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Post Mussolini's Death Toll
Created by John Eipper on 10/28/17 8:48 AM

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Mussolini's Death Toll (Nigel Jones, -UK, 10/28/17 8:48 am)

As someone who has devised and will lead a tour next year on the rise and fall of Italian fascism (details on www.historicaltrips.com), can I contribute my bit to the debate on the number of deaths Mussolini caused?

I find myself, as I will try to explain, somewhere midway between Eugenio Battaglia's low "score" of three and Istvan Simon's hundreds of thousands.

During Fascism's rise to power in 1919-22, scores of Italians died in brawls between Fascists and their equally violent Socialist opponents. This was par for the course in political battles in many European states between the wars--e. g. Germany and Spain.

Mussolini, before he became disastrously entangled with Hitler, was a relatively benign dictator by Latin standards. It is true, as even Eugene admits, that Fascist thugs murdered the prominent Socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti, but it is unlikely that Mussolini ordered the killing as it nearly caused his downfall.

Significantly, and typically for the regime, Fascism's internal enemies were not killed, or sent to concentration camps, but were exiled to Italian islands where they lived fairly comfortably. Prominent post-war Italians who experienced this and lived to tell the tale included later Premier Pietro Nenni, later President Sandro Pertini, and the poet Cesare Pavese. The Communist theorist Antonio Gramsci was even allowed to write his most important works from a Fascist jail cell. (Unfortunately, given the disastrous current influence of his Cultural Marxism.)

The Rosselli brothers, one of whom led the main anti-fascist movement abroad, Justice and Liberty, were murdered in France in 1937 by the French fascist Cagoule group, but on the orders of Count Ciano, Mussolini's foreign minister and son-in-law, rather than the Duce himself.

It was only when Mussolini let himself fall under the baleful influence of Hitler that the body count started to mount, but the thousands of dead in the Ethiopian, Spanish, Albanian, Greek and WWII conflicts occurred in war; they were not ordered by Mussolini, though his policies undoubtedly caused or contributed to them.

As Istvan says, Mussolini's greatest crime was to allow the deportation to their deaths in German camps of some 9,000 Italian Jews. Though this was done under Nazi influence when Mussolini was little more than a puppet, this is no excuse for such a crime.

To get a second opinion I phoned a friend who wrote a biography of Mussolini and lives in Italy.  He opined that Il Duce was directly responsible for the deaths of 17 opponents--including his own son-in-law Ciano: bad enough, but low on the genocidal scale of other 20th-century tyrants. Among them, Communist dictators like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Mengistu & Co. killed 100 million people.

JE comments:  Nigel Jones's characterization of a "relatively benign dictator" sounds about right for Mussolini--at least for inside Italy.  Ethiopia and Spain certainly missed the "benign" part.

Thank you for phoning your biographer friend, Nigel!   This is WAIS investigative prowess at its best.  Next up:  Eugenio Battaglia responds.

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