Useful Notes / Benito Mussolini

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"Fascism is a religion. The twentieth century will be known in history as the century of Fascism."

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini (29 July 1883 — 28 April 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 III 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 World War II, although the Italians were more of a hindrance to the Nazis than a helpnote . 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). Italy simply wasn't ready for war, and Mussolini knew it.

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 (though ironically Mussolini was virulently anti-theist atheist and held Christianity in contempt over all other religions), 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.

Soon after the British and Americans began their invasion of Italy, 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 in Northern Italy. He "ruled" there for about 18 months, being little more than a puppet ruler under the protection of his German liberators, something he was ruefully aware of. In April 1945, allied troops were rapidly advancing into northern Italy and the collapse of the Social Republic was imminent. Mussolini, along with his mistress, Clara Petacci, and a small group of high ranking politicians and other leaders from the Social Republic, tried to flee to Switzerland in the confusion, but on 27 April, they were both caught by members of the Italian resistance. The next day, perhaps coincidentally two days before Hitler committed suicide, Mussolini and all of his travel companions were summarily executed; they shot him in the gut first, dragged him and his compatriots' bodies into the nearby city of Milan and then hung them upside-down at a gas station (symbolically an act of revenge as Axis forces had executed many resistance fighters in the very same spot), while crowds of angry Italians would spit and throw things (trash, bricks, other unpleasant things) at the bodies.

Mussolini was afterwards buried in an unmarked grave north of Milan, but even in death the dictator managed to cause a bit of a stir, as his body was stolen during the Easter of 1946 by a group of neo-fascists, which presented itself as quite a concern for the new democratic Italian state. Upon recovering the remains of the body, the Italian government held onto Mussolini's bones for ten years, out of concern for a repeat of the theft, before they finally allowed them to be re-interred in a crypt at Predappio in Romagna, his birthplace.

Once reviled as one of the architects of World War II, no better than Hitler, Mussolini slowly stepped out of the spotlight in the last few decades as more and more historians started arguing that his rule, at least as far as internal politics go, was no worse than that of most of Europe's dictatorships of the era, not least because of the extremely reluctant attitude of the Italian fascists towards the application of capital punishment; throughout their entire 21-year long rule as few as twenty three people are reported to have been executed by the state, many of whom were common criminals. Over time, Mussolini was also given credit for his refusal to deport Italy's Jews to the German camps. For this and other reasons (those other reasons being primarily his absolutely atrocious command of the military that only allowed Italy to beat vastly weaker enemies such as Albania or Ethiopia, making him seem less like a threat and more like a clown), Mussolini does not come up in history quite as often as Hitler does anymore, despite being a significant influence on the development of Nazism. Basically, he was the Garfunkel to Hitler's Simon.


Works in which Benito Mussolini appears or is cited include:

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    Comic Strips 
  • In Mafalda, Miguelito's grandfather is an admirer of Mussolini. He even manages to trace the Moon Landing to Mussolini (Mussolini -> Hitler -> Von Braun -> NASA -> Moon Landing).
  • 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!".
  • Nero in the Nero album De Rode Keizer ("The Red Emperor") becomes Roman Emperor's Nero's replacement and announces he will give a speech on the balcony, mimicking Mussolini.
  • 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.

    Film 
  • 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.
  • Tea With Mussolini, obviously.
  • While Moe is doing his best Hitler impersonation in The Three Stooges short You Nazty Spy, Curly does a spot-on impersonation of Mussolini.
  • Is parodied along with Hitler in The Great Dictator, in which the two conflict over which country would invade Austria. Truth in Television at the time, though the two became close allies later.
  • 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.
  • Rod Steiger played Mussolini again in the Italian film The Last Days of Mussolini, which is actually a relatively sympathetic portrait of the dictator's downfall.
  • Mario Adorf played Mussolini in The Assassination of Matteotti, a 1973 drama focusing on the murder of Giacomo Matteotti (played by Franco Nero), Italy's leading parliamentary socialist in 1924.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • Mussolini plays an important part in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Dante-based Science Fiction novel, Inferno, where he guides the novel's protagonist Through Hell and (Not-Quite) Back.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One episode of Cheers had Carla trying to get around a family naming tradition that would have unintentionally forced the name "Benito Mussolini" onto her unborn baby.
  • Joey from Friends claimed his grandmother was the 6th person to spit on Mussolini's corpse.
  • In The Office (US) Dwight reads a speech by Benito Mussolini apparently trying to say that paper salesmen are a Proud Warrior Race.
    "We... Are... Warriors!"
  • Lampooned by British comedian Alexei 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.
  • In the pilot episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Coulson refers to Loki as "the Asgardian Mussolini."
  • In one episode of Lovejoy the latest Grail in the Garbage turns out to be a stone nose broken off a statue of Mussolini in wartime Italy.

    Music 

    Webcomics 
  • In The Pride of Life, Othello's superbeasts are named for European dictators, including "Mussol" for Mussolini.
  • This xkcd strip.

    Western Animation 

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