First, this article was not my idea. It was suggested by my daughter-in-law. I said, “L, give me a couple of article ideas.” She thought the way she does all the time and finally said, “You know, I would like to know about Mussolini.”
The reason she wants to know about El Duce is that she learned little about him in her youth, yet he is in the background of her mind. “I would like to know more about him,” she said.
Of course, I know all that is important to know about Mussolini just like I know all that is important to know about Tojo and Hitler.
I’ve read all the best books about Hitler but they add little to the brain of one “Who Was There.”
In 1939 at the time when German troops invaded Poland, I remember walking with my older Brother, A, and his friends. It was a warm fall evening and the moon was out and what they said scared me to chilling death. And when watching a skit at the church (our cultural center), the site of storm troopers stomping into a home with little children, threatening them with bayonets, and taking their books and burning them, I knew that Hitler was a bad man indeed. (Books were everything to me. I lived in the library.)
Now let’s see. In 1939, I was seven years old.
I learned about Japan on December 7, 1941. On hearing that our navy was almost completely destroyed at Pearl Harbor, my cousin and I expected to see Japanese aircraft in the blue sky overhead at any minute. Chilled again!
I was now almost ten years old. That is when I first heard the name, Tojo. He was in all the cartoons. We learned to hate Tojo for sure. We blamed for everything taking place in the Pacific on Tojo.
I recently read a book about Tojo and his trial after World War II. I concluded that we should not blame him for all the atrocities of that war. Tojo told the tribunal that we should blame the field commanders. Anyway, he was put to death when he could have remained a great source of historical information. He was the only bad guy left. He wasn’t a threat to anyone and a perfect gentleman. I guess he didn’t fool the tribunal, just me.
During the war we all knew “the Moose,” “El Duce,” Mussolini. He was the fat guy in the brown uniform always shooting off his mouth. Like Hitler, he was a corporal during World War I. Hitler admired him greatly and rescued him from partisans, but near the end of World War II he was finally shot and hung out to dry in the public square in Milan. (I was there some years back. Somebody had moved the bodies.)
You can learn about Mussolini’s early life at: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWmussolini.htm.
I quote: “Benito Mussolini was born in Forli, Italy in 1883. After working briefly as a schoolteacher, Mussolini fled to Switzerland in 1902 in an effort to evade military service.
“Mussolini returned to Italy in 1904 and over the next ten years worked as a journalist and eventually became editor of “Avanti.” Mussolini was active in the socialist movement but moved to right in 1914 when the Italian government failed to support the Triple Alliance. In 1915 Mussolini resigned from the Socialist Party when it advocated support for the Allies in the First World War.
“When Italy entered the war Mussolini served in the Italian Army and eventually reached the rank of corporal. After being wounded he returned to Milan to edit the right-wing “Il Popolo d’Italia.” The journal demanded that the Allies fully supported Italy’s demands at the Paris Peace Conference.”
(For those of you who like to know such things, the Triple Alliance was a defense compact between Italy, Germany, and Austria-Hungary.)
Benito Mussolini invaded areas throughout Africa. (He used mustard gas on home guards, the only leader to use gas during the war.) He was stopped by the British. Despite the entry of Germany into the African campaign, the British, with aid from General Eisenhower, won.
The allies wanted Mussolini completely out of the war so they invaded Sicily. It helped to take the pressure off the suffering Soviet armies and provided a base for the invasion of Italy.
Listen! This is what Mussolini said in 1929:
“In the creation of a new State which is authoritarian but not absolutist, hierarchical and organic – namely, open to the people in all its classes, categories and interests – lies the great revolutionary originality of Fascism, and a teaching perhaps for the whole modern world oscillating between the authority of the State and that of the individual, between the State and the anti-State. Like all other revolutions, the Fascist revolution has had a dramatic development but this in itself would not suffice to distinguish it. The reign of terror is not a revolution: it is only a necessary instrument in a determined phase of the revolution.”
As kids, we thought that Mussolini was a clown, a big fat buffoon. We had plenty of jokes about the Italian army too. We didn’t think they were much of a fighting force. The Italian partisans thought differently. They knew that Mussolini was an evil tyrant that had brought misery to thousands of people.
They were out to get him for sure.
Using our original reference we read of Mussolini’s death. The record is from the “Manchester Guardian:”
“30th April, 1945. Mussolini, with mistress, Clara Petacci, and twelve members of his Cabinet, were executed by partisans in a village on Lake Como yesterday afternoon, after being arrested in an attempt to cross the Swiss frontier. The bodies were brought to Milan last night. A partisan knocked at my door early this morning to tell me the news.
“We drove out to the working-class quarter of Loreto and there were the bodies heaped together with ghastly promiscuity in the open square under the same fence against which one year ago fifteen partisans had been shot by their own countrymen.
“Mussolini’s body lay across that of Petacci. In his dead hand had been placed the brass ensign of the Fascist Arditi. With these fourteen were also the bodies of Farinacci and Starace, two former general secretaries of the Fascist party, and Teruzzo, formerly Minister of Colonies who had been caught elsewhere and executed by partisans.
“Mussolini was caught yesterday at Dongo, Lake Como, driving by himself in a car with his uniform covered by a German greatcoat. He was driving in a column of German cars to escape observation but was recognized by an Italian Customs guard.
“The others were caught in a neighboring village. They include Pavolini, Barracu, and other lesser lights in Fascist world on whom Mussolini had to call in later days to staff his puppet Government.
“This is the first conspicuous example of mob justice in liberated Italy. Otherwise the partisans have been kept well under control by their leaders. The opinion expressed this morning by the partisan C.-in-C., General Cadorna, son of the former field marshal, was that such incidents in themselves were regrettable. Nevertheless, in this case he considered the execution a good thing, since popular indignation against the Fascists demanded some satisfaction. The risk of protracted trials, such as has been taking place in Rome, was thus avoided.”
Mussolini’s beautiful wife said after his death that he had done nothing wrong except run off with Clara Petacci.
Anyway, the Moose was dead!
P.S. I know that this will only peak the interest of my dear daughter-in-law. Other good sources are: http://cidc.library.cornell.edu/DOF/italy/italy.htm and, http://www.euronet.nl/users/wilfried/ww2/mussolin.htm,
© John Taylor Jones, Ph.D. 2005