Italian History XI: The Rise of Fascism

Mussolini and World War II

Benito Mussolini marched on Rome in 1922, forced the king to make him premier, nicknamed himself Il Duce (The Duke), and quickly repressed all other political factions.

He put his Fascists “Blackshirts” in charge of the entire country: schools, the press, industry, and labor.

Seeking, as Italian despot-hopefuls throughout history have done, to endear himself to the general populace, Mussolini instituted a vast public works program, most of which eventually failed.

Mussolini fancied himself a second Caesar and spent some time excavating the archaeological remains of ancient Rome—not always with the most stringent scientific methods—to help glorify his reign and lend it authority.

The Great Depression of the 1930s made life considerably more difficult for Italians, and, to divert attention from his shortcomings as a ruler, Mussolini turned to foreign adventures, defeating and annexing Ethiopia in 1935.

Mussolini entered Italy into World War II as an Axis ally of the Nazis, but the Italian heart was not really in the war, and most Italians had little wish to pursue Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. Armed partisan resistance to the official government forces and to the Nazis remained strong.

By 1945, the Italian people had had enough. They rose against Mussolini and the Axis, and the Fascists were disbanded. King Victor Emmanuele III, who had collaborated with the Fascists without much enthusiasm during the past two decades, appointed a new premier.

At the end of the war, Mussolini and his mistress were pictured in the world press hanging by their heels at a Milanese gas station after being shot by partisans.


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