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Benito Mussolini

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Benito Mussolini

"Il Duce", the Dictator of Italy

Benito Mussolini



Early Life

            Benito Mussolini was born on July 29, 1883 in Predappio, a small town in northern central Italy. He was the first son of Alessandro, a blacksmith, and Rosa, a schoolteacher. Mussolini’s family were fervent socialists and opposed the influence of the Catholic Church. Mussolini, too, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a socialist. He was named after Benito Juarez, a Mexican revolutionary hero. He had one brother, who was named after the medieval Catholic heretic Arnold of Brescia. Mussolini was an arrogant and quick-tempered child, and was educated in local schools.


     In 1901, he received a diploma of an elementary school master. Because jobs were scarce, he immigrated to Switzerland in 1902. He was jailed for leading protests against Italy’s invasion of Libya in 1911, and after his release in 1912, was appointed editor of the Italian Socialist Party’s official newspaper, the Avanti! (Freedom!). He began to gain popularity and recognition because of his explosive editorials while living in Milan. The Italian liberal government, and its opponents, the moderate socialist reformers, where often the brunt of his attacks. Mussolini was, at heart, a nationalist.


     The outbreak of World War I in 1914 led to Mussolini’s break with his socialist views. He first believed that Italy should stay out of the war and remain neutral. Several months later, he unexpectedly left his socialist views and founded a new paper in November of 1914, the Il Popolo d'Italia. He hoped Italy’s involvement in the war would lead to the collapse of society and eventually bring him into power. He was called for military service, but returned in 1917 when he was wounded when his grenade launcher exploded. He returned to edit his paper.


     In March of 1919, Mussolini founded the Fasci de Combattimento, making fascism an organized political movement. In1921, after failing in the elections in 1919, he entered parliament as a right-wing member. Fascist armed squads began to terrorize his former Socialist colleagues. In October of 1922, Mussolini was invited by the king to form a government after the liberal governments of Giovanni Giolitti, Ivanoe Bonomi, and Luigi Facta failed to stop the spread of anarchy.


     With the help of the Liberals in parliament, he changed election methods and introduced strict censorship. These changes resulted in him becoming the Italian dictator and dissolving all other political parties in the 1925-1926 election. By using his control of the press, he built up the legend of "Duce, a man who was always right and could solve all the problems of politics and economics.” He exercised his powers as dictator by, from time to time, taking over various offices in his countries’ government, such as the ministries of the interior, of foreign affairs, and others. During his rule, parliament was almost completely disintegrated. He required that teachers swear an oath to the fascist regime and handpicked newspaper editors. He took control of trade unions and made them a part of the “corporative system”, the aim of which was for all Italians to work for one of these “corporations” which were controlled by the government.


Foreign Policy

            Although Mussolini was at first a pacifist and anti-imperialist, he soon shifted to extreme and aggressive nationalism. After his attack of Corfu in 1923, he set up a puppet government in Albania and Libya. He at first helped to create an anti-Hitler front in Austria at the Stresa Conference in 1935, but later, sought alliance with Germany when his successful war with Ethiopia was opposed by the League of Nations. Further examples of his aggressive nationalism come in the form of his annexation of Malta, Corsica, and Tunis and later his war and occupation of Albania.


Involvement in World War II

            Italy entered the fray on June 10, 1941 by declaring war on Britain and France when the Germans, under the command of General Guderian, reached the English Channel. That October, Italy led a failed attack on Greece. In June of the next year, He declared war on the Soviet Union, and in December, on the United States.


     The Italian defeat on all war fronts and the Anglo-American landing in Sicily in 1943 led Mussolini’s colleagues, Count Galezzo Ciano, the foreign minister and also Mussolini's son-in-law, to turn against him at the Fasicst Grand Council, which met on July 25 of 1943. Because of their turn-face, the king was able to dismiss and arrest Mussolini, and then send him to Gran Sasso, a mountain recovery in central Italy (Abruzzo).


     Mussolini’s successor was Maresciallo d'Italia Gen. Pietro Badoglio, who declared that "War continues at the side of our German allies", but was secretly working on surrender. On September 8th, he signed and armistice with the Allies.


     Several months later, in a raid led by the German Otto Skorzeny, Mussolini was rescued and proceeded to set up Republican Fascist State in Northern Italy while he himself was living Gargnano. But, he was little more than a puppet for the German army. In his “Republic of Salo”, he executed some of the Fascist leaders who had abandoned him, including his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano.           



            On April 28, 1945, right before the Allied armies reached Milan, Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, where caught by Italian partisans as he was attempting to escape to Switzerland by plane at Chiavenna. Both were shot and the next day, their bodies were hung at Piazzale Loreto (Milan) along with other fascists. Their bodies were abused by the crowds. After this, his body was taken to Predappio and the family chapel.


     His wife, Donna Rachele, his two sons, Vittorio and Romano Mussolini, and his daughter Edda, the widow of Count Ciano, survived him.


     The daughter of Romano Mussolini, or Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter, is currently a deputy in the Republican Chamber representing the post-fascist Alleanza Nasionale party for Naples.