America at War: World War II
|Digital History ID 3486|
Benito Mussolini's Italy posed another threat to world peace. Mussolini, Italy's ruler from 1922 to 1943, promised to restore his country's martial glory. Surrounded by storm troopers dressed in black shirts, Mussolini delivered impassioned speeches from balconies, while crowds chanted, "Duce! Duce!"
His opponents mocked him as the "Sawdust Caesar," but for a time his admirers included Winston Churchill and Will Rogers, the humorist. Cole Porter, the popular songwriter, referred to the Italian leader in a line in one of his smash hits. "You're the top," he wrote, "you're Mussolini."
Mussolini invented a political philosophy known as fascism, extolling it as an alternative to socialist radicalism and parliamentary inaction. Fascism, he promised, would end political corruption and labor strife while maintaining capitalism and private property. It would make trains run on time. Like Hitler's Germany, fascist Italy adopted anti-Semitic laws banning marriages between Christian and Jewish Italians, restricting Jews' right to own property, and removing Jews from positions in government, education, and banking.
One of Mussolini's goals was to create an Italian empire in North Africa. In 1912 and 1913, Italy had conquered Libya. In 1935, he provoked war with Ethiopia, conquering the country in eight months. Two years later, Mussolini sent 70,000 Italian troops to Spain to help Francisco Franco defeat the republican government in the Spanish Civil War. His slogan was "Believe! Obey! Fight!"