Benito Mussolini was an Italian leader who founded Fascism in Italy. Discover more about "His Excellency, Benito Mussolini".
Birth Date: 29 July 1883
Died on: 28 April 1945
Profession: Politician, Journalist, Novelist, Teacher
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was born in Dovia di Predappio, Italy, on July 29, 1883. He was born in a poor family. His father, Alessandro Mussolini, worked as a blacksmith. Alessandro was an Anarchist activist. His mother, Rosa Mussolini (née Maltoni), was an elementary school teacher.
Mussolini was an intelligent child. With such humble beginnings, one wonders how he managed to become the most powerful man in Italy. We shall go back in time and trace some important events in this once-upon-a-time great leader’s life.
The Life of Mussolini
Although intelligent, he had a violent temper and a huge ego. He was a poor student at school, due to which he was expelled. He was sent to a boarding school in Faenza, Italy, from where, he again got expelled, but this time, for stabbing a fellow student. After receiving his diploma from a new school, he did a brief stint as a secondary school teacher.
“So long as the Duce lives, one can rest assured that Italy will seize every opportunity to achieve its imperialistic aims.”
– Adolf Hitler, late November 1939
His Stint as a Journalist
In 1902, he went to Switzerland to avoid military service. It was here, that he became associated with many socialists. In 1904, Mussolini returned to Italy. He became a journalist and worked for the Milan socialist paper “Avanti”. He soon became a well-known socialist in Italy and started to promote his views for war against Germany during World War I.
This did not go down well with the socialists, who were against the war. Mussolini soon broke free from socialism and launched his own paper, “Il Popolo d’Italia”. He continued to extend his support to the war through his newspaper.
Finally, when Italy joined the Allies in the war against Germany, Mussolini enlisted himself in the “Esercito”, the Italian Army. Mussolini rose to the rank of Corporal, but was discharged in 1917 due to shrapnel wounds.
Journey in Politics
Mussolini contested the parliamentary elections but lost. On March 15, 1921, Mussolini again contested the elections and was elected to the Italian Chamber of deputies along with 35 other Fascists.
In 1913, he published “Giovanni Hus, il veridico” (Jan Hus, true prophet), a historical and political biography about the life of Czech ecclesiastic reformer “Jan Hus”
Mussolini soon enjoyed the support from the church, farmers, military and the industry. Many thought, that his solutions were the key to their problems, like, organizing the middle class youth. He wanted to control the workers and thought of a tough central government to bring in “law and order”.
The ruling Leftist Government had ordered a general strike of the nation. This enraged Mussolini, who declared that if the government did not end the strike, the Fascists’ party would. King Vittorio Emmanuele III (1869-1947), telephoned Mussolini on 29 October 1922 and invited Mussolini to Rome to form a government.
Mussolini took a train to Rome and was greeted by thousands of Blackshirt supporters. He ended the strike and assumed powers of all government offices. He stabilized the economy and saved Italy from an economic turmoil.
The people soon called him ‘II Duce’- the leader. He was given the official title, “His Excellency Benito Mussolini”, Head of Government, Duce of Fascism, and Founder of the Empire”.
In 1929, on behalf of the Italian government, Mussolini signed the Lateran Concordat with the Vatican. This helped to settle the historic differences between the Italian State and the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) declared that Mussolini was sent by ‘Divine Providence’.
Mussolini’s Atheism came to the fore, when once he was dragged by force due to his refusal to go to morning mass.
The Beginning of His Dictatorship
Mussolini moved from the pacifists’ anti-imperialism to form aggressive nationalism. His bombardment of Corfu in 1923 is an early example of his change in foreign policy. He soon set up a puppet regime in Albania. He reconquered Libya, a colony in North Africa, since 1912.
He had dreams of a glorious Roman Empire and of making the Mediterranean Sea ‘mare nostrum’, translated as ‘our sea’. A large naval base was established on the Greek island of ‘Leros’. It was seen as a strategic hold on the eastern Mediterranean.
By the 1930s, the parliamentary system became virtually non-existent and Mussolini took over as a dictator. All school and university teachers had to take an oath to defend the fascists’ regime. Mussolini hand-picked the newspaper editors. Journalism could be practiced only by those who received certificate of approval from the Fascist party.
Mussolini won the war against Ethiopia in 1935-1936. He was strongly opposed by the League of Nations, which forced him to seek an alliance with Nazi Germany. He actively supported General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. The war ended the hopes of reconciliation between France and Britain.
As a result, Mussolini accepted the German annexation of Austria in 1938 and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1939. In September 1939, at the Munich Conference, he wore a mask of a moderate, working for European peace, helping Nazi Germany seize control of Sudetenland.
Mussolini coined the term, “Axis Powers” in November 1936 in reference that the European nations will soon revolve around Italy and Germany. This treaty was signed on October 25, 1936. This “Axis” became stronger in May 1939, Mussolini then signed a treaty, namely the “Pact of Steel” with Nazi Germany.
The German interference in the Italian politics was not welcomed by the Italian citizens. King Victor Emmanuel III also found it unacceptable and favored the old allies in Britain and France.
The Fall of Mussolini
Joining Hands with Hitler
Towards the end of the 1930s, Mussolini started losing the support of his own people. As the Second World War approached, he pushed his men into the war against their wishes. Although, he preached military preparedness for 15 years, his army was absolutely unprepared when Hitler invaded Poland.
“My star has fallen. I have no fight left in me. I work and I try, yet know that all is but a farce… I await the end of the tragedy and strangely detached from everything, I do not feel any more an actor. I feel I am the last of spectators”. – Mussolini in an interview 1945
Mussolini declared war, after the fall of France, assuming that the war would last a few more weeks. With a poor military show during the attack on Greece in October, he was left with no choice, but to follow Hitler. Mussolini supported Hitler’s call for the war on Russia in June 1941 and United States in December 1941.
However, Mussolini overlooked the only lesson of the First World War, that the United States alone had decided the outcome of that war. It was the United States that was a superpower and not Germany.
Italy suffered defeats on all fronts and following the Anglo-American landing in Sicily, most of Mussolini’s aides had turned against him during the meeting of Fascist Grand Council on July 25, 1943. This gave the King a chance to order dismissal and arrest Mussolini.
King Victor Emanuel III appointed Field Marshall Pietro Badoglio as the new Prime Minister of Italy. Mussolini was rescued a few months later by the Germans from a mountain top resort, where he was held captive. He was relocated to Northern Italy, where he tried to set up a new Fascist state. He remained a puppet in the hands of Germany.
Mussolini gave in to the pressures of Hitler and the few loyal fascists who formed the government of Republic of Salo, and engineered the execution of those who betrayed him. He became the Head of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Italian Social Republic.
This part of northern Italy was under the control of Germany. During this time, he wrote many memoirs. Da Capo press, combined and published “My Rise and Fall” – his autobiography along with the memoirs.
The dead bodies of Mussolini and other fascists were hung upside down from the roof of a gas station and were then stoned by civilians from below.
Last Days of Mussolini
Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were arrested by the Italian police on April 27, 1945. They were apprehended near the village of Dongo. They were trying to board a plane to Switzerland in order to escape to Spain.
Mussolini was traveling with the fleeing German army. He tried to escape by wearing a German military uniform. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to take them to Como. They were finally taken to Mezzegra, where they spent their last night with the De Maria family.
Mussolini and Petacci were taken to the village of Giulino di Mezzegra the next day, to be shot dead. The National Liberation Committee ordered Colonel Valerio to carry out the sentence. Colonel Valerio’s real name was Walter Audisio. He transported Mussolini, Petacci and other fascists in trucks.
They were taken to an empty place, where Petacci hugged Mussolini and refused to let him go. Petacci was shot and as her limp body fell, Mussolini opened his shirt and shouted, “Shoot me in the chest!” He was shot in the chest by Audisio.
Mussolini fell, but did not die. Audisio went near the heavily breathing Mussolini and fired one more bullet in his chest. Their bodies were hung upside down the next day for the public to see.
“Finally, O Duce, you are with us. We will cover you with roses, but the smell of your virtue will overpower the smell of those roses.” – Neo-Fascists 1946.
Italy Post Mussolini
Mussolini’s wife, Donna Rachele Mussolini, their sons: Vittorio and Romano and daughter Edda survived. Mussolini’s third son Bruno was killed in an air crash in 1941. Mussolini was killed two days before Hitler committed suicide. After the World War II, Italy lost its colonies – Ethiopia, Somalia and Libya.
There was a rift between the political parties in Italy, which gave rise to a civil war from 1943 to 1945. In 1946, monarchy was dissolved and in 1948 the first political election was held. The Republic won and Democrazia Cristiana, the democratic party of Italy, dominated power for the next 50 years.
Mussolini condemned the war during the start of World War I. There was a drastic change of his views during the war. This may be due to the influence of his father’s nationalism. Mussolini answered his country’s call when it was needed.
He attempted to make an Italian empire that would hold the ultimate power in the world. Mussolini was a great leader who got drunk with absolute power, which led to his downfall and ended his dream of an imperial Italy.