Incompetence, Stupidity, and Cowardice: The Royal House of Savoy and the Governance of Italy, 1861-1946

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PART 15

In order to truly get a grasp on why many respectable people supported Mussolini, and later Adolf Hitler, one has to understand the incredibly deep fear people who had any wealth at all had of Communism or what in that era they referred to as “Bolshevism.” If you take our fear of al-Qaeda, and magnify it fifty times, you will get a sense of what many people felt and not without reason. The stories told by Russian émigrés of Bolshevik terror were not made up. Blood was the easiest commodity to come by in Bolshevik Russia. Most prominent members of the old elite under the Tsar either fled the country or were imprisoned and murdered. This amounted at first to hundreds of thousands of people and later stretched into millions after Lenin had a stroke and Stalin came to power. “One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic,” Stalin once said and he should know since he murdered millions.

Watched by the Japanese signatory, Ambassador Viscount Kintomo Mushakoji, Hitler’s foreign affairs adviser Joachim von Ribbentrop signs the Anti-Comintern Pact, 25 November 1936.

On 25 November 1936, the Germans and the Japanese signed “The Anti-Comintern Pact” which was basically an anti-Communist Pact. Italy later signed as did other countries who felt threatened by the Soviet Union, which controlled the “Communist International” or Comintern. Those countries included Spain, Nationalist China, Finland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria along with Denmark and a few others. This gives an indication of how many countries shared a deep fear of the Soviet Union and many had that fear with good reason especially Finland. But the Soviet Union was not going to attack Germany or Italy although Germany had the largest and most well-organized Communist Party (KPD) outside of the Soviet Union.

Both Mussolini and Hitler played on this fear of Bolshevism and used their fight against “Bolshevism” or “Jewish Bolshevism” as Hitler often referred to it, as the excuse to conduct numerous extra-legal actions. Fear of a shadowy yet very powerful enemy whose strength cannot actually be verified is a great way to seize power and demonize one’s opponents. Hitler was a master at this. It also suited the conservative and fascist politicians in all Western countries to conflate communism with democratic socialism, such as that practiced by the English Labour Party and other democratic socialist parties including the Socialist Party in the US.

Queen Margherita of Italy with her son Victor Emmanuel III in the summer of 1876.

King Victor Emmanuel III was certainly prey to this fear, stoked, it is thought, by his mother. That he was too stupid to see that Italy wasn’t truly threatened by communists and that the Italian Royal Army and the carabinieri remained loyal to the House of Savoy, is simply a symptom of his larger ignorance of what was happening in the world and society. History shows us over and over what a resolute man or woman can accomplish either for good or ill. Victor Emmanuel III actually had the legal power as the support of the Royal Army which was designed to keep the House of Savoy in power.

He could have removed Mussolini as Prime Minister, something he later did, rather than allow the Kingdom of Italy to make the worst mistake in its history: enter into an alliance with Nazi Germany. This so called “Pact of Steel” signed on May 22, 1939 formed the “Rome-Berlin Axis” – later the “Rome, Berlin, Tokyo Axis” hence the name “Axis Powers” applied to all countries who eventually allied themselves with Nazi Germany in World War Two.

The Anti-Comintern Pact was later replaced by the Tripartite Pact between Italy, Germany, and Japan and signed in Berlin in 27 September of 1939. (Germany had attacked Poland on 1 September 1939 and several days later, having guaranteed Poland’s borders, both France and Great Britain declared war against Germany.) This pact obligated the signatories “to assist one another with all political, economic, and military means when one of the three contracting powers is attacked….” However, in order to received assistance et al from the other signatories, one of the contracting parties must be attacked by a country not yet in the war, meaning, by this point the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Japanese had a greater appreciation of Soviet capabilities than the Germans since the Soviets had beat the hell out of the Japanese in a series of border skirmishes in 1938/39, culminating in the Battle of Khalkhyn Gol. This engagement destroyed the Japanese forces which had made an incursion into the Soviet Union from the Japanese Occupied China. So the Japanese insisted the pact specifically exclude the Soviet Union. Hence, the only country the Tripartite Pact could possibly be directed against was the United States.

Japanese soldiers captured by Soviet forces after the Battle of Khalkhyn Gol in August 1939.

On 13 April 1941, just two years later, and just two months before the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Japan and the Soviets signed a neutrality pact. This turned out to be one of the critical treaties in force during World War Two. In mid-December of 1941, the German Army was within binocular sight of Red Square in Moscow. But “General Winter” had come and the German advance was literally frozen to a stop. Out of nowhere the Soviets launched a brutal flank attack on the Germans which sent them reeling back as much as 100 kilometers. Those Soviet troops were taken from the border with Japanese Occupied China and the Soviet Union and brought secretly to Moscow. Well equipped, well trained, and fresh, these were the soldiers who overwhelmed the Germans. Moscow was saved. The Germans had no idea where the Soviets had gotten these troops.

Soviet troops counterattack German positions during the Battle of Moscow in December 1941.

[Images courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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