Mussolini: A Biography by Denis Mack Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve read numerous books over the years on infamous people like Hitler, Himmler, Ho Chi Mihn, Mao, and more, but I’ve never learned anything about Mussolini and I’ve always wanted to because I’ve heard so much about him, but really no details. So I happened upon this book recently and was thrilled. Just finished it and was really impressed. It’s well researched and well written. Details Mussolini’s life in a chronological fashion from birth to death in fairly good detail and in really sheds light on his mind and thinking and fascism and Italy’s role in World War Two. Fascinating.
To put it bluntly, Mussolini was completely insane. He was quite possibly the most delusional person who ever lived. He had no concept of reality. He insulated himself entirely, hired only yes men dunces for major posts, fired and/or executed anyone who criticized or disagreed with him, shut down any presses that weren’t ardently pro-Mussolini, made it impossible to obtain foreign journalism in Italy, was a master at propaganda so that his people believed the world feared and respected him and his country like no other. He had total command of the military during the war, even though he had no training and was a journalist by trade. He destroyed the military by not listening to his generals, even firing them for disagreeing with him, by making serious decisions about battles, etc., and not telling anyone at all, thus destroying logistics, supply lines, none of which were prepared. He bragged of having a ten million man army when he didn’t even have one million and even then, he didn’t even have enough uniforms for them, nor enough weapons. He bragged about his extensive modern weapons and he apparently fought the war with weapons from World War One. He bragged about his heavy tank battalions, when he had no tanks whatsoever. The only “armor” he had were armored cars. It’s literally stunning. And it’s impossible to know if he actually believed his lies or if he was just trying to impress Hitler and bluff the rest of the world. Unreal. He bragged about having the biggest and best air force in Europe. He had perhaps 400 serviceable planes, most of which were shot down. He bragged about his grand navy, most of which was destroyed by the British. He bragged about invading the great military country of Ethiopia. He had such a hard time, he had to send 300,000 troops and even then had to bribe the Ethiopian leaders to surrender after months of fighting. After he joined Hitler in forming the Axis, and of course Mussolini thought Hitler was a dolt while Hitler thought Mussolini was a fraud, Mussolini didn’t want to fight, just wanted Germany to fight and wanted to come in at the end of the battles to get “booty.” Hitler pressured him to do … something, anything, so he decided to attack Greece, without telling his generals. He said the war would be over in days. Within days, his army had been pushed out of Greece back to Albania where they remained in retreat for six months getting their asses kicked by a much smaller force before Germany intervened. Hitler pressured Mussolini to take North Africa from the British, particularly Egypt and Malta. Italy had a chance to take Malta and passed it up. They already had control of Libya and were poised to march on Egypt, but Mussolini didn’t understand the need for motorized vehicles for his army in the desert, thought they could march hundreds of miles in the heat with minimal supplies. His generals and he kept putting it off, so Hitler sent Rommel and German troops who promptly attacked the British and drove them back, kicking their ass, infuriating Mussolini, who was supposed to be in charge of the North African campaign and wanted all the glory for himself. Rommel did whatever he wanted and Mussolini finally sent his troops forward. They accomplished nothing. Mussolini kept bragging about his ten million troops. Of course, Hitler knew he didn’t have them, but he asked Mussolini to send 25 divisions to Germany to help with the war effort there. Mussolini didn’t have 25 divisions, only 10, so he ignored the request and pretended he never got it. Which was his normal course of action. He was the most indecisive man who ever lived. He changed his mind some 50 times a day or more. He gave people conflicting orders. He told people what he wanted them to hear and what he thought they wanted to hear. One moment, he decided he wanted to help Germany fight Russia. Ten minutes later, he thought that was insane and wanted no part of it. This was every day of his life. Of course, he ended up helping fight Russia, sending 100,000 men. The Russians slaughtered them. For some reason, he especially hated the British and looked down on the Americans. As the British and Americans moved up Italy after invading the country, he told the world that Churchill and Roosevelt were going to be tried as war criminals when they shortly lost the war. His country was embroiled in civil war with half the Italians helping the Allies, numerous people looking for the Duce, a price on his head, his already having been deposed once, his power and army shrunk, Germany losing the war, Russia at Berlin’s door. He was insanely delusional, although no one will ever know if this kind of stuff was mere bravado or if he insanely believed this shit. I think he actually believed it because no one told him the truth about anything, just what he wanted to hear. Only “good” stuff. He had no clue. He was a narcissistic, insecure, psychopathic, sociopathic, moron of the tenth degree. When it became apparent he was about to be captured, he took off with his few remaining fascist friends to try to cross over into Switzerland in disguise, but his own border guards recognized him, captured him, executed him and his colleagues, and sent their bodies to the capital for display. He had gone from being possibly the most beloved Italian leader in some time 15 years earlier to the most hated Italian leader in centuries, if not of all time.
Mussolini was born in a small village and was a sociopathic, psycho from birth. In elementary school, he was sullen and hostile and as he grew older in school, he was kicked out of a number of schools, several times for stabbing fellow students, among other things. He was constantly getting gangs together and starting fights, was a major bully, although he himself was not physically imposing. He always believed in violence as the answer to everything. He grew up a socialist in a royally screwed up parliamentary country with no good political system whatsoever. However, he seemed to change his mind about his politics on a near daily basis, which was a pattern he would follow in virtually everything for the rest of his life. After school, he became a school teacher and taught in several countries, but was either fired and his contract was not renewed after his first year at each location because of child and parental complaints that he was too cruel and violent and frightening and he then turned to journalism, since he had been writing columns for socialist papers at the time anyway. He eventually rose to the position of editor and eventually became editor of the biggest socialist paper in the country. But his views were changing. He was moving to the right and thought things should be more authoritarian, thought the socialists were too close to communists, which apparently was a bad thing even though he admired Lenin. He developed the idea of fascism, a totalitarian political ideology that would ultimately center around centralized authoritarian control in the form of a dictator – him – based upon violence, getting rid of the socialists, the liberals, intellectuals, and many others in society he disagreed with, by any means necessary, preferably through violence, ideally lethal. He formed roaming gangs of fascist men who used castor oil to torture and kill their opponents, as well as more normal types of weapons, and numerous people were killed and injured. The fascists gained power and eventually, several were voted into parliament, including Mussolini himself. He cozied up to the corporations, got the capitalists and their money behind him, told Italy they needed to toughen up, they needed to obtain greater standing in the world, get theirs, if you will. He promised to bring Italy to the forefront and started making rumblings about attacking France and Britain, as well as Austria and Yugoslavia, among smaller countries. He wanted to mirror some of the other countries in their imperialist ambitions and increase Italy’s empire. Which he did by annexing a couple of tiny neighboring places. BFD. Somehow, someway, the fascists ultimately gained total power as he talked the Italian population into voting for them and into buying into his idea of Italy becoming this great world power, this great military power. This was in the 1920s, long before Hitler and Germany came along to steal his thunder. Finally, at some point in the early 1920s, he was named prime minister by the king and had complete power. But it wasn’t good enough. As he started modifying everything all of the papers and magazines could write and publish, as he started controlling all of the media that went into and out of Italy, as he started trying to build up Italy’s armed forces, he worked hard to decrease Parliament’s power, so that in a few years, he was literally named “Dictator” and Parliament no longer had power, nor did his ministers or generals or anyone else. The only person in the country who could make any decisions was Mussolini. Unreal. So, years later, when he went to Africa to review the military situation and got stuck there for several weeks, everything in Italy literally ground to a complete halt until his return. It was a disaster. He refused to listen to his ministers or generals. His wife and children remained at his country home while he lived in a small apartment in the city and kept a mistress nearby. He kept to himself, virtually completely isolated and refused to take advice from anyone for anything because he knew what was best in every situation. When he had to meet with Hitler, at first, he tried to dominate their meetings, but as time went by and it became apparent he was full of shit and Hitler knew it, Hitler dominated the meetings entirely and lectured him and Mussolini was too proud to bring a translator with him, so he quite often agreed to things he didn’t even understand, thus making himself out to be an even bigger dumbshit than before in Germany’s eyes.
I could go on and on. This book was very revealing, a real eye opener, very educational. I can’t believe what a total dunce and fraud Mussolini was, especially when you consider his fearsome reputation. Italy did nothing in World War Two. I already knew they were Axis failures, but I didn’t know they were THAT bad. I mean, Greece kicked their ass! Mussolini was an insane tyrant who took his beloved country and literally destroyed it in two decades, slaughtering millions of people needlessly just to satisfy his stupid ego. For that alone, he deserves to burn in hell for eternity, if such a place exists. The book is good, a little dry, but that’s to be expected in a historical biography from an Oxford academic. I enjoyed it immensely and thought it was quite good. Is it a five star book? I’m not sure it is. But it’s certainly a four star book, no problem. If you want to learn as much as possible about Mussolini, this is definitely the resource for you. Recommended.