Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini (1883-1945) was an Italian fascist politician who was leader of Italy from 1922, pretty much up to his death. Unlike his German contemporary Adolf Hitler, he was never in official command of his nation due to King Victor Emmanuel nominally being Mussolini's boss.
Mussolini first got the idea for fascism when he was a war reporter in the trenches of World War I, following around the soldiers (and later becoming one). And he liked what he saw in the Army: he wanted to create a society organized like a military battalion, a rigid conformist society with no dissenters to undermine patriotic values.
Today, he is most famous for being the first fascist ruler of any country, and for his colonial war against Ethiopia in 1935 (called Abyssinia at the time) which proved the ridiculous incompetence of the League of Nations. He was a close ally of Adolf Hitler and fought on Nazi Germany's side during the war, although the Italian Army were more of a hindrance to the Nazis than a help. To be fair, when Hitler wanted Italy to enter the war, Mussolini said what amounted to "can it wait until I've industrialized my country in five years?" (this may have been a random number chosen to delay Italian entry indefinitely... until Germany annexed half the continent with ease, at least).
That all said, there is a real historiographical debate about how much of a Fascist Mussolini really was - as the most notable members of his cabinet consisted of political opportunists rather than die-hard Fascist fanatics - and Mussolini himself seemed to waver a lot when asked how far the Fascist revolution was intended to go. On at least one occasion, he even said that Italy was not ready to be Fascist. In other words, he seemed to believe in Fascism, but was too cynical about Italy and politics in general to believe that a Fascist revolution could take place and thus was content to run a straight-up dictatorship with Fascist dressing, electing to maintain his position rather than upsetting the status quo. Thus, Fascist Italy was not as totalitarian as Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia - although it was a one-party state with media controlled and opposition banned, people were rarely killed for political reasons. It remained a de jure monarchy and was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, with whom the Fascists maintained a complex relationship. During the interwar years, Italy was well known for its aggressive foreign policy: aside from conquering Ethiopia (Abyssinia) and participating in World War II, the Fascists also entered the Spanish Civil War (on the side of Francisco Franco), severely oppressed their colonies in Libya and Somalia, attacked the Greek island of Corfu to force diplomatic concessions, and invaded Albania as a show of power following Hitler's annexation of Czechoslovakia. Although Mussolini ruled for more than 20 years, several parts of Italy barely noticed any change from the previous fifty.
Mussolini was deposed by King Victor Emmanuel III following a de facto vote of no confidence in the Grand Council of Fascism on 25 July 1943. In September the Italians joined the Allies and declared war on Germany. The Germans responded by invading Italy and forcing Mussolini, by now wanting to retire, to form a Nazi state called the Italian Social Republic. He was caught while fleeing to Switzerland and executed by the Italian resistance in 1945. They shot him in the gut first, dragged him into the nearby city of Milan and then hung upside-down at a gas station while crowds of angry Italians spat and threw things (trash, bricks, other unpleasant things) at his body.
Mussolini does not come up in history quite as often as Hitler does, despite being a significant influence on the development of Nazism. Basically, he was the Garfunkel to Hitler's Simon.
Always Someone Better: Mussolini started the whole fascism thing. Then Hitler came along and "improved" it.
Badass: In spite of what he did as a politician, he was a veritable badass, a decorated World War I veteran in the Bersaglieri (an Italian corp of assault infantry trained The Spartan Way), and prone to personally show the Rated M for Manly behaviours he expected fascists to engage in (like swimming all the way in the dangerous tides of the Strait of Messina).
He was also a much better politician than how he's often portrayed and a good propagandist.
Balcony Speech: He was quite famous for delivering speeches from balconies.
Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Although he is popularly supposed to have coined the phrase "fascism should more appropriately be termed corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power," this was actually first said by Giovanni Gentile in his Doctrine of Fascism, which Mussolini co-authored.
Butt Monkey: Called himself "Duce" and had the initials BM. TWO triple entendres. And he brought "Duce" on himself.
In Italian "duce" just means "leader", and has the same root as "duke" (the Latin word "dux", meaning "leader"). It was only after Mussolini that it took negative connotations, at least in Italy.
