Previous posts in this discussion:
PostVietnam: A Tactical Defeat but Strategic Victory? (Timothy Brown, USA, 12/27/14 8:24 am)
My take on the Vietnam war is quite different from any of those expressed here, perhaps because my perspective was different, not just a view of the war in Vietnam, although I did later serve there, but region-wide.
From 1960 to mid 1964, when not on counterinsurgency or other missions in Thailand, Laos or the Philippines, I was a very small cog in the efforts of G2/J2 at FMFPAC/CINCPAC in Hawaii.
But, since I was the only trained Thai linguist at Camp Smith and liable to deployment at a moment's notice, while in Hawaii a region-wide spectrum of intelligence reports and analyses on Asia, from the Assam hills of India to Indonesia, including mainland Taiwan and parts of mainland China, and beyond, crossed my desk.
There's a military saying that "Amateurs talk tactics--Professionals talk logistics." And when it came to logistics, the logistical crown jewel in South Asia was then as it is now, the Strait of Malacca. And during that part of the Cold War, countries on both sides of that Strait were under threat. While the better known conflicts were in Vietnam and Laos, Malaya was also under pressure from CTs (Communist Terrorists, the then term of art); Indonesia was facing a growing internal threat largely from its Chinese expatriate community thanks to Chinese agitation and support; the Philippines had a variety of subversive challenges, the best known of which were Huks and Muslim insurgencies.
There were also conflicts in Burma, especially the Shan and Ten Thousand Rice Fields regions, and in India's Assam Hills. There were even stay-behind Nationalist Chinese units inside China. My own primary interests were several actual or potential conflicts inside Thailand, especially Pathet Lao efforts to foment an insurgency in northeast Thailand among the Thai-Lao border, similar efforts in that country's southeast Khmer region and a Muslim movement in the Kra peninsula. While each of these movements wore a different ethnic mask, all were directly or indirectly allied with the Marxist side of the Cold War, and hostile to the United States and its allies. The threat they posed was more or less successfully suppressed behind the screen of Vietnam. Indonesia bloodily, but effectively, extirpated the threat from its overseas Chinese population, Singapore prospered, and the CT threat to Malaysia was essentially defeated.
From this perspective, our involvement in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were part of a larger picture. Had either Indonesia or Malaysia fallen to pro-Chinese movements, the strategic situation would have shifted drastically from in which we and our non-SEA allies could control access to the Strait of Malacca to one that would have made it indefensible in case a major confrontation developed. Put this way, Vietnam was a tactical defeat--but a strategic success, meaning we didn't lose the Vietnam War, we won the Southeast Asia Conflict.JE comments: From the larger Cold War perspective, this is a convincing thesis. Moreover, it underscores Cameron Sawyer's point of several days ago, that the regional insurgencies and the US were fighting altogether different wars: national liberation vs anti-communism. Interestingly, Tim Brown gives the opposite interpretation of most people when it comes to Vietnam, who cite the tactical victories of the US/South Vietnamese coalition but a strategic defeat.
Vietnam: A Tactical Defeat but Strategic Victory?
(Francisco Ramirez, USA
12/27/14 11:26 AM)
In response to Tim Brown (27 December), did we win the Southeast Asia conflict because or despite the loss in Vietnam? Could we have won the conflict without establishing ties with China?
JE comments: The last point is especially worth contemplation.
Thoughts on the New Chinese Empire
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
12/29/14 5:43 AM)
My thoughts in response to Francisco Ramírez (27 December): the war in Southeast Asia was won (maybe another verb could be more appropriate; what about stabilized?) despite the loss in Vietnam and because of the establishment of ties with China.
However, with China we have to be careful and not become its slaves. When all products will come from China and "made in USA or Italy" is no more, we will be the poor slaves of the worst modern empire.
JE comments: And what about Chinese "soft power" throughout the developing world--Africa and Latin America in particular? When historians write the story of China's rise, they'll cite the Nicaragua canal deal as a watershed event. (And this isn't the first: see the Chinese-built Superporto do Açu in Brazil.)
My question: Do the developing nations turn to China merely because it's offering investment and technology (and the "West" is not), or do they see Chinese domination (vs. Western) as the lesser evil?
- Vietnam: A Tactical Defeat but Strategic Victory? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/27/14 12:59 PM)
Timothy Brown's take (27 December) on the Vietnam war is quite thought-provoking: given the much broader US focus (regional at least) versus the civil war perspective, the "tactical loss versus strategic victory" interpretation requires some thinking. My view is that when we discuss strategy, we can vary the width of focus, as Tim has done. We also are discussing the long term which can be endless, from the time the events occurred to the present or future times. Since the Vietnam war was ultimately, at its broadest focus, a struggle between Capitalism and Communism, one could also correctly conclude that the US won the ultimate strategic victory because under Gorbachev the Soviet Politburo dismantled the USSR. In this view, Vietnam and the Straits of Malacca are but little pieces of a much greater conflict.
Of course, if my strategic analysis is extended in time to include the results to the present, I can correctly conclude that the fall of the USSR has been the biggest unmitigated disaster for the American middle class (my preferred definition of America) because, free from the threat of competition against Communism, the US government allowed special interests to take over US foreign policy, including the many regional military conflicts Eugenio Battaglia referred to in his 27 December post. For similar reasons, US/global corporate interests, under the profit motive, also elevated Communist China to full partnership through job outsourcing and massive technology transfer. Again, for similar reasons, the US/global financial sector spawned the latest financial crisis which brought America and the world to their financial knees in 2008.
On a more philosophical level, Nigel Jones on 27 December concludes that: "However desirable pacifism may be, and however horrendous modern industrialised warfare... in the interests of reality I think we all have to accept the teachings of science, history, biology, and psychology that Homo sapiens is an innately and ineradicably aggressive animal, and that war and conflict have always been with us and always will be."
Wow! I understand that humans in groups seem to have learned very little in the last 10,000 years except regarding science and technology. But we are supposed to be wiser than animals and we do have some significant strides in other areas such as the rule of law, Democracy, the US Constitution, the European Union, the Geneva Convention, etc. It is up to us to decide how to behave. We should not hide behind extreme assumptions that we must forever remain victims of our aggressive nature. We must take responsibility for our own behavior. Humans do have aggressive instincts but reality shows that most of us can also control our aggressive behavior, follow the law, help other people, and live in civilized society.
JE comments: One of Tor Guimaraes's most thought-provoking ideas is explained in his second paragraph. He's given several versions of this thesis before: the Cold War victory took away the incentive for the US Powers that Be to share with the middle and working classes. What do other WAISers think? I find much of Tor's thesis to be credible, but note that the trend away from unionized labor began under Reagan in the early 1980s. In addition, Soviet-style communism was never a credible, domestic threat in US society.
How Did the End of the Cold War Destroy the US Middle Class?
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
01/01/15 10:43 AM)
John Eipper added this comment to my 27 December post: "One of Tor Guimaraes's most thought-provoking ideas is [that]... the Cold War victory took away the incentive for the US Powers that Be to share with the middle and working classes... I find much of Tor's thesis to be credible, but note that the trend away from unionized labor began under Reagan in the early 1980s. In addition, Soviet-style communism was never a credible, domestic threat in US society."
In my opinion this is not "Tor's thesis" but a conclusion based on many factual events. I shall outline them below. (Note: Since correlation does not imply causality, any proposed connections between these historical events must be obvious or must be justified logically. I hope to accomplish this, and I invite critics to do the same, Thanks.)
Once upon a time, there were two social political economic systems dominating the world: US social democratic capitalism versus Soviet totalitarian state capitalism. Few nations were able to remain politically or militarily neutral in this struggle; most were forced to take sides. The Soviet system had some strengths: it quickly developed strong science and heavy industry, it raised millions from poverty to a decent standard of living, it survived WWII with a strong military, it developed an impressive space program, it assisted many allies around the world. The strengths of the US system were amazing and set the limits for mankind: it achieved world dominance in science and technology, in business and economics, military power, and it assisted many allies throughout the world. These two systems competed for mankind's hearts and minds. The Soviet system preached against the unfairness of capitalism (rich owners versus poor workers) and the importance of equality and a strong government. The US system preached about individual freedom, consumerism, entrepreneurship, and wealth accumulation, with government playing the role of facilitator and referee for individuals and/or corporations. The benefits from freedom, consumerism, and a much higher standard of living were obvious to most people all over the world, particularly in clearly divided in-your-face comparisons such as East versus West Berlin, where the potential and actual human traffic was clearly in one direction.
One day more than twenty years ago, the Soviet government realized that the consumer-based US system was more flexible and stronger economically and financially. They dismantled the Soviet political system into its component nations and hoped that the US economic social system could be easily adapted.
The victory of the US system and its implications was nothing short of fantastic, incredible, and awesome: reduced fear of nuclear war, huge potential deductions in military spending, much greater world cooperation in science, technology, business and trade, etc. But the hidden implications were also great: the "evil empire" was gone, so sophisticated weapons manufacturers might have to go on a diet unless arms trade for regional conflicts could be increased. The need for a shiny West Berlin as a symbol of the US system superiority dissipated as East Germany was integrated. On the vanquished side, the need for having a chicken bone like Cuba on the US capitalist throat also dissipated. Free from the threat of competition against Communism, the US government could now enable or just allow special interests to take over US foreign policy, including the many regional military conflicts Eugenio Battaglia referred to in his post of 27 December.
Closer to home, with the "Evil Empire" gone, the US government's interest in showing that our workers' standard of living was much higher than their supposedly Soviet workers' paradise counterparts was no longer necessary. US business could now be allowed to focus exclusively on their obviously ultimate goals: Quarterly increases in profits and shareholder value. Thus, as corporate profits increased, worker productivity was even more impressive, but workers' pay lagged for the following decades to date. Similarly, the fear that US technological superiority might be lost to the "Evil Empire" was also gone, so job outsourcing fueled the corporate unmitigated hunger for greater profits through foreign cheap labor and lower manufacturing costs. Amazingly, US/global corporate interests, under the profit motive, also elevated Communist China to full partnership through job outsourcing and massive technology transfer.
Other ongoing examples of the US system assault on the US middle class are: below poverty minimum wage, reduction of worker benefits, scarcity of decent-paying jobs, forced under-employment, etc.
As if all this plundering (forced reduction in standard of living for greater business profit) of the US middle class was not enough, for greater profit to a few special capitalists, the US government allowed (some say participated in) the US/global financial sector to implement the latest financial crisis which brought America and the world to their financial knees in 2008. Can anyone imagine any of this happening if the USSR was still in existence? It would have been unthinkable, impossible, and a critical matter of national security.
JE comments: Tor's analysis is still a thesis, I'd say, but it's a solid and provocative one. What do WAISers think? I'm a bit unconvinced by Tor's last paragraph, as I don't see any individual or group as "allowing" the 2008 crisis. Note that a far worse financial collapse hit the capitalist world in the 1930s, and the Soviet system didn't replace it.
Best New Year's wishes to Tor Guimaraes, one of WAISdom's steadiest and most prolific correspondents. How is it, Tor, that we live only 500 miles apart (513 to be exact) and still haven't met in person? How about a resolution to make 2015 different?
Did Mussolini Inspire FDR's New Deal?
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
01/02/15 5:21 AM)
In reference to the excellent post of Tor Guimaraes (1 January), JE commented: "Note that a far worse financial collapse [than 2008] hit the capitalist world in the 1930s and the Soviet system didn't replace it."
At that time, the Soviet system with its first Five-Year Plan, mostly dedicated to developing industry at any cost, was also creating serious problems, for instance the elimination of the Kulaks. It was also the period which seeded the hatred of the Ukrainians for the Russians.
But the fascist social system was also rising at that time.
J. P. Diggins in his book Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America wrote: "In the 1930s the Fascist Corporate [nothing to do with the present American corporations--EB] State seemed to be a forge of smoking industries. While America reeled, the progress of Italy in navigation, aviation, in hydroelectric plants and in public works offered an alluring example of direct action and national planification. Confronting the ineptitude with which president Hoover faced the economic crisis, the Duce was giving excellent results."
President Roosevelt sent Rexford Tugwell and Raymond Moley (Brain Trust) in order to understand the system of public intervention from the State, which without destroying the private character of capitalism could fight its degeneration and transform an anarchical, asocial and uncontrolled capitalist market into a system under the law and the principles of social justice and efficiency.
Tugwell wrote on 22 October 1934: "Today I will meet the Duce. His strength and intelligence are evident as the efficiency of the Italian Administration [now completely the contrary--EB] is the cleanest, the most linear, the most efficient champion of a social machine that I have ever seen."
Mussolini sent his Minister of Finance Guido Jung, who was Jewish, to illustrate his programs to the American President. The New Deal emerged from this (but it is not politically correct to remember this fact; anyway the documents of the various meetings are in the Roosevelt Library).
The social reforms of Mussolini and Fascism were dangerous for a degenerative capitalist system. Bernard Shaw prophetically said in 1937: "The things made by Mussolini (in economics) will come sooner or later to a serious conflict with capitalism."
For sure the peaceful social reforms of Mussolini were more dangerous than the Panzer divisions of Hitler, and it became imperative to push the former into the arms of the latter and destroy both.
JE comments: During the 1930s Mussolini was definitely in style among a number of intellectuals and politicians in both Britain and the US. Even among strict opponents of Soviet communism and fascism, the idea of central planning was considered the mark of a modern economy. However, I'm not convinced by Eugenio Battaglia's claim that the Western democracies were so threatened by the fascist model that they "pushed" Mussolini into the arms of Hitler. Il Duce entered the war in 1940 simply to jump on the steamroller that appeared to be winning, and to gain spoils from France and Greece.
When Did Mussolini Lose Favor with the Western Democracies?
(Luciano Dondero, Italy
01/02/15 7:55 AM)
In response to Eugenio Battaglia (2 January), the turning point for Mussolini was 1936. Italy invaded Ethiopia. Britain pushed the League of Nations to impose sanctions against Italy. Then Mussolini embarked on the Spanish adventure, crucially helping Franco and then drawing Germany in.
In 1938 Hitler and Mussolini sealed an alliance, which would eventually lead to Italy's entering WWII in 1940. But the most infamous result of the 1938 pact were Italy's "racial laws," discriminating against the Jews.
While this did not lead to a policy of extermination ("only" 9,000 Jews were killed in Italy, out of 120,000; see Gilbert, Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict), it was a revolting piece of anti-Semitism, and drove some of the best Italian Jews away. Most notably, one Enrico Fermi.
This did not stop all connections between Fascist Italy and right-wing Zionists. In fact, Italy kept training the future initial cadre of the Israeli navy (see Wikipedia).
Best wishes for 2015 to all WAISers!
JE comments: And all the best to Luciano Dondero for an excellent 2015. I always enjoy your posts, Luciano. Please send a lot of them this year!
Eugenio Battaglia has discussed the Betar Naval Academy, the training ground for the future Israeli Navy. See, for example, this post of 18 August 2014:
Italy under Mussolini: My Family's Story
(Pietro Lorenzini, USA
01/03/15 3:36 AM)
Though I've been reading with great interest the WAIS writings of Eugenio Battaglia, I've purposely stayed away from commenting, particularly on those dealing with Fascism and the history of Italy under Mussolini. It's not that I haven't had a thought or two about those topics. Rather my silence has been due to life's lessons garnered from many heated discussions with family and friends. As a family where members often hold polar opposite political views, out of respect for different opinions and from a realization that strongly held opinions are not likely changed, I've learned that, at times silence and wisdom are not always at odds. Yet I do want to mention a couple of things.
The first is quick and simple. Reading a comment by Luciano Dondero where he stated that Mussolini's "racial laws" caused Enrico Fermi to leave Italy, for the sake of clarification, I wanted to note that Mr. Fermi was not Jewish, but his decision to leave was, in part, prompted by the fact that his wife was a member of an Italian Jewish family. For those interested in things Fermi, I recommend two good books which are a delight to read. The first, Atoms in the Family, My Life with Enrico Fermi, was written by his wife Laura and was published in the early 1950s by the University of Chicago Press. The other, Enrico Fermi: Physicist, written by Emilio Segre, was published by the University of Chicago in the 1970s.
The second is a personal reflection on the divisions which were created among my family members as a result of the World War II occupation by German troops of my home province in Tuscany and the resulting battle lines.
The Lorenzini and Gregori families come from the province of Massa Carrara, Tuscany's northwestern most province. From ancient times through World War II, the area has experienced countless struggles because its mountains, hills and valleys form a natural boundary separating Tuscany, Liguria and Parma/Emilia. In pre-Roman times Ligurian tribes, such as the Apuani, struggled with the Etruscans. Roman legions finally settled the contest by founding the port city of Luni and then, after decades of struggles, finally crushed the Apuani and settled thousands of these Ligurians in southern Italy. During the Middle Ages the region, known to many as Lunigiana, a name born of the ancient Roman port of Luni (Luna in Latin), experienced centuries of warfare as one after another of the Tuscan Republics (Pisa, Lucca and finally Florence) sought to extend their influence, trade and defense fortifications northward to ward off Lombard and Genoese competitors.
During World War II, the region's key geographic location was underscored yet again as the German Army and its Italian Fascist allies established the Linea Gotica (Gothic Line). The Gothic Line was a defensive barrier which Field Marshall Albert Kesselring expected would be the last reasonable line of defense in northern Italy. While the history of the Gothic Line is officially recognized as running from approximately late summer 1944 to April 1945, local partisans fought Italian Fascist troops and their German allies as early as late September 1943. For almost two years the region saw much blood shed as the contesting parties struck out at each other. As was all too common, a strike against one caused merciless reprisals by the other.
My own family experienced this first hand, as did many other families in the region. For example, as young man barely in his twenties, my father, Domenico Lorenzini, was made a medical orderly shortly after induction into the Italian army. The hand of fate intervened, for as Domenico was about to be shipped to Russia an Italian military physician from Tuscany took a liking to this young fellow Tuscan and had my babbo transferred to the physician's medical unit, a unit bound for occupied France. Later when Mussolini's government fell, that same physician, now head of an Italian military hospital detachment in France, told his men that they could choose to stay, and possibly become subject to the German military authorities, or decide to take the perilous journey back home on their own. My father chose the latter course. He eventually walked from central France all the way back to Fivizzano in Massa Carrara.
Other family members, however, were not so lucky. After my Uncle Pietro Conti's military division refused to fight alongside the Germans, he was arrested and ended up spending almost two years in Dachau. In the end, he was saved by a combination of luck, wits and by the eventual capture of the camp by Allied forces. My uncle, Nello Gregori (my mother Rosina Gregori's eldest brother) serving in the Italian army in North Africa, was eventually captured and almost starved to death at the hands of colonial forces, only to be saved from certain death when the American/British took direct charge of the captured Italian prisoners. Meanwhile, after my father arrived in Fivizzano he was able to avoid arrest because an older and distant cousin was in charge of a munitions plant in Palerone, a town just outside of Aulla (both of these small Tuscan towns along with La Spezia, a key naval port just across the Tuscan-Ligurian border, were heavily bombed throughout the later stages of the war).
In the meantime, in Massa Carrara and La Spezia provinces, many of my father's and mother's friends, and many in their respective families, found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. Often these were political choices made after some reflection, but I would contend that more often they were choices driven by outside events which had struck deep into the personal lives of individuals and their families. For example, some family and friends supported Mussolini's reconstituted government, but others choose to resist the Nazis and their Italian allies. As organized partisan activities became more effective and sanguinary, Nazi reprisals became more numerous, ferocious and bloody. In turn, this caused many locals, who in their attempts to survive tried to stay out of the fight, to support the partisans and actively fight against the Germans. After my dad's father, Silvio, and Uncle Settimo and his American-born wife Francesca were arrested by the Germans and held for questioning (during their detention Settimo and Francesca were beaten and tortured under SS direction), my 23-year-old father secretly joined the partisans (4th Brigata Garibaldi Apuania), as did his cousin Paolo Lorenzini (the only son of Settimo and Francesca). Later, Paolo, a young man also in his early twenties, was killed in one of those countless partisan-German skirmishes fought by those unlucky enough to be behind the Gothic Line.
To this day, many Lunigianese families are divided over issues which arose from the war. This is to be expected as so many experienced war's atrocities first-hand. The formal recognition of these scars can be seen in the countless state-sponsored statues to war dead (honoring Italians who died on both sides of the conflict) found in most every hamlet, village, town and city in Massa Carrara and La Spezia provinces. But it can also be seen in the many privately sponsored roadside monuments which even today, some 70-odd years later, pepper the region. These roadside monuments give tangible evidence to the tragedies of war. They speak to the human pain and suffering experienced by those who were captured by German troops and summarily shot alongside picture-perfect Tuscan hillside country roads. These simple monuments also testify that the divisions and injuries of war continue to this day, long after the original wounds were inflicted, their scars remain in the hearts of many Lunigianese family and friends.
Wishing all a best New Year, Pietro Lorenzini
JE comments: Pietro Lorenzini's family saga is an excellent New Year's present for the WAIS readership. People caught in the maelstrom of warfare do what they can to survive. Often, when you live in a contested region, factors beyond an individual's control can separate families, and even divide them along partisan lines.
It's been a great first few days of January, as we've heard from long-silent WAISers Mike Calnan, Anthony D'Agostino, and now Pietro Lorenzini. A New Year's resolution fulfilled? I hope so!
All the best to Pietro for 2015.
- Did Mussolini Inspire FDR's New Deal? (Anthony D`Agostino, USA 01/02/15 4:54 PM)
A small addendum on FDR and Mussolini:
The question of Eugenio Battaglia (2 January) as to whether the New Deal was inspired by Italian fascism must surely be answered in the negative. Eugenio cites John P. Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism: the View from America, but this results in a distortion.
Jack Diggins was my close and dear friend. He did not argue that the New Deal "emerged from" Mussolini's corporatism. Quite the reverse: Diggins insisted that the writings of the Roosevelt Brain Trusters "reveal no evidence of the the influence of Italian fascism on the New Deal." (280).
Not to say that Roosevelt did not observe with attention Mussolini's military demonstration against the threat of a Nazi Anschluss with Austria in 1934. Roosevelt was also interested in the French attempt to recruit Mussolini for a diplomatic bloc against Germany in 1935. But he and other US diplomats doubted that this could be bought, as the French thought, by green-lighting Mussolini's war with Ethiopia in 1935-6.
Roosevelt and Churchill would have loved to divide Hitler and Mussolini. Churchill's postwar history, volume one of which was The Gathering Storm, still expressed regret that a way was not found to do this.
But the presumed kinship of the New Deal and fascism is another matter.
JE comments: A post from veteran WAISer Anthony D'Agostino is a great way to start off 2015! Happy New Year to you, Anthony!
I never knew that the French were willing to "trade off" Ethiopia in exchange for Mussolini joining an anti-Hitler bloc. This conjures up a series of "what ifs." First of all, what if Mussolini had made a deal with France, which would have kept him out of war in 1940? He certainly would have stayed in power, à la Franco.
I'm sure Eugenio Battaglia will have a response.
Mussolini's Social Programs; Response to Anthony D'Agostino
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
01/04/15 6:05 AM)
With reference to Anthony D'Agostino's post of 2 January, I wish to point out some perhaps unknown benefits granted by Mussolini to the Italian people. Many of these were world firsts:
- 1923: Medical assistance for the poor.
- 1923: 8-hour work day, and the creation of the Opera Dopolavoro (Institution for after work), with cinemas, libraries, dancing and singing schools, palestras and sports fields, etc.
- 1926: Opera Maternità ed Infanzia (Institution for the protection of mother and child)
- 1927: Carta del Lavoro (Labour Charter), which placed capitalism and the working class on the same level, with compulsory working contracts, a judiciary system for work disputes, annual holidays, indemnity at the end of contract, state insurance against injuries while working and to cover the maternity period, and against professional illnesses and against unemployment, insurance against work-related sickness and injury through a Mutual system.
Of course, many other benefits were later granted, but I have enumerated those up to the 1929 crisis.
As for the second part of Anthony's post and JE's comments, I'd like to make a few points:
I would say that the Stresa meeting was initiated by Mussolini and not by France. After all, it took place in Italy.
The unexpected British-German naval agreement may be considered a betrayal of the spirit of Stresa. In fact, Churchill later wrote that with this episode, Mussolini saw proof that the UK was not acting in good faith towards his allies.
France's "trade off" for Ethiopia was made by PM Laval but soon forgotten by the French Government for internal political reasons. Then under Leon Blum, the hostilities of France against Italy reached the extreme.
For Mussolini in 1940, it was absolutely impossible to remain neutral (there are plenty reasons that we may later see; in any case, no comparisons with Spain are possible). It was imperative to decide which side to join. Italy was constructing a strong defensive line along the borders with the Third Reich (this went on until 1941), and theoretically it would have been possible to enter in war against Germany until 31 March 1940. Unfortunately in the last period the Western Powers did everything possible to antagonize Italy. See for example the Pietromarchi Report, which clearly shows the British/French efforts to strangle the Italian economy through the shipping blockade.
One correction: the Jewish Italians who were killed were mostly deported to Germany when the RSI was not yet in force, in September/October 1943. Other Jewish Italians died because they were partisans. It is worthwhile to note that Mussolini was always against the killing of any Jew. On 19 April 1945 in Mantova, the German SS captured Doctor Tommaso Salci and his son, both belonging to the partisan Partito d'Azione, but Mussolini promptly acted and managed to obtain their freedom. The list of such incidents is quite extensive.
JE comments: We've heard a lot about Mussolini's positive side from Eugenio Battaglia. My favorite is the invention of the limited-access highway (Autostrada). One question for Eugenio: wasn't Mussolini's Ethiopia adventure an egregious error of strategy? Meaning, if he hadn't antagonized Britain and France by invading Ethiopia, wouldn't the rest of the 1930s have played out very differently?
(Randy Black, USA
01/05/15 5:37 AM)
In his 4 January post, Eugenio Battaglia pointed out the many benefits of the rule of Benito Mussolini during his time as elected leader and later dictator over Italy. Eugenio referred to medical assistance for the poor in 1923. He added that Mussolini created an 8-hour workday along with "the Opera Dopolavoro (Institution for after work), with cinemas, libraries, dancing and singing schools, palestras and sports fields, etc." during the same year. Along the way, Eugenio pointed to other "benefits" implemented.
In my research, I cannot find anything regarding a medical benefit for the poor in that era of Italian history. This does not mean it didn't happen, but overall, the benefits mentioned strike me as designed to "buy" the support of the proletariat. Government handouts such as free medical treatment, free food, free public transportation, free this and that...
Material that I did run across was certainly not a plus in my view. From the www.historylearningsite.co.uk:
"(Mussolini) only gained what could be described as dictatorial powers after the Lateran Treaty whereby he could guarantee loyalty from those Catholics who may well have not been supporters of the fascist state in Italy.
"...He achieved some semblance of power after the March on Rome in 1922 when he was appointed Prime Minister of Italy. But his government contained a mixture of men with different political beliefs--similar to Hitler's position in January 1933.
"But, his time in power almost collapsed after the murder of Matteotti [RB: a political opponent who was dead two days after his public condemnation of El Duce] when great anger gripped Italy. If he had been a true dictator in 1922, then such an uproar would never have happened as his enemies and the Italian people in general would have been cowed into submission.
"Mussolini started his time in power by buying support from both the working class and the industrial bosses.
"The workers were promised an 8-hour day while an enquiry into the profits made by the industrialists during World War I was dropped. The rich benefited from a reduction in death duties--now, under Mussolini, more of what someone had earned during their lifetime, went to their family and not the government. To get support from the Roman Catholic Church, religious education was made compulsory in all elementary schools.
"These policies can be seen as an attempt to ‘buy' support. ...Mussolini had never intended to share power with the liberals who were in the government. He introduced a Fascist Grand Council, which would decide policy for Italy without consulting the non-fascists in the government first.
"In February 1923, Mussolini and the Fascist Grand Council introduced the Acerbo Law. This law changed election results. Now if one party got just 25% (or more) of the votes cast in an election, they would get 66% of the seats in parliament.
"When it came for Parliament to vote on the Acerbo Law, many politicians agreed to a law that would almost certainly end their political careers if they were not fascists. Why did they do this?
"The gallery in the hall in which the politicians voted was filled with armed fascist thugs who had a good view of anybody who spoke out against the law. The threat was clear and real. If you voted for the law, you would be fine. If you did not, then you were certainly in danger from fascist thugs.
"Mussolini did say in the spring of 1924 that 'a good beating did not hurt anyone.'
"...In the March election that followed the Acerbo Law, the Fascist Party got 65% of the votes cast and, therefore, easily got the 2/3rds of parliamentary seats--a clear majority. That people were intimidated into voting for the Fascists or that the Fascists took ballot papers from those who might have voted against Mussolini were brushed aside. The Fascists who were elected were bound to support Mussolini. In this sense, the Acerbo Law was an important move to dictatorship in Italy.
"(Thereafter) blackshirt thugs... beat up critics but that did not stop Giacomo Matteotti from publicly condemning Mussolini. Matteotti was murdered almost certainly by fascists and Mussolini was held responsible for this.
"There was overwhelming public outrage at the murder as Matteotti was Italy's leading socialist Member of Parliament. Newspapers and wall posters condemned Mussolini, and in the summer of 1924 there was a real possibility that Mussolini would have to resign.
"A number of non-fascist politicians walked out of Parliament in protest at the murder. This gesture only served to play into Mussolini's hands as it got rid of more parliamentary opposition. The protestors--named the Aventine protestors--appealed to the king, Victor Emmanuel, to dismiss Mussolini but the king disliked the protestors more than Mussolini because they leaned towards republicanism and he refused to take action.
"With this royal support, Mussolini felt strong enough to take on his opponents. Any critics of Mussolini were beaten up and newspapers that were not supportive of the Fascists were shut down. In January 1925, Mussolini said the following:
"'I declare... in front of the Italian people... that I alone assume the political, moral and historic responsibility for everything that has happened. Italy wants peace and quiet, work and calm. I will give these things with love if possible and with force if necessary.'
"After surviving the Matteotti affair, Mussolini slowly introduced the classic features of a dictatorship. But this was now nearly three years after the March on Rome.
"In November 1926, all rival political parties and opposition newspapers were banned in Italy.
"In 1927, a secret police force was set up called the OVRA and it was lead by Arturo Bocchini. The death penalty was reintroduced for 'serious political offences.' By 1940, the OVRA had arrested 4000 suspects but only 10 people from 1927 to 1940 were ever sentenced to death--much smaller than in Nazi Germany.
"Mussolini also changed Italy's constitution. He introduced a diarchy. This is a system whereby a country has two political heads. In Italy's case, it was Mussolini and the king, Victor Emmanuel. This system put Mussolini in charge of Italy simply because Victor Emmanuel was not the strongest of men and rarely felt able to assert himself. Though he disliked Mussolini bypassing him at every opportunity, he did little to challenge this.
"Mussolini appointed members to the Fascist Grand Council and from 1928, the Grand Council had to be consulted on all constitutional issues. As Mussolini appointed people onto the Council, logic would dictate that those people would do what Mussolini wished them to do.
"The electoral system was changed again in 1928. Mussolini said after the change: 'Any possibility of choice is eliminated... I never dreamed of a chamber like yours.'
"Workers and employers unions (now known as corporations) were entitled to draw up the names of 1000 people they wanted considered for parliament. The Grand Council selected 400 of these names, i.e. people they would approve of. The list of 400 names was presented to the electorate for approval. They could only vote for or against the whole list--not the individual candidates. In 1929, 90% of the electorate voted for the list and in 1934, this figure had increased to 97%. However, all those on the list were Grand Council approved so they were no more than ‘lap dogs' for Mussolini with no real political power. In 1939, Parliament was simply abolished."
RB: I am an admirer of most Italian history and achievements. But it seems to me that Mussolini was not the great person Eugenio would have WAISers believe he was.
JE comments: Eugenio Battaglia never claimed that Mussolini was a democrat, but rather that his social policies and authoritarianism were good for Italy.
I'm confused about one thing here: isn't "buying" the support of specific interest groups the entire point of politics? Even a libertarian approach to government--removing regulations, lowering taxes, etc.--is buying the support of those sectors who benefit.
Eugenio Battaglia has not turned me into an admirer of Mussolini, but his revisionism has forced us to reappraise the one-dimensional view of Il Duce that prevails in the Anglophone world--that of a megalomaniac buffoon, a military incompetent, and Hitler's dupe. For this, we should be grateful to Eugenio.
Next up: Eugenio reflects on Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia.
(Mendo Henriques, Portugal
01/05/15 9:28 AM)
About Mussolini revisionism, I admit I am not at all interested in Mussolini; fascism is a political cul-de-sac. It sucked then and it sucks now.
I would add that the vision (summarized by JE) of Il Duce as a megalomaniac buffoon, a military incompetent, and Hitler's dupe is not exclusive to the Anglophone world. As far as I can record, in Portugal and Spain, scholars have the same appraisal. The Negus was a political exile in Portugal, in 1936.
All military decisions of Mussolini were stupid, opportunistic, and led to defeat a powerful nation and a beautiful country, as confessed by his former protegé, admirer and son-in-law Count Ciano, whose memories I have read, twice.
1. General Graziani subjugated Libya in the 1930s, but at what price? Concentration camps and massacres.
2. Mussolini conquered Ethiopia in 1936 but, then, who wouldn't be able to do that with airplanes, tanks, and machine guns against people armed with guns and riding horses?
3. In Spain, after a victory at Málaga, the four Fascist divisions were defeated at the battle of Guadalajara in 1937. Afterwards, they were irrelevant.
5. The Italian Army failed miserably in the invasion of Southern France in June 1940, against much weaker French forces.
5. After the invasion of Albania in 1939, Fascist Italy was defeated by the Greek Army in the winter of 1939-1940, in a formidable epic. Hitler's intervention was required to save the Italians.
6. Mussolini was unable to conquer Malta because Air Force, Army, and Navy could not agree on a plan.
7. the Italian record in North Africa was miserable. They were chased by O'Connor en 1940, by Auchinleck in 1941 and by Montgomery in 1942. The Italian canned food had stamped AM, which standed for "Admnistrazione Militare" but the Germans read it as "Armes Mussolini," poor Mussolini because of the poor state of the Italian military.
8. Mussolini forgot to give aircraft carriers to the Italian Navy in a closed sea such as the Mediterranean, and so it lost the war.
I think I could go on with the series of Mussolini's blunders, but perhaps it is enough to establish him as a military buffoon and a war criminal.
Happy New Year to all.
JE comments: And the best to Mendo Henriques, on the occasion of his first post of 2015.
How certain can we be that Italy's lack of aircraft carriers was a significant factor in its defeat? If I'm not mistaken Germany and Italy together did not have a single carrier. Isn't it less necessary to have a carrier-based force in a closed sea?
Perhaps nautical expert Eugenio Battaglia can tell us more about the carrier Aquila, which was never made operational.
(Roy Domenico, USA
01/06/15 3:41 PM)
I've been away for a few days at the American Historical Association meeting and I followed the interesting exchange on Mussolini. A couple of things come to mind. First of all, I want to underscore Anthony D'Agostino's comment on the Diggins book. Unlike Anthony, I never knew John Diggins. I wish I had, because I always admired his book and it was one of those special books that pushed me into the direction that I took as a historian.
Diggins's book was not a paean to Mussolini and showed beautifully the complexity of the US-Italian relationship. The New Deal was not modeled on the Corporate State but--in 1933-34--Roosevelt was open to looking at what Mussolini was doing. Hitler was not much of a factor at this time and Italy could be considered on its own. I'm also attaching a shot of the famous (among Italianisti) shot of the July 1934 issue of Fortune Magazine which was, indeed, a paean to Mussolini and Fascism. The articles in that issue show how popular Fascism was among the business elite. They--or many of them such as Morgan Guarantee Trust--liked Mussolini.
JE comments: Here's the cover. Those were certainly different times. And by the way, wasn't a whole dollar, well, a fortune for a magazine in 1934?
- Mussolini as Military Leader; on the Carrier *Aquila* (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/07/15 9:23 AM)
I really enjoyed Mendo Henriques's post on Mussolini (5 January). It is so good to meet someone that has so strong convictions without any possible doubt.
To address Mendo's criticism of Mussolini as a military leader, unfortunately Mussolini had a strong respect for the high admirals and generals, plus their protector the king. As I have previously stated, Mussolini should have put a good number of them in front of a firing squad for treason, cowardice and incompetence. These high officers wanted to eliminate him and the only way was through defeat. We have already mentioned the story of Admiral Franco Maugeri and his book, printed in New York, From the Ashes of Disgrace. The heroic man received the US Legion of Merit, "for exceptionally deserving conduct while accomplishing superior services to the US government when chief of Italian Naval Intelligence, Commander at La Spezia, Chief of the Italian Navy during [sic] and after WWII." He was also the guy who took Mussolini from the mainland to the the islets of Ponza e Maddalena.
John E asked about Italian aircraft carriers. In July 1941 after the disgrace of the battle of Cape Matapan (three Italian cruisers sunk), it was decided to transform the transatlantic ship Roma into the aircraft carrier L'Aquila. The ship under transformation was badly damaged by aerial bombing in 1942, but was ready to sail on the day of the Unconditional Surrender on 9 September 1943. In response it was sabotaged by the crew. Later L'Aquila was taken by the RSI and again bombed, so she never could sail. At the end of the war she finished on the bottom of the port of Genoa. Refloated again, she was destroyed in 1952.
JE comments: Eugenio Battaglia holds strong views on Italian history, but I admire his admiration of those who hold equally strong (if contrasting) views. I hope Mendo Henriques will return to this conversation. My specific question for Mendo: why in his view would aircraft carriers have made any difference in Italy's war effort? Wasn't just about every potential target (including, Greece, the Balkans, and N Africa) accessible from land bases in Italy, Libya, or Somalia/Ethiopia?
Mussolini as Military Leader; *Charlie Hebdo* Massacre
(Mendo Henriques, Portugal
01/07/15 4:10 PM)
My thanks to JE for asking me for more details, but I confess the Mussolini issue is a bit dull on this day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. January 7, 2015 will go down in history as a bad day for all the world. I hope reason will prevail against retaliation.
Eugenio Battaglia (7 January) is on the right track when he wrote that the Italian Military establishment was against Mussolini. I think Eugenio only needs to extract the obvious conclusion: they judged Mussolini to be an militarily incompetent adventurer, endangering the gains of Savoy Italy. Surely Eugenio knows the details of the never-ending conspiracy of the Italian military against Mussolini, such as Roatta's conspiracy in Spain, and the final one, Badoglio's coup d'etat in 1943.
Naval doctrine in the 1930s after the 1929 London Treaties on the limitation of tonnage of battleships stated that aircraft carriers were imperative to support surface fleets, irrespective of whether operations were in the open sea such as the Atlantic or Pacific, or at a closed sea such as the Mediterranean. Naval powers GB and the US accelerated their aircraft carrier programs. Germany started but did not finish the Hindenburg. Suppose the Nazis had built it. The Bismarck would have been, perhaps, twice more powerful. As for Italy, Mussolini stated that he had enough land bases to do without aircraft carriers, against the opinion of Supermarina.
After WWII, Italy built aircraft carriers.
JE comments: The world is aghast with today's terrorist incident: twelve were killed in an attack on the Paris editorial offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. This was in apparent retaliation for pieces the journal had published mocking Islam. Details are very sketchy still. A sickening event, and a sad day.
- Was Mussolini's Ethiopia Adventure a Strategic Mistake? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/05/15 7:54 AM)
Oh, my goodness. When commenting on my post of 4 January, John E asked: "Wasn't Mussolini's Ethiopia adventure an egregious error of strategy? Meaning if he had not antagonized Britain and France by invading Ethiopia, wouldn't the rest of the 1930s have played out very differently?
If the answer must be a yes or no, I would have have to say yes, it was an error. However, the politics and the feelings of those times were very complicated.
First of all, I am convinced that the Western powers could not tolerate the economic and social system of Mussolini. No matter what, it was imperative to destroy him and the main way was to push him into the arms of Hitler. See what has been written by Winston Churchill, George Macaulay Trevelyan and Philippe Jules Arthur Noel.
At that time the Abyssinian Empire was still a feudal state with ethnic/religious feuds, where slavery was permitted, and it was poorly controlled by the Emperor.
In this setting we arrive at the Ual Ual, on the river Uebi Scebeli, an incident when thousands (14,000?) of Abyssinians on 5 December 1934 unsuccessfully attacked an Italian position manned by the Somalian Dubats. This was not the only incident of this type.
A special commission directed by the Greek Nicolaos Politis on 3 September 1935 placed the fault on the Abyssinians, but reparations from them were not supported by various foreign ambassadors.
On 4 January 1935 the French PM Laval gave the green light for Italy to retaliate, but the latter promised not to push for the defense of the 95,000 ethnic Italians resident in Tunisia.
On 23 June, Eden came to Rome offering some exchange of African territories, but it was considered an unacceptable offer. Eden never liked or understood Italy, but anyway he considered Italy a serious danger for the British Empire and on the 20 September the powerful and menacing Home Fleet entered the Mediterranean.
To be fair, Eden had good reasons to fear Italy, as with Mussolini the policy towards the populations of the colonies had shifted (old memories of his socialist anti-colonialist past) toward a policy of integration which granted the African populations the same benefits as the Italians. In this sense, Mussolini was trying to restore what was believed to be the best of the old Roman Empire. That was quite different from the conditions in the other colonial empires.
I recommend an analysis of the song "Faccetta Nera," a symbol of the war, to understand the friendly (!) feelings of the Italians toward the Abyssinians.
On 7 October 1935 the League of Nations declared Italy an aggressor, and on the 10th of the same month the British Foreign Minister succeeded in getting the approval of sanctions against Italy.
Fifty-one States voted for and only 3 against--Austria, Hungary and Albania. The US, Germany and Japan were not in the League and kept commerce going with Italy, while Spain and Yugoslavia informed that they would only partially abide by the sanctions.
Many nations, wishing to weaken Italy, supplied arms to Ethiopia, foremost the UK supplying the outlawed dum-dum ammunition. Surprisingly, Germany also sent weapons to the Ethiopians.
The campaign concluded on 6 May 1936. Perhaps the best warriors were the wonderful Eritreans.
October 10th, 1935 marked the beginning of the European foreign policy of Mussolini. He did not like Hitler, but...
A curiosity, in October Mussolini sent two eminent Italian Jews, Angelo Orvieto and Dante Latters, to London to intercede for help from the International Jewish Communities but with no success.
When Italian ships were passing through the Suez Canal, paying in gold to Britain, the huge Italian local community of about 50,000 was applauding.
On 10 November 1935 200,000 Italian-Americans marched in Philadelphia against the sanctions.
18 November 1935 was Italy's "Day of Gold for the Country." Everybody went and gave gold, especially wedding rings, which were replaced by an iron ring fashioned from old Austrian guns. Of course my parents complied immediately.
Many antifascists showed their strong support, such as the philosopher Benedetto Croce. Even the communist leader Togliatti, in exile at Moscow, addressed a letter to the Brothers in Black Shirt accepting the Fascist Program of 1919.
Thanks to the sanctions, Fascism got the maximum of Italian consent.
I too have a question: if the huge French and British Empires had not antagonized the small Italian Empire, wouldn't the rest of the 1930s and '40s have played very differently?
JE comments: Perhaps, but the British and French empires were not scathed by their antagonism against Italy, whereas Mussolini's actions brought an end to his entire regime and ideology.
Eugenio Battaglia stresses a point I had never considered. The Western democracies' sanctions against Italy post-Ethiopia may have heightened the fascist regime's popularity at home. Can't we say this is more or less the norm with sanctions--I'm thinking of Putin's popularity in Russia (though it's waning, fast) or the longest-running case study of all: Cuba.
Next up on Italian fascism, Mendo Henriques in Lisbon.
- End of the Cold War and the 2008 Crisis (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/03/15 4:35 AM)
My gratitude to Eugenio Battaglia for his kind words about my 1 January post, and for explaining to John Eipper why the Soviet system was not in a position to replace the US capitalist system during the financial collapse of the 1930s.
John still remained unconvinced by my last argument that "the US government allowed (some say participated in) the US/global financial sector to implement the  financial crisis." Oh, none are so blind as the ones who don't want to see. The US government regulators allowed the financial fraud to go on, so did the mortgage writing institutions knowingly accepting bogus borrower information, the banks who wrote and sold fraudulent securities, the credit raters who assigned AAA ratings for such securities, etc.
I have presented overwhelming evidence for concluding that the fall of the Soviet system over the last few decades enabled US/global capitalism to relentless seek profits wherever and whenever possible by inducing regional wars, replacing governments to benefit from local corruption, trading US jobs for cheaper goods, squeezing workers' income and standard of living despite large productivity increases, and lastly perpetrating the largest financial fraud on the world. This is not a thesis, it is not even a theory; it is an inescapable conclusion. The real question now is what will the American people do to create new jobs, regain technological advantages, increase product and process innovation, and ultimately improve its fast decaying standard of living?
The answer is apparently too difficult for us to accomplish. It will take leadership, vision, incredible discipline, and relentless hard work.
JE comments: My skepticism is twofold: 1) Did the bad actors (and I'm not denying that there were many of them) "allow" the 2008 crisis to happen, or did it just happen? This ties in to 2) Would 2008 somehow have played out differently if we were still fighting the Cold War? I don't see how either question can be answered with Tor Guimaraes's certitude.
- Was Mussolini's Ethiopia Adventure a Strategic Mistake? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/05/15 7:54 AM)
- Mussolini as Military Leader; on the Carrier *Aquila* (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/07/15 9:23 AM)
- Mussolini Revisionism (Roy Domenico, USA 01/06/15 3:41 PM)
- Mussolini Revisionism (Mendo Henriques, Portugal 01/05/15 9:28 AM)
- Did Mussolini Inspire FDR's New Deal? (Anthony D`Agostino, USA 01/02/15 4:54 PM)
- Italy under Mussolini: My Family's Story (Pietro Lorenzini, USA 01/03/15 3:36 AM)
- When Did Mussolini Lose Favor with the Western Democracies? (Luciano Dondero, Italy 01/02/15 7:55 AM)
- Did Mussolini Inspire FDR's New Deal? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/02/15 5:21 AM)
- Vietnam: A Tactical Defeat but Strategic Victory? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/27/14 12:59 PM)
- Thoughts on the New Chinese Empire (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/29/14 5:43 AM)