On this very day 100 years ago, the United States made the grave decision to enter a conflict that had brought devastation to Europe for the previous three years. Among the many Americans who joined the front lines was a young reporter from The Kansas City Star: Ernest Hemingway. In 1918, Hemingway was wounded on the battlefields of Italy, an experience that inspired one of his most fascinating novels, “A Farewell to Arms.”
The Great War claimed countless American lives. Many more met the same fate during World War II on the shores of Italy, on the Italian mountain ranges and in other European countries. We owe these young Americans, many of whom hailed from Missouri and Kansas, an immense debt of gratitude.
These two wars shaped American and European history and forged an unshakable and steadfast bond between the two sides of the Atlantic. A man from Missouri would emerge as the greatest force behind this achievement: President Harry Truman. His vision laid the foundations of NATO, helped to consolidate democracy in Europe, bolstered the economic recovery of nations wrecked by war and, ultimately, forged an incredibly strong relationship that today is a beacon of democracy, freedom, security and prosperity across the world.
None of this would have been possible without the outstanding friendship between the United States and Europe and the ingenuity of leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. In the aftermath of World War II, European leaders laid out a vision to ensure that such horrific events would never happen again. That vision was powerful in its underlying simplicity: to share resources instead of competing for them. It led Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands to sign the Treaty of Rome, establishing the European Economic Community in 1957.
This landmark achievement was subsequently expanded to other countries and developed further to encompass not only economic issues but also many other fields where the benefits of cooperation far exceed those of competition. It paved the way to the European Union as we know it today and, most importantly, helped preserve peace and foster growth.
Nowadays, the United States and Italy enjoy an unprecedented level of cooperation in a number of areas. Italian cutting-edge technology companies are investing in this country and helping to shape the future, creating thousands of jobs. Italy is bringing its know-how and its state-of-the-art technologies to Missouri and Kansas. For example, Enel, a leader in the global power, renewables and gas markets and Italy’s leading power company, is the largest wind operator in Kansas and is soon to be the largest in Missouri, with a total of 1,400 megawatts of wind capacity operating and under construction in both states.
The depth of our economic cooperation also benefits from strong cultural bonds between our two countries. Millions of Americans have Italian ancestors, and there is an ever-growing interest in Italian language, art and literature and, more broadly, the Italian way of life. In Kansas City, visitors can marvel at the beauty of Caravaggio’s “Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which will participate in an exhibition on Caravaggio in Milan later this year. A powerful reminder of the bonds that unite us.
Remembering the Great War is indispensable to ensure that these bonds grow stronger and that such barbaric events do not happen again. The memory of the past needs to be preserved and handed over to our youth and to the next generation of leaders. This is essential to build a future of peace, security and prosperity for all of us. The message spreading out from Kansas City today could not be clearer: We must choose peace over conflict, dialogue over hostility and cooperation over antagonism.
Armando Varricchio is ambassador of Italy to the United States.