The Casanova: Mussolini had for all of his life numerous flirts and lovers. And he was not ashamed to show it, building a womanizer reputation for himself. He believed (perhaps correctly, being in Italy) that his success with women contributes to his perception as a strong leader.
Day of the Jackboot: Coming in right after the Soviet October Revolution and well before Hitler. The most iconic symbol of it probably being the March on Rome, a show of force to intimidate the Democratic government and the Constitutional Monarchy into giving him the reins. However, it wasn't really until the Acerbo Law that he fully took over.
Evil vs. Evil: Mussolini vs. The Mafia. In 1924, Mussolini visited Sicily and refused accept protection by a local Mafia boss, leading the boss to order the townsfolk to boycott Mussolini's speech. Mussolini retaliated by sending armies of policemen and carabinieri into Sicily to round up suspects by the hundreds of thousands, beat and torture said suspects, and hold their families hostage in exchange for surrender and property, resulting in over 1,200 gangsters being imprisoned or exiled. The Sicilian Mafia didn't recover for almost two decades thanks to Mussolini's crackdown, but the American Mafia saw its ranks swell once exiled mafiosi arrived in the U.S.
Generation Xerox: Not with Mussolini himself, but it turns out that his granddaughter Alessandra, who's a self-proclaimed fascist (even though she's a member of the "People of Freedom" Partynote Founded by Silvio Berlusconi, who has Mussolini's bombast without his authoritarian policies), is apparently following in the Duce's footsteps. Let the fact that there's still a Mussolini around in Italian politics sink in.
She is far from having something that resembles a position of power. She is marginalized as a fanatic and while she sits in the Italian parliament and was part of the majority coalition under Berlusconi, she is far from being influential. By the way, she was on a Playboy cover in the seventies (her mother was Sophia Loren's sister, and apparently the looks run in the family).
Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Mussolini was never especially popular in Italy, but was surprisingly (initially) admired abroad. Not only by fellow fascists like Hitler and Franco, but many British and American politicians, journalists and intellectuals viewed the Duce's outwardly efficient, well-organized regime as a potential role model. Then came the invasion of Ethiopia…
Then they hanged him from his feet instead (and did the same to his girlfriend).
Green-Eyed Monster: He was jealous of Germany's military strength and in an effort to keep up with Hitler made some stupid mistakes. He poured more resources, weapons and troops into the Spanish Civil War than the Germans ignoring the fact that the Germans were more industrialized, had more resources and more money to give. He invaded Albania (which was already basically under Italian control), in order to keep up with Germany after it took Austria and Czechoslovakia. Taking Albania pushed the French and British further toward supporting the Balkan states. Then he jumped into the war before the Italian military was ready when it looked like Germany was going to win, thus building anticipation for a British surrender. Except that the British didn't surrender...
Lazy Bum: For all his big talk about grandiosely restoring The Roman Empire, he barely did anything and was dependent on Hitler for WWII, only invading Ethiopia and the Balkans and not getting anywhere after that.
The Load: In the course of trying to bail him out of his difficulties Germany ended up sending tons of material to the Mediterranean where they were vulnerable to Allied logistic advantages. This culminated in the defeat of El Alamein and the surrender of hundreds of thousands of troops at Tunisia.
Memetic Badass: In a strange way, as he made Italian trains run on time. It seems strange... But Italian trains are always late
More Dakka: Averted, Insufficient Dakka pretty much defined the entire Italian war effort nearly as much as the Japanese, and Italian automatic weapons were either unreliable and/or ineffective (their machine guns, some of which have earned an entry in the Reliably Unreliable Guns page) or were in insufficient numbers (their submachine guns, and in particular the Mod. 38, were reliable, rugged and cheap, but started being produced in adequate numbers only with the German occupation. And, to make things worse, the Germans tended to take most of the production of the Mod. 38, the one produced in the largest numbers).
The Napoleon: He was quite short. His jaw often juts out fowards in portraits in attempt to compensate for his height. Since Napoleon was not very short, Mussolini might be a better example of this trope among real life dictators.
Nice Hat: His fez, that he would wear almost always (including the page picture). Bonus point for the fez being proof he served in World War I as a Bersagliere, Italy's elite infantry.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Mussolini was aware that Italy's military wouldn't be ready for a general war until 1943 at the very least so when he joined the Axis, Hitler agreed that he wouldn't go to war until then. He lied. Had Mussolini waited until 1943, the weaknesses of the Axis nations (lack of resources and the sleeping giants they were bound to face), would have become apparent to him. Italy would have kept it's colonies (including the Libyan oil fields), would have been one of the only industrialized nations undamaged by the war and they would have likely kept their seat on the Security Council when the League of Nations was replaced with the United Nations. Oops.
Only Sane Man: Ironically, for all his bombast, he may have had the best sense of the way Europe was going in 1930s among Italian fascist politicians. Most of his advisors either wanted to resist Hitler by force or join him eagerly. Mussolini, however, was Genre Savvy enough to know that none of the fascist propaganda was true and Italy had nothing to wage war with, either against or alongside Germany. When the war began, his first reaction was to demand as absolutely necessary an absurdly long list of materials from Hitler that he knew Germany could not spare—the list was described as "long enough to kill a bull, if a bull could read"—so that he'd have an excuse to stay out of war. Then he waited until the war seemed essentially over, with the French on the verge of defeat and the British having been driven without weapons across the English Channel, and joined the side that seemed to have won. It turned out that Italy was even less prepared for war than he had thought and the war was far from nearly over. Oops!
Asked by his foreign minister (and son-in-law) Count Ciano as to why he was declaring war when he did, Mussolini said he is not interested in fighting, but for Italy to have suffered just enough casualties to have a seat at the postwar negotiation table on the winning side.
Ironically, Italy did wind up joining with the winning side after World War II after allnote as a NATO ally of the United States and Britain, and, well, West Germany, too, just not the way Mussolini expected.
Overshadowed By Awful: Unsurprisingly gets this due to his close proximity to Hitler. Count how many times he gets referred to as a *protege* of Hitler or that he was following in Hitler footsteps when often times he was the Trope Maker of what it's referring to.
The Rival: Gabriele D'Annunzio, author, poet, war hero and right wing demagogue. Though Mussolini initially regarded D'Annunzio as an ideological mentor (especially for his 1919 takeover of Fiume), the two men never trusted each other and Mussolini regarded the writer as a potential competitor. It's rumored that Mussolini engineered D'Annunzio's near-death in August 1922, where D'Annunzio fell (or was pushed) from a hotel window. D'Annunzio survived, but no longer played an active role in Italian politics.
Another rival of Mussolini was the aviator Italo Balbo, whom Mussolini described as "the only man who could have killed me." Balbo and Mussolini were violently at odds over Italy's foreign policy during 1930s: Balbo considered an alliance with Germany a dangerous trap and bitterly opposed Nazi anti-semitism, to the point of publicly inviting his Jewish fascist colleagues to a state dinner in honor of Hitler. Balbo was killed, however, when his plane was shot down by Friendly Fire over Libya within days of Italy's entry into World War II.
Shirtless Scene: Believing it was a sign of a strong and virile Roman man, Mussolini was frequently photographed with his shirt off, showing off his Stout Strength, posing with rifles or diving into the sea.
Shout-Out: He was named after Benito Juarez, one of the most revered presidents of Mexico's history (the Italian form of his name would be "Benedetto").
Stout Strength: He was short and apparently fat, but was only made of muscles, and would show it off every single time he could get away with it.
Take That: Mussolini's book, The Cardinal's Mistressnote That or Atlas Shrugged was the subject of Dorothy Parker's famous quip, "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."
Unnecessarily Large Interior: Mussolini had his visitors cross an excessively large hall to meet him, as a psychological intimidation tactic.
War Is Glorious: He loved war. In fact, Mussolini modeled fascism after the discipline and unity of the military. He viewed the besieged trenches of World War 1 as a perfect microcosm of his ideal Italy.
He even said that "War is to a man what maternity is to a woman". Mussolini's utopian society would always be at war.
Mussolini was actually a bit of subversion of this trope. He talked a lot of the glories of war, but he was not eager to enter a war where his enemies would be able to fight back on equal terms (to be fair, even in cases where he thought the would-be-enemies were cakewalk, things did not go well). He entered World War II only when he thought Hitler had basically won, after all.
We Are Struggling Together: Despite their similar ideologies, Mussolini always had a fractious relationship with Hitler. In 1935 he threatened to intervene during the Nazis' first attempt to occupy Austria, and signed the Stresa Front with Britain and France to block further Nazi aggression. It wasn't until the Spanish Civil War that Il Duce and Der Fuhrer found themselves on the same side. Even during the war, Mussolini and Hitler distrusted each other so much that they often didn't make the other privy to major military operations (Mussolini didn't tell Hitler about his plans to invade Greece, for example).
In some sense, this applies to Mussolini's relationship with both Hitler and the Western Allies. In mid 1930s, as noted above, Mussolini was fearful of Hitler and wanted to join Britain and France against Germany, provided that his colonial interests were respected, especially in Ethiopia. But when Italy invaded Ethiopia, Britain and France imposed economic sanctions on Italy through the League of Nations and signed a pact with Nazi Germany recognizing its remilitarization (specifically, the navy), which convinced Mussolini that the Western Allies could not be trusted and that in case of conflict, Italy would be left holding the bag against Germany by itself.
Ye Goode Olde Days : Mussolini wanted to make his regime a grandiose revival of The Roman Empire...and yet did next to nothing in WWII. It is hard to tell whether the Romans would have been amused or insulted. That said, as ruthless as the Romans were, they would've been put off by his incompetence.
Yes-Man: While Mussolini initially appointed competent and free-thinking individuals to important government positions, he eventually bought into his own hype so much that he would only tolerate the spineless yes-men, and quickly surrounded himself with them. Needless to say, this was to have disastrous consequences.
After Italy surrendered in 1943, Mussolini de facto became Hitler's yes-man.
Works In Which Benito Mussolini Appears Or Is Cited Include:
Frequently appeared in the wartime comics of Carl Giles. Giles was saddened to hear of Mussolini's death, as it meant he would no longer be able to mock him, uttering the immortal words: "I've lost my Musso!".
He is the narrator of a chapter in Captain Corelli's Mandolin. The entire chapter is a furious megalomaniac rant by Mussolini, where he raves about the "survival of the fittest", praises the discipline and martial virtues of the Roman Empire, and how he wants the Italian people to have "ice in their soul". It ends with Mussolini being disturbed by his cat, and promptly kicking the cat to death.
In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar, Mussolini is overthrown when Italy is eventually overrun by the Race, but is busted out of prison by Otto Skorzeny and later seen in exile in the United States.
A Greater Britain, a work aimed at rescuing Oswald Mosley from the scrappy heap, does the same to Mussolini: he fights on the Allied side of the truncated equivalent to WW2, and it reflects on his political gifts which tend to be brushed over nowadays.
The Beano had two main wartime comic strips, Addie and Hermie (about Hitler and Goering) and Musso the Wop, which used Italian stereotypes cheerfully and mocked the Italian Army for its lack of success in North Africa.
Joey from Friends claimed his grandmother was the 6th person to spit on Mussolini's corpse.
Also, Milhouse's full name is "Milhouse Mussolini Van Houten".
Mussolini features prominently in Vincere, a recent movie which tells the life of the young Benito Mussolini and his rise to power from the point of view of his first wife (Ida Dalser), who was abandoned when Mussolini returned from the first World War. Both Ida and her son (called Benito Albino) were later forced into a mental institution and died of "natural" causes.
The protagonist of Lena Wertmuller's Seven Beauties uses a Mussolini imitation as part of his insanity defense to weasel out of a murder charge.
Appears as the Big Bad in the Gaddafi-era Libyan propaganda film Lion of the Desert (based on the story of the suppression of Omar Mukhtar's anticolonial revolt in Italian Libya in the late 1920s and early 1930s), portrayed by Rod Steiger, with the position of The Dragon filled by the ruthless General Rodolfo Graziani, plated by Oliver Reed.
Lampooned by British comedian Alexi Sayle of the show The Young Ones, whose version of Mussolini enters the Eurovision Song Contest to sing a song about making yourself feel better through the fine art of making stupid noises.