My brother brought up an NPR piece that came out over Madeleine Albright's new book.....Fascism: A Warning. NPR had a big interview with her, and the hype here....modern era, new techno gadgets, Trump, America First, etc. All of this in her mind leads to fascism. A bit of this book leads onto this generalized topic of Germany and Italy, Hitler and Mussolini.
While in the same era, on the same military side, and both having met on occasion.....there's a ton of differences between the two countries, and the two leaders. Trying to weave a written piece where both Hitler and Mussolini fit into the same sphere, in my opinion, is a mistake. So this is a chat mostly about Mussolini, who is more or less an unknown to most Americans.
Benito Mussolini is a remarkable guy. Born in northern Italy in 1883....he's the product of a blacksmith, and a local Catholic school teacher. By age eighteen, it's safe to say he's developed into an educated guy....having gone off to a teacher's school, and probably got a pretty safe profession lined up.
He has an issue though....in 1902, he's supposed to (obligated) to go do military service, and he refuses. This leads to Mussolini packing up and running off to Switzerland. Oddly in this brief period, he shifts professions and is a stone-mason. Usually, you'd need a number of years as a helper and no one has ever been able to explain this work period. My guess is that he just helped to move stones around for the actual real stone-mason.
The other thing that he does in this Swiss period of his life....he gets into socialism....to the point that he attends meetings, and is all hyped up about this great political lifestyle.
At some point in 1903....he gets arrested for political action while in Switzerland. They hold him for two weeks in jail (kinda like the Hitler jail episode, just shorter). Then they kick him out to Italy, where he promptly returns to Switzerland. This is short-lived because he gets into trouble again.
In 1904, Italy rewrites some of the rules, and he's given some chance to return to Italy....but he has to serve in the military. This time....he signs up (two-year period). So in 1906, he's all finished with this military business, and seems clear of this radical youth business.....so he's on the path to become a teacher.
This low-period lasts for about three years, and then he's hyped up again....focused on the Socialist Party of Italy, and becoming a regional big-time player of the party. In his mind, he's an intellectual and very smart. No one argues much about this perception.
So we come to the summer of 1914, where World War I will start. The Socialist Party has taken a pro-war position, and Mussolini has taken a anti-war position. A lot of this Mussolini position is based on the Hapsburg Empire, and the belief that it should be broken up into pieces.
Then this odd thing happens. The Socialist Party dumps him. It's not in a pleasant way, and one might suggest that Mussolini is going be pretty hyped up and negative about the party.
By the end of 1914, he's dumped Socialism, and now believes in Nationalism. With this come a totally different view of the war, and he signs up....serving from 1915 to 1917.....rising to the rank of Corporal (yes, the same rank as Hitler).
At this pivotal point in 1917....out of the Army....again an odd thing happens. Mussolini gets a job with MI-5 of the British Secret Service. His new job is to publish and hype a pro-war position. Yep, they are actually paying him a fair wage to hype the war.
The war comes to a closure, but Mussolini continues with his publishing work, and by 1922....a creation of Mussolini's mind comes into play....the 'black-shirts'. He gets 30,000 black-shirts to appear in Rome and demand the resignation of the President of Italy. It's a fairly dramatic two-day period. At this pivotal point, the King of Italy makes this decision.....dumping the President, refusing to declare marshall law, and appoints Mussolini as the new head of state.
Mussolini at this point is a full ten years ahead of Hitler....he's played out the system to dump the government and bring himself into the leadership role. Hitler will make the same decision in the 1922 period....fail, and end up in jail for a period of time. It'll be eight years later before Hitler achieves the same trick, but mostly by votes, instead of brown-shirts.
Over the next twenty-odd years, it's safe to say that the Mussolini period was a cult-like experience and it was almost like some Mel Brooks comedy.
In the early 1930s....Italy goes through an expansion period into northern Africa....mostly a failed campaign but it kept headlines.
Mussolini was supposed to be an expert at everything....music, speeches, art, sports, etc. That was the theme of this twenty-odd year period. In some ways, I suspect that Hitler followed the trend and believed the same tricks would work with Germans.
There is this brief period in 1939-1940, where Italy has not declared itself, and the British seem to think that they can convince Mussolini to be allied with them. This is a make-or-break point, where Mussolini might have gone down in history with statues and positive words. Instead, he signs up with Hitler and the rest is history.
In the summer of 1943, most everything is going negative for Mussolini, and he's asked to come over to the King's palace....where he's 'fired'. Almost twenty years invested as the leader of Italy, and fired. He's placed under detention, and held for several weeks.....until the Germans come to rescue him.
Hitler brings him back up to Germany, and tries to have a talk with him. Since being 'fired'....he's just not the same Mussolini as before. In effect, he's lost his 'mojo'.
He ends up going back and acting as some figure-head leader for the northern half of Italy, but this is not the same Mussolini as before. He's lost enthusiasm, and shows no energy.
For roughly eighteen months, he sits around and is mostly waiting for the bitter end of the war. At some point, with the Americans advancing....he figures he has one brief chance to leave (going to Spain), but is detained and shortly after this....executed by an Italian group.
Mussolini's whole sphere of influence is based on intellectualism....that he's awful smart, and this builds into a cult-like public spectacle. His government could own the bulk of pubic sector devices....run the railway and everything that was necessary for the public. As much as historians want to talk over fascism and his development of the idea.....I like the idea of him having invented Mussolinism....a fake but likeable intellectual cult-government, with flip-flop type values that could easily change from day to day.
Comparing against Hitler? There are bits and pieces where you might be able to compare the two. Mussolini was fairly educated in books and schooling....Hitler much less so. Both did jail-time. Mussolini.
But there is this odd factor about Mussolini which never gets brought up. He writes roughly fifty books. There's even one fictional piece entitled: The Cardinal's Mistress. Some people even go to suggest that if he'd just stayed out of politics....he would have likely been the Ernest Hemingway of Italy.