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

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Island groups of the Aegean Sea.
Benito Mussolini and Fascist blackshirts during the March on Rome in 1922.
Benito Mussolini using the fascist salute during a speech in 1932.

PART 13

Italy wanted more than she received from the Paris Peace Conference. Much more. But there just wasn’t enough jam to go around. Of colonies in Africa, none. Money? No. Something from Germany? Some ships perhaps? No. Nothing. “You mean to say Mr. Big Three that you promised us colonies and all sorts of other delicious things and all we got was Trieste, half of Tyrol, and a some Croatian peasants stuck on a peninsula jutting into the Aegean? That’s all? We lost almost 600,000 men and we get spit?” Well, yes, old boy. Can’t be helped. Short rations for everyone. Chin up. That’s the spirit.”

Upon returning to Italy, Prime Minister Orlando and his government were voted out of office.

(It bears mentioning that in an entire separate series of talks in the early 1920s, Italy was officially given the Dodecanese Islands, which wasn’t so difficult since the Italians had wrestled them away from the Ottoman Turks just before World War One and already had them. That the islands had few Italians and were populated almost entirely by Greeks didn’t matter to anyone.)

Political unrest broke out in Italy although I’m not sure how they could tell that from everyday life. Fortunately for the House of Savoy, the ever loyal Carabinieri along with regular units of the Italian Royal Army put down the political “unrest” which had escalated into nationwide rioting. The economy was in a tailspin, mass unemployment, occupation of factories by workers, inflation, and a soon a national economic depression. Mussolini, formerly a socialist and now a fascist, was the leading figure of the National Fascist Party. He was named Benito by his father, a committed socialist, who admired the radical Mexican President Benito Juárez.

In what is known as “the March on Rome” several thousand loud although mostly unarmed fascist blackshirts headed toward Rome to overthrow the government. Not the king. Just the elected parliamentary government. A company of Carabinieri could have stopped “the March on Rome.” Since they always fired on whomever they were ordered to fire on, I doubt this would have been an exception. But those orders never came. Prime Minister Facta ordered martial law declared but the King refused to sign the decree. Instead, he asked Mussolini to form a government even though the National Fascist Party had only a handful of seats in the Parliament. This was perfectly legal since under the constitution the monarch could appoint a prime minister even if that man did not command a majority in Parliament.

Mussolini accepted and whatever passed for parliamentary government and due process in Italy soon vanished. Mussolini gained a certain popularity but that waned quickly as the economy continued to degenerate. In the years to come Mussolini, supported by the King and the military and the wealthy industrialists and the Church, created a totalitarian society with himself as the leader or “Il Duce.” Long before the Nazis came to power, the Italian Fascists were in power. They even used a new salute, stretching the right arm out far as one could posed at an upward angle. The Fascist salute. We think of it as the Nazi salute but the Italian Fascist invented it. Like much in the Third Reich, the Nazis stole the idea from someone else.

Even more than dragging Italy into World War One, the support given Mussolini by the King Victor Emmanuel and by extension the House of Savoy, is reprehensible, inexcusable and can never be forgiven. Because of King Victor Emmanuel’s support of this puffed-up gangster, untold numbers of Italians died.

[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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