bricks, broken glass, and surplus material. Using their own money they purchased an altar, double French doors, and stained glass window. Since they knew they would be shipped home within a few weeks, they worked long and hard and completed the lovely chapel in three weeks.

The chapel eventually fell into disrepair, but it was restored not too long ago.   It stands proudly in the middle of a corn field, a testament to the Italian officers who lived and died on the 800 acre where they were stationed for the duration of the war. Let us not forget the brave Italian men who fought for Italy during WWII and were brought to the United States as prisoners!

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Outside the Strongbox

Going through my mother’s things after she died was an often painful process.  Evidence of my immediate family’s history such as photographs, baptismal certificates, passports, honor roll records, college awards could be so nostalgic that the tears would start rolling down my cheeks before I had gotten past the first line.

At the bottom of the metal box where these treasures were stored was an envelope discolored with age that I had never seen before.   I knew it had to predate my birth, perhaps even my mother’s birth.   I tried to gingerly pull the sheets out but my fingers managed to crumble the corner into bits.  Not wishing to do more damage, I sacrificed the envelope and cut it opened with a pair of scissors.

Just like all Americans, my family came from another country.  They came from Italy.  Most people associate the port of entry for Italian immigrants to be Manhattan’s Ellis Island.  Few people realize that New Orleans was another hub for immigrants of all nationalities, especially the Italians.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, immigration was driven by war, poverty, social and economic oppression.   America was not only the land of opportunity; people from the Old World were attracted to the democratic system of government with its freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

One reason for Italian immigration that is often not acknowledged is disease.   The poor of Northern Italy, especially Lombardy and the Veneto, were plagued by pellagra, which is a deficiency in niacin. This problem was caused by a diet consisting mainly of polenta (corn meal).  Inhabitants of this region with scare resources to buy a variety of food needed for good nutrition (meat, fruits, vegetables and grains) developed pellagra which caused blindness, severe dermatitis, neurological impairments and even lunacy.

The bane of existence in Southern Italy was malaria, a mosquito born disease which led to high swinging fevers, complications to the brain and liver, coma and death.  Both diseases are curable if caught early enough.  However, medicine in the 19th century was not the medicine of today.  So many poor Italians were forced to leave the country they loved for a new land in an effort to find employment.  There, hard work would translate into a higher standard of living and provide a healthy life for themselves and their children.

As I mentioned, when we think of the immigration of Italians and others, we automatically think of Ellis Island. However the facility was not built until 1892.  Prior waves of Italian immigrants and others landed on the Battery where a New York State Immigration station was located from 1855 to 1892.

Everyone knows someone who came through the port of New York and most people have heard that when the immigrants arrived, Italians included, they were examined for physical and mental illness, as well as communicable diseases.  If the ailment was easily curable they were sent to the hospital in the complex. Otherwise they were deported.

Besides providing their name, country and town of origin, parents’ names, list of any children and occupation, the Immigration and Naturalization officers had to know the marital status of the individual.

Unaccompanied women could not disembark unless there was a father or husband with proof in hand to claim them.  If they were unmarried, but had a fiancé ready and willing to marry them on the spot, they could disembark.  Brides could be married in a religious ceremony or have a civil ceremony.

The waiting fiancé would make arrangements in advance with The St. Raphael Society for Italian Immigrants and a priest would be waiting with the groom to claim the bride.  Witnesses also had to be produced.  My great-grandparents marriage licenses were in that strong box as were two others from my grandfather’s first wives.  These documents came from New Orleans.  So it appears that the menfolk of my family originally came through the south of the United States.

Below is an example of a marriage certificate completed by the St. Raphael Society for Italian Immigrant when grandpa married for the second time.   Paolo Ferretti of Brebbia (Lombard town near Milan) and his bride Rosa Porrini also originally from Brebbia were both married on November 1, 1914.  This certificate enabled the happy couple to go on their way.  See below.

Nicola Eschino and Francheschina Mastropaolo from the province of Molise, were married on Ellis Island on March 8, 1903. My grandmother was an Eschino.)  On this document you will see that the great-grandfather Eschino resided in Rotterdam, NY, and the bride’s residence was listed as Ellis Island.  Grandpa Eschino married his first wife in New Orleans at the tender age of fifteen.

In the 19th century before Ellis Island, the Port of New Orleans was the major port of entry for immigrants, particularly Italian immigrants. This hub was created because of the opportunity for employment.  Massive amounts of Caribbean goods as well as American goods (citrus, rice, sugar, cotton) were exported to Europe.

Italians from Sicily were the first to come to the Port of New Orleans.  In 1751 Jesuit missionaries brought sugar to Louisana.  Of all the people in Europe, it was the Sicilians who had the most experience growing cane and citrus.  They had been working the sugar cane fields of Sicily for 350 years.  The rich land that existed centuries ago was now infertile.  Consequently, these farm workers knew how to get the land to produce.   Using their Italian techniques on the rich American soil produced sugar cane and citrus harvests that could only be dreamed of in Italy.  The Sicilian worker was a priced employee.  As the decades passed  L’Italo-Americano Labor Bureau was opened on Poydras Street in New Orleans.

This is a flyer from the 1860-70s that has survived.   It extolls the virtues of the Italian in general, not just the farm worker.

Another reason Italians, not just Sicilians, came to America through the port of New Orleans was the cost.  It was the least expensive way to come to America.

With the advent of Clipper ships, these swift and enormous ships were filled with agricultural products bound for Europe.  In England, Naples and other ports rather than sending the boats back to New Orleans empty, they sold space for a nominal fee.  There were no beds, no food, no plumbing.  If the passenger survived the trip, he could come to America for next to nothing.

Throughout the years, my mother never mentioned her immigration experience with us.  The only thing I knew was she arrived in one of the worst snow storms to hit New York of the early twentieth century and that her father had been living in America since he was a boy.   In order to piece together the family’s history I would have to look outside the strong box.

I decided to take a trip to New Orleans, taking with me copies the certificates of the grandfathers’ first marriages, which were executed in Louisiana.

The first place I started was the Central Grocery Store on Decatur Street.  This market was mentioned to me so often.  “You have to eat a Muffleta sandwich,” they said.  “The store has been there forever.”  So to the Central Grocery I went and yes, I ate  one of their Muffaleta sandwiches.  If you were raised in the New York tri-state area, especially where there is a large concentration to Italian-Americans, this market held no suprises.

Perhaps for Americans from the southern and western parts of the United States visiting this establishment would find the products in the store exotic but, believe me, there was nothing there that I had not seen or eaten my entire life.  The Muffaleta was like our “Blimpie” sandwiches with lots of Italian cold cuts between the bread.

I did get to talk to the proprietor and showed him the marriage certificates, but none of the names were recognizable.  Nor did the phonebook carry those names.  The Italian-American Museum also had no leads for  the surnames Sciancalepore and De Judicibus.

I decided that a more in depth exploration would have to be undertaken, perhaps when I retire and have more time this will be my priority.  Until then, the documents all went back into the strong box.

Who knew?

Who knew that so many firsts came out of Hoboken, NJ, a town directly across the Hudson River from New York City?  You might remember it was the setting for the film “On the Waterfront.”  What you probably do not know is that the very first Kindergarten in the U.S. was started in Hoboken.

Hoboken was a very German town in the mid-ninteenth century and although a public school system existed, many Germans sent their children to the Hoboken Academy on Fifth and Willow Avenue.  On February 11, 1861, the board of education decided to include a kindergarten in the school’s curriculum.  This kindergarten was based on  a system of education that existed in Germany.  Seventy-seven children between the ages of 4 and 6 were enrolled.  They learned math, reading, science using toys, music,  play, and singing.

Dr. Adolf Douai, a social reformer and professor of music,  was the school’s first principal.

It was such a success, the public schools included a grade called Kindergarten.

Who knew?

Get Heaven, Hell and Hoboken through Amazon or B&N and learn what happened to “Kindergarten” when anti-German sentiment reared its ugly head with the outbreak of WWI.

“Hoboken, “On the Waterfront” and the Jesuits

Ever wonder why a priest (Karl Malden) was hanging around the Hoboken docks and prodding  the pigeon-racing protagonist, Marlon Brando, into confronting the union mucky-mucks? Well I really didn’t understand it.

With my new work, HEAVEN, HELL AND HOBOKEN, I learned that the congregation of Catholic men called the Jesuits, short for the Society of Jesus, have long been fighting for social justice.  If you go to their web page it says “Jesuits believe that Christian faith demands a commitment to justice. This means confronting the structures of our world that perpetuate poverty and injustice.
HHH poster iphoneNo where was it more blatant then the dockyards of the New York harbor.  I see now why the Jesuit priest, Father Barry, was trying to get Terry Malloy to fight the corrupt employment practices on the docks of Hoboken in a peaceful way.  The Jesuits believed in peaceful resistance.

HEAVEN, HELL AND  HOBOKEN gives the reader a glimpse of how and when the unfair practices began on the docks around New York harbor.  This story line is woven through a tapestry of tragedy, romance, war, and ethnic conflicts.

Available through Amazon, B&N and Idea Press, it’s worth your time and is a great summer read.

Read what a world-class journalist has to say about Heaven, Hell and Hoboken.

“Heaven, Hell and Hoboken” brings to life a turbulent epoch in U.S. history that has been all but forgotten.  The Great War ripped the covers off of the sedate lives of so many, inciting rivalries, enflaming passions and forcing soul-rending decisions that reverberated across continents. With an intimate sense of history of the time, and a perceptive eye for period detail, Elizabeth Vallone has brought that era alive, with all its tragedy, romance and dashed expectations.

Anthony DePalma, journalist and author of “Here: A Biography of the New American Continent”