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. For many Italians the war elevated their pride for their nation, and there was the sense that Italy had a common cause and should not be divided by class antagonisms. One such Italian, who was proud to have fought in the war, was Benito Mussolini.
Mussolini was the son of an impoverished 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 hated the rich. More accurately, he envied the rich. He became a school teacher, and he became editor of the 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. He did not want Italy to miss involvement in what he would call a grand drama. The Socialist Party responded by expelling him. So Mussolini started his own newspaper, The People of Italy, receiving funds from the French.
Prime Minister Mussolini
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 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 Darwinist. The masthead of his paper glorified armed struggle. It read: "He who has steel has bread." His paper attacked those, including the Socialist Party, who called for peace.
The war did not go 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." By now he had forgotten about the liberty he had claimed might be lost with France's defeat. Italy, he said, should set things right by making a clean sweep. Italy, he announced, needed a dictator. And advocating patriotism, he attacked what he called the "sickly internationalism" of Lenin and Wilson.
Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.