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Silvio Berlusconi — Il Dunce

Silvio Berlusconi — Il Dunce

Thomas Jefferson thought that the best insurance against future tyrannies was an educated populace.  Historical ignorance is a petri dish that grows a lot of strange and destructive ideas.

To wit: Silvio Berlusconi.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi triggered outrage from Italy’s political left on Sunday with comments defending fascist wartime leader Benito Mussolini at a ceremony commemorating victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Speaking at the margins of the event in Milan, Berlusconi said Mussolini had been wrong to follow Nazi Germany’s lead in passing anti-Jewish laws but that he had in other respects been a good leader.

“It’s difficult now to put yourself in the shoes of people who were making decisions at that time,” said Berlusconi, who is campaigning for next month’s election at the head of a coalition that includes far-right politicians whose roots go back to Italy’s old fascist party.

Actually, putting yourself in the shoes of those who were making decisions back then is easier than recognizing whose footsteps today’s leaders want to follow.

Much has been written about how the onerous conditions imposed on Germany at Versailles after World War One eventually led to Hitler and the birth of Nazism.  Much less has been written about how Italy’s betrayal at Versailles—not getting the territorial spoils of war it had been promised for joining the Allies—led directly, almost immediately, to Italian fascism the moment President Woodrow Wilson basically told Italy to shut up and vacate its demands.

I’ve written elsewhere about the rise of Mussolini and the birth of fascism, so let’s fast forward to 1935, which was more than a decade after his becoming prime minister.  By 1935, he was already Il Duce—The Leader.

In Germany in 1935 Hitler frothed over edicts in the Versailles Treaty that had forced the Fatherland to disarm, and then signed a compact with England agreeing to keep the German navy to 35 percent the size of the Royal Navy—a compromise that Parliament, despite back-bencher Churchill’s quiet shouts, decided was only reasonable.

That was followed by Der Fuhrer’s organizing of an air force, the Luftwaffe, and his enactment of the Nuremberg Laws, which in order to prevent “racial pollution” stripped Jews of their German citizenship and made sex between Aryans and Jews a crime punishable by death.  Young women of pure blood were recruited to become the Eves of the thousand-year Reich by mating with appropriate SS officers to produce a super race of blond-haired, blue-eyed, thin-lipped, narrow-nosed Aryans.

In Russia, the Soviet Comintern agreed to support Communists and other Leftist groups in the fight against Fascism, and Stalin declared that Soviet children older than 12 were now subject to the same laws as adults, meaning that a child caught stealing a potato would get eight years in the gulag.

In Italy, Mussolini needed to keep up.  He could see no reason not to avenge a 40-year-old military defeat, exact justice for the broken promises and humiliation of World War One, establish the beachhead for a new Italian empire, and in that way begin reclaiming the glory of ancient Rome.

Using his troops in Eritrea, Ethiopia’s northern neighbor that Italy had controlled (with Libya) for 20 years, he manufactured a scuffle as a pretense for a full invasion of Ethiopia, from which the Italian army had fled in 1896.

England and France protested the invasion and tried imposing a negotiated solution, but Il Duce demanded everything or nothing at all.  “These two countries own half the world,” he declared, “and all we Italians want is a little morsel of our own, which we were promised.  They wouldn’t keep their promise, so we’ve taken what we deserve by ourselves.”

England and France were tired of fighting, and didn’t respond to their recent ally with force.  Instead they convinced the League of Nations to do something it hadn’t done in its 15-year history, not even after Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 (nor would it do again before finally dying out after appeasing Hitler at Munich): vote for economic and trade sanctions.  Against Italy.

Mussolini knew sanctions would hurt average Italians by making goods harder to get and eliminating export markets.  He knew times would be tough again, with much of the country’s food and almost all of its oil supplies going to supply the war effort.  But anyone who wondered why Mussolini chose to conquer an East-African country that didn’t have any resources, and anyone who figured the invasion was a stupid exercise in imperialism not worth the cost, didn’t understand Il Duce.

He understood that the only way to unite his people was by reminding them they were alone against the world.  The strategy was a spectacular gamble.  If he’d lost, hungry Italians would’ve slit his throat.   But they stood behind him and with him.  Few had forgotten President Wilson’s stinging words.

Italy didn’t have to stand alone for long.  Italy’s isolation gave Hitler an opening.  He offered the country German friendship and whatever raw materials it could spare.

So now Mussolini had an ally in Hitler  Both were renegades, and both hated Britain and France—former foes of one, former friends of the other.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  America hadn’t joined the League of Nations, which meant it wasn’t bound by the international embargo.  But President Roosevelt had just signed the Neutrality Act, preventing the sale of arms to any belligerent country and mandating “a moral embargo” on all trade with any belligerent.

The language obviously left a lot of room for really good politicians to wiggle through.  And under pressure from prominent Italian-Americans, who promised to deliver FDR five million Italian votes in the upcoming election, America shipped oil and war contraband to Italy—everything but weapons and ammunition.  It was enough that exports to Italy hit a five-year high.

On the first of June, 1936, Mussolini straddled the balcony of his palace and in front of thousands of cheering Italians declared victory in the name of Italy and Italians throughout the world.  He had, he said, successfully paired Eritrea with the conquered Ethiopia and renamed them Italian Somaliland; that part of the continent would now be referred to as Italian East Africa.

“The Italian empire has been founded,” he shouted.  “The king of Italy will be crowned Emperor of Ethiopia.”

Days later, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia—a tiny, bearded man with delicate features and skin the color of coffee—appeared before the League of Nations in Geneva.  “I pray to Almighty God that He may spare nations the terrible sufferings that have just been inflicted on my people, and to which the chiefs who accompany me here have been the horrified witnesses,” he said before describing for the international representatives how Italy had conquered his country.

“At the beginning, toward the end of 1935,” he said, “Italian aircraft hurled upon my armies bombs of tear gas.  Their effects were but slight.”  Then came mustard gas.  “Barrels of liquid were hurled upon armed groups.”

But again, not enough soldiers and civilians were slaughtered, so next came another form of poison delivery:

Special sprayers were installed on board aircraft, so that they could vaporize, over vast areas of territory, a fine, death-dealing rain.  Groups of nine, fifteen, eighteen aircraft followed one another, so that the fog issuing from them formed a continuous sheet.  It was thus that, as from the end of January, 1936, soldiers, women, children, cattle, rivers, lakes, and pastures were drenched continually with this deadly rain.  In order to kill off systematically all living creatures, in order to more surely poison waters and pastures, the Italian command made its aircraft pass over and over again.  That was its chief method of warfare.

Selassie told how those who’d been sprayed directly or drank the poisoned water or ate infected food—tens of thousands—would scream in agony before dying.

It is in order to denounce to the civilized world the tortures inflicted upon the Ethiopian people that I resolve to come to Geneva…. That is why I decided to come myself to bear witness against the crime perpetrated against my people and give Europe a warning of the doom that awaits it, if it should bow before the accomplished fact.

Berlusconi is an idiot.

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Comments

1) I am Italian so I know what I am talking about

2) you should know better before quoting foreign press. It would be like understanding Republicans through the NYT Editorials. Berlusconi is an easy target from the national leftist press and the American correspondents are more than happy to join the mud fest. The quote is not exact

3) Berlusconi is center-right/conservative as much as you can get in a socialist country as Italy, he is totally and unbashedly pro American and was very much friend of G Bush. Is it in the interest of American conservatives to alienate such allies?

4) his opponents in Italy are communists under a different name, people to the left of hollande and zapatero, people who have been drooling over Obama, people who push for gay marriage, open border immigration, green energy and in the 60 and 70 used to take funds from the commie party in Russia. Again what do you gain from slandering the opponent of this crap? Those leftists still call you imperialist power and warmongers

5) finally look what kind of jerk Obama was when prime minister Berlusconi thanked USA inside your congress in 2006
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiYppEt5QSY

be careful in calling idiot your most trusted ally… Italian conservative press (that sides with Berlusconi) is totally anti Obama and the transformation of the USA into a socialist state. On the other side of the fence you have ppl with the bust of Lenin in their offices, fans of Tito and Castro lovers.

Ps: for your information when I was in primary school (from 6 to 10 years in 1980-86) my teacher who wasn’t a right winger or a former fascism admirer normally taught us about the first years of fascism, swamps were drained (we still had malaria back then), the mafia was contained and industry blossomed and no, he did not make trains run on time. Nobody is able to do that. This is all part of the normal school curriculum, nobody denies the rest but this badly translated quote is just to stir the pot.

I thought you were smarter than believing ‘the press. Or do not get mad when the only thing we get about Sarah Palin is that she sees Russia from her home

There is a fascinating book about Gino Bartali and his experiences in the Tour de France while riding for Italy. From his experience, Mussolini was an Italian supremecist but held back the reigns on his fascist party, until he became a true puppet of Hitler. Italy had been one of the few countries in Europe that had accepted Jews as true countrymen.That first unraveled first on paper and then in fact when Jews were rounded up. Obviously, he was no saint. The bokk is named Road to Valor.

“Historical ignorance is a petri dish that grows a lot of strange and destructive ideas.”

That’s beautiful.

I have to share that with my son.

I am not sure that I truly grasp fromabroad’s point, but I would caution him about staying entrenched in a left/right point of view. I was taught that there were things that both Hitler and Mussolini did that benefitted their respective countries. So in that regard I agree with him/her. As part of my education, I was encouraged to understand that no person is all bad. However, that being said, I was encouraged to see that in spite of some good being done, people in general, should always view a person based on the totality of their actions. This is why Hitler and Mussolini are not remembered well. We face this same type of threat regardless of a politicians political orientation. I truly believe that regardless of a democrat label or republican label, absolute power corrupts absolutely. We cannot make a mistake of getting caught up in political ideologies – evil will blossom in either. As an independent, I am as terrified by George W. Bush’s Patriot Act as I am Obama’s NDAA. I am concerned about a foreign policy that allows the government to ignore the Bill of Rights. I am worried about a country that has chosen to ignore the rule of law and allow wealthy bankers/investers to commit fraud with no penalty and refuses to enforce the law evenly. I do not believe that Italy, Germany, facism, communism, or Nazism created either Hitler or Mussolini. Rather Hitler and Mussolini utilized the time they found themselves in to seize power and to victimize those around them. We should be on guard for these people regardless of how they label themselves, because like Hitler and Mussolini, when they appear, they won’t be all bad and will accomplish things that many will like. I think that the only person to handle power appropriately was George Washington, and he was an amazing anomaly.

I was taught that there were things that both Hitler and Mussolini did that benefitted their respective countries
———————-

The point of the post wasn’t what Mussolini or Hitler did or Milosevic or Pinochet contrary to their respective bad reputation. The post is about a mistranslated quote by a conservative foreign politician that has been blown out of proportion by a leftist compliant press when in reality what he said is de facto written in modern school books.

The outrage of the author of this post is misplaced. And again the other point is not how much Berlusconi is a true conservative. He is surely pro USA. According to you present administration probably Burkina Faso and Mali or some other islamic hellhole are more treasured allies, still you get more respect and credit from a country like Italy than from France or Spain. I remind you that Italy was not among the places slobbering all over when you elected this guy, it was Germany, France and the UK that went head over heels for the articulate negro vs the illiterate Texan.

    Three times now you’ve claimed that Berlusconi was misquoted. Not once have you cited what you believe to be the correct quote about putting yourself in the shoes of those people.

    The once and possibly future leader of Italy ought to be less circumspect about one of his predecessors who dropped poison gas in a war of his choosing.

      fromabroad in reply to Joel Engel. | January 28, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      The second part of the sentence should be “but he did also good things” which is perfectly in line with common sense and with the other commenter here said (I was taught that there were things that both Hitler and Mussolini did that benefitted their respective countries).

      The entire speech is longer and contains condemnations for racial laws and condemnation of the alliance with Germany.

      This of course doesn’t matter because it doesn’t fit the narrative and we will be voting in less than a month.

      I feel ridiculous having to point out to conservative Americans that the press lean LEFT pretty much all over the western world and every conservative gets the Murdock treatment.

      And no, sorry to disappoint you, I’d take Berlusconi any day if the other one on the ballot is a commie that wants to over tax properties, over tax businesses, build mosques while silencing churches, favor commie unions, subsidize solar energy, teach that USA is evil and racist and Cuba is fair, bail out cars manufacturers and banks (sound familiar?).

        LukeHandCool in reply to fromabroad. | January 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm

        “The second part of the sentence should be “but he did also good things” which is perfectly in line with common sense and with the other commenter here said (I was taught that there were things that both Hitler and Mussolini did that benefitted their respective countries).”

        Ummm …. does it matter how things ended up?

        I mean, if you were sick with a high fever and I gave you a pill that brought your fever down … and then killed you … I guess you could say that, although I killed you, I did do something that initially benefitted you.

          Henry Hawkins in reply to LukeHandCool. | January 28, 2013 at 4:30 pm

          “What difference does it make now?”

          fromabroad in reply to LukeHandCool. | January 28, 2013 at 5:00 pm

          Should we explore your time with slavery and the Jim crow laws? Do you really want to lower the argument this much?

          what is exactly your point? Are you happy to see leftwings rising to power in other countries because we must cleanse our souls from the sins of fascism?

          I guess you should be happy with Obama after all he helps washing away the white guilt.

          Sorry dear, you keep you twisted thoughts and Obama, we are more interested in keeping as many commies out of legislature.

          You are all very guillable and short sighted. I will not be surprised if Republicans never win another election again. You fail to understand the worldwide dynamics of left and right and how the press swims in it like a swine in mud. And you still doesn’t get it after your past 2 elections!!!!

          The press will always try to blow out of proportion the actions of what is perceived as ‘rightwing’ and attach it to the conservative candidate while at the same time they will minimize the faults of communism and never attach it to the leftwing candidate.

          thanks for falling into the easy trap of the media, you are really clever, when will you learn?

          LukeHandCool in reply to LukeHandCool. | January 28, 2013 at 5:04 pm

          That’s five times now.

This is not a defense of Mussolini or what he was. Actions, or inactions, have consequences. The popular kids of Europe (England, France) thru the “White Mans Burden ” rationale had been taking colonies for decades prior to W. W. 2. They did so to expand their markets, influence & reach. This gave Mussolini & Hitler the rational, pretext to do what they did. Don’t forget at the time they were also seen as a counter to Stalinism by many of our best & brightest. Many of us see progressives today as representative of Obama as fascist.

Speaking at the margins of the event in Milan, Berlusconi said Mussolini had been wrong to follow Nazi Germany’s lead in passing anti-Jewish laws but that he had in other respects been a good leader.

“It’s difficult now to put yourself in the shoes of people who were making decisions at that time,”

I don’t care how rough the translation might be, but why would he even go there? And at an event commemorating victims of the Nazi Holocaust!

They have long claimed that Joe Biden was an expert at steal portions of speeches for others. Now, Berlusconi sounds like Trent Lott.

“1) I am Italian so I know what I am talking about.”

Now that can be open to various interpretations.

    fromabroad in reply to LukeHandCool. | January 28, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Do you understand Italian enough to read and understand the meaning without google translation? Without relying on a taken single sentence from an already biased media?
    Are you aware that it is election time in Italy?
    Are you aware that as with any country, there is a struggle is between left and right?
    Do you know that the Italian left is against Israel and pro Palestine?
    Do you know that whatever you get from the press has got always a leftist slant? (when it comes down with a conservative that is up on the ballot against the commies = aka the mourdock treatment?)

    I suppose your answers to all the above is no. Yet you feel the need to express uninformed judgment.

    During your 2 recent elections we too received information from our Italian lamestream press. Of course there was praise for the magic negro against the old geezer with the pretty girl and after, the unimpressive Mormon. But the people like me who vote conservative and read english, we knew better than to believe this crap and got our knowledge from conservative blogs.

    If you go and read the 2 Italian papers that support conservative/libertarian you find more negativity against Obama than here. I guess we are more willing to investigate ourselves than you are.

    BTW I am not sure how Italian Jews vote in Italy (they are not a voting block that’s big) and if they vote like American jews, however, if they vote for pro Palestine, pro Islam, against Judeo Christian tradition parties they deserve very little sympathy exactly like American Jews deserve no sympathy for voting democratic 70-80%

      LukeHandCool in reply to fromabroad. | January 28, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Unless you can show me that the translation is completely corrupt, again, