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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Lessons for Our Times from Mussolini's Son-in-Law, Galeazzo Ciano

The diaries of Benito Mussolini's son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano are, indeed, remarkable, as Bill posted after he read them 7 years ago.

They are worth revisiting at this time and, in fact, a new edition is due out in March.  Although we generally avoid politics in this blog, the parallels with Trump are glaringly obvious.  And the parallels extend to the relationship.  This is a cautionary tale for another son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Ciano went from an art and drama critic who was critical of Fascism to Il Duce's foreign minister, which seems like a stretch.  The diaries don't clue us in to his "conversion," but start only after Ciano has married Mussolini's daughter, Edda, converted to Fascism whole-heartedly, and become, at age 33, the Italian government's Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Covering 1939-1943, these are diaries of a government official, perhaps the closest advisor to Mussolini in these years when Italy went to war against the Allies as part of the Axis with, primarily, Germany and with Japan.

Ciano's almost daily observations show us how a charismatic leader whose ego is his defining motivation can lead into war an apparently unwilling nation, whose people he often despises and castigates.  In the end, Ciano decides, it's Mussolini's ego, in reaction to foreign press reports, that drives him into the arms of Hitler.  Mussolini is a man of leadership skills and talent, according to Ciano, but he listens to those who prop up his views, berates the press and the Church, and cares mainly about his own prestige.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs for 7 years, Ciano had an intimate view of Il Duce, and he wrote regularly about the Italian Fascist leader's views and moods.

As the diary begins, the Italians clearly have their own design on empire.  They see Albania, for example, simply as one of their provinces, and when they take it, international reaction is almost nonexistent, Ciano notes - "the inertia of democracies."  Both men want a new "Roman Mediterranean Empire," but both hope to achieve it without war.

The Italian people don't want a pact with Germany, a country with whom they share few values, but it is Il Duce, not the majority of the people, who decides, says Ciano early on in his diary.

While Mussolini seems to agree with Ciano in 1939 that war is not desirable, the Duce "says that honor compels him to march with Germany.  Finally he states that he wants his part of the booty in Croatia and Dalmatia."  So it's ego and loot that's important here.

While Ciano sees himself as trying to speak truth to power with Mussolini, he laments "I have been completely abandoned by the large group of men who are concerned with telling the Duce only those things that please him.  To tell the truth is the least of their cares."

Ciano also views the Duce as focusing his attention "mostly on matters of form; there is hell to pay...if an officer doesn't know how to lift his legs in the Roman step....Does he fear the truth so much that he is unwilling to listen?"

In late 1939, Mussolini becomes "more and more restless.  He feels that he is out of this great struggle and in one way or another he would like to find a way to fit into it....He was quite pleased with an English article which said that the Italian people might fight at the side of Germany for reasons of honor.  This is also his point of view, and even when there are a thousand voices to the contrary, a single anonymous voice saying that he is right is sufficient, and he will cling to it and overlook, indeed deny, the others."

What concerns Mussolini most, as Ciano quotes him, is this:  "It is not possible that of all people I should become the laughingstock of Europe.  I have to stand for one humiliation after another."

Mussolini becomes more fascinated with Hitler as Hitler achieves military successes.  And that success, writes Ciano, "has had a favorable echo among the Italian people who, as Mussolini says, 'is a whore who prefers the winning mate.'"

Mussolini is also a believer in his own charisma:  He has written Hitler, "The feeling of the Italian people is unanimously against the Allies."  Ciano responds, "Where does he get this information? Is he really sure of what he writes, or is it not true that, conscious of his personal influence, he is thinking of the opportune moment for modifying the national mood at his whim."

Ciano argues against war because he distrusts the Germans, thinking they are playing the Italians, and he knows the Italians do not have the armaments and training for this war, though the sycophants around Mussolini tell him otherwise - "the clownish politicians, who have become exaggeratedly pro-German."

Ciano cannot stop Mussolini at this point:  "it is not that he wants to obtain this or that; what he wants is war, and, even if he were to obtain by peaceful means double what he claims, he would refuse." On May 29, 1940, Ciano notes, "Rarely have I seen Mussolini so happy.  He has realized his dream: that of becoming the military leader of the country at war."  Ciano adds:  "I am sad, very sad.  The adventure begins.  May God help Italy!"

When France capitulates quickly, Ciano finds "Mussolini dissatisfied.  This sudden peace disquiets him. ...The war has been won by Hitler without any active military participation on the part of Italy, and it is Hitler who will have the last word. This, naturally, disturbs and saddens him."

Mussolini becomes more and more concerned with how Hitler views him, And the Duce thinks a long war might restore Italy's lost prestige.  "Oh, his eternal illusions...," writes Ciano.

As the war becomes a series of losses for Italy - in Egypt, Libya, Greece, and elsewhere - "News from all sectors is bad."  Ciano, along with the entire cabinet, is relieved of his post on February 5, 1943, and he is made Ambassador to the Holy See, an unimportant position.  Mussolini reassures him, "Your future is in my hands, and therefore you need not worry," Ciano quotes Mussolini.  "He has invited me to see him frequently....I like Mussolini, like him very much, and what I shall miss most will be my contact with him."

The diary then goes silent for almost 10 months, until December 23, 1943, its final entry.  Ciano is now writing from his prison cell in Verona.  He reiterates that he opposed the pact with Germany, but received unequivocal orders for that alliance.  It was, says Ciano, a decision "that has had such a sinister influence upon the future of the Italian people."  That decision to join with Germany in provoking and promoting war, he says, in hindsight, was "due entirely to the spiteful reaction of a dictator to the irresponsible and valueless utterances of foreign journalists."  Italy was treated by Germany "never like partners, but always as slaves....Only the base cowardice of Mussolini could, without reaction, tolerate this and pretend not to see it."

Ciano has concluded that Mussolini read reports in foreign papers that he was subservient to Hitler and to counter them, and to protect his prestige, he had to join the Axis.

The last words of the diary are these:  "I believe that an honest testimonial of the truth in this sad world may still be useful in bringing relief to the innocent and striking at those who are responsible." Galeazzo Ciano  December 23, 1943, Cell 27 of the Verona Jail."

Ciano, who took part in the ousting of Mussolini on July 25, 1943, was executed, on Mussolini's orders it appears, on January 11, 1944.  His wife, Edda, Mussolini's daughter, disguised herself and smuggled the diary out of Italy.

PS - Although Bill read the diary 7 years ago, I read it just this year.  I believe there are reasons it continues to be reprinted from time to time, and, as I indicated at the top, right now.

1 comment:

mustac said...

always refreshing to take spin though Cian's ideas