Prime Minister Mussolini
World War I – or the Great War as it was also called – elevated some of Italy's young men who were proud to be combatants for their nation. The war also elevated national pride in people and a sense that Italy was one nation with a common cause rather than divided by class antagonisms. And one Italian so elevated and proud to have fought in the war was Benito Mussolini.
Benito Mussolini was the son of a worker-intellectual, a blacksmith – who named his son after the 19th century Mexican revolutionary, Benito Juarez. Benito Mussolini was a bright boy and a voracious reader in his youth. He suffered from poverty as a young man and hated the rich. More accurately, he envied the rich. But he sought recognition more than personal wealth. He was for a time a school teacher, and he rose to become editor of a Socialist Party newspaper.
In 1915, as Italy pondered whether to go to war, Mussolini broke with the pacifism of the socialists. He editorialized for Italy's involvement in the war on the side of the Allies, claiming that France's defeat would end liberty in Europe. He argued that Italy's involvement in the war would hasten the socialist revolution. The Socialist Party responded by expelling him. So Mussolini started his own newspaper, The People of Italy, receiving funds from the French. He did not want Italy left out of what he called a grand drama.
Mussolini was so excited about the war that when Italy declared war he joined Italy's prestigious Bersaglieri regiment as a private. He liked the trotting and getting into shape – stomach in and chest out. He was sent to the front, and in February 1917, after six months, he was wounded during hand grenade practice. He was hospitalized for months, and during convalescence he took up the cause of praising his nation's soldiers and veterans. By October 1917 he was back at his newspaper in Milan, and later that year he was blaming "defeatists" and "the politicians" for the failure at the front – the great rout after the battle at Caporetto.
Mussolini advanced himself by publishing his Diary of the War. His view of international events was Darwinistic, the masthead of his paper glorifying armed struggle and reading: "He who has steel has bread." By now he had forgotten about the liberty that might be lost with France's defeat. He attacked all those, including the Socialist Party, who called for peace.
The war had not been going as well as for Italy as Mussolini had hoped, and the nation was suffering economically. People were casting about for targets of blame, and in February 1918, Mussolini joined those who spoke with disgust about parliamentary squabbling. Mussolini described parliamentary democracy as "effete." Italy, he claimed, should set things right by making a clean sweep. Italy, he said, needed a dictator. And in advocating soldierly patriotism and Italian nationalism, he attacked what he called the "sickly internationalism" of Lenin and Wilson.
Copyright © 1998-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.