Previous posts in this discussion:
PostHow Did Mussolini Become the Axis Junior Partner? (Nigel Jones, UK, 08/19/17 3:50 am)
John Eipper (18 August) asked how it was that Hitler outmanoevred Mussolini and got him to follow Germany into his self-dug abyss even though this was clearly against Italy's interests.
This is indeed a fascinating question. As early as 1923 when launching his botched Munich beerhall putsch, Hitler idealised Mussolini--who had come to power only a year before--and in many ways based his nascent Nazi movement on Italian Fascism.
When he met Mussolini in Venice in 1934 soon after becoming Chancellor, Hitler was very much the junior partner in the relationship, cutting an awkward and shabby figure beside the strutting Duce.
These roles were reversed over the next four years as German power and prestige grew. One key moment was the Anschluss annexation of Austria in 1938. Although Mussolini had rushed Italian troops to the Austrian border to thwart a Nazi takeover after the murder of Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss in July 1934 in an abortive Nazi putsch (Dollfuss's wife was visiting Rome at the time), by 1938 the Duce tamely accepted the Anschluss, earning Hitler's undying gratitude.
This is, I believe, yet another instance of Hitler's extraordinary ability to exercise an almost hypnotic power over people. Time and again Mussolini would meet him determined to stand up to the Fuhrer: only to crumble in his fellow dictator's actual presence and be reduced to acquiescent silence.
It must be said that Hitler remained loyal to his ally to the end, rescuing and restoring the Duce to nominal power in German-controlled northern Italy after Mussolini was ousted by his own Fascist colleagues and the King in 1943.
Had Mussolini resisted Hitler's fatal embrace and remained neutral in WWII, I have little doubt that the Fascist regime would have survived and prospered in the Cold War, just as Franco did in Spain.
JE comments: I'm overjoyed to hear from WAISer extraordinaire Nigel Jones after a summer-long silence. Nigel: did you spend much time this summer on the Continent? Please tell! My ever-growing Bucket List includes joining Historical Trips for a walk along the Western Front.