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By Hunger, if not by Arms: The Strategy of the
Italian Control on Libya during the First World War

di Federico Cresti

Codice Doi

Published online on 2020/10/19

The problem of food resources and their use as a tool of war arose with particular
importance during the First World War: for many of the belligerent nations the hunger
of the enemies became one of the weapons to use, proving itself sometimes as a more
deadly and effective destructive element than traditional war instruments. This article
examines the indiscriminate hunger war waged by the Italian government against the
‘rebel’ populations in Libya. From an Italian point of view, the hunger war in Libya was
a winning one, allowing to preserve some territorial enclaves in the huge spaces that
theoretically had become part of the Italian colonial territories after the end of the first
Italian-Turkish war and the peace agreements of Ouchy with the use of the least possible
military presence, and to maintain its sovereignty.
The hunger war had tragic results for the tribes of Libya that refusing Italian domination
had lined up alongside the Ottoman Empire and its allied Austro-German forces. It is
challenging to assess their quantitative size, but the losses caused by this war between
the civilian population dug even deeper into the “blood furrow” that long separated the
colonial conquerors and the local population.
Keywords: Libya, First World War, hunger war, war against the civilians, starvation