70 years ago a huge swathe of Europe was under the control of three dictators; Hitler, Franco and Il Duce – Benito Mussolini! Mussolini came to power in Italy in1922 a full decade before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. He is relevant today as Silvio Berlusconi committed yet another gaffe recently by saying his idol did many good things despite making a mistake with his racial laws.
Mussolini started life as a socialist then changed his views to fascism when socialists across Europe did not support World War One. Mussolini believed the war would bring a sense of national unity to Italy. Having fled Italy in 1904 to escape National Service he returned to serve in the war and his exemplary service saw him rise to the rank of Corporal. He was invalided home in 1917 when a grenade exploded in his trench leaving 40 metal shards in his body.
MI5 kindly paid him the huge sum of £100 a week presumably for intelligence work, this money helped Mussolini set himself up in politics and he declared in 1918 that ‘A man ruthless and energetic to revive the Italian nation’ was needed. I guess he modestly meant himself.
Mussolini believed in ‘Spazio vitale’ reasoning that Italy needed to regain huge parts of Europe to have enough space for economic growth. In 1920 he declared that the Slavic people were barbaric and inferior and that to kill half a million Slavs was an acceptable sacrifice. In 1922 the King of Italy fearing a communist revolution invited Mussolini to form a new government. Mussolini promptly invaded Corfu.
In 1924 the deputy leader of socialist party was assassinated after trying to get the election results annulled due to voting irregularities which included violence and intimidation by the fascists. The assassin was a man called Dumini who reported to Mussolini. Dumini’s car had been seen being used to get rid of the body and he got two years in prison. Mussolini paid Dumini an income for fifteen years after the murder.
Mussolini started shifting all power to himself declaring himself as Head of the Government in 1925, Parliament had no say in his decisions and then he abolished parliamentary elections all together. A police state was being set up and even local mayors were appointed by Rome. In 1926 all rival political parties were banned after an assassination attempt on Mussolini by a 15 year old boy. There were at least three other attempts on his life, one of which was by an Irish woman who shot off part of his nose. Newspaper editors were personally chosen by Mussolini and teachers had to swear an oath to protect the fascist regime.
As part of Mussolini’s plan for a New Roman Empire Italy invaded Ethiopia in1935; war crimes were committed by the 400,000 strong army, mustard gas and phosgene were both used and victory was quick. In 1936 Mussolini sent warplanes to Spain, to help Franco in the Civil War and in 1938 Albania was invaded, Hitler was impressed and Germany and Italy signed the ‘Pact of Steel!’ Mussolini was assured that Hitler would not start any war until 1942, thus allowing the Italian army and navy to prepare. Hitler lied!
Due to Hitler in 1938, racial laws called the ‘Manifesto of Race’ were passed. Jews were banned from the Civil service and armed forces and intermarrying was outlawed, the laws were objected to by most Italians and the Pope, yet still thousands of Jews were sent to Auschwitz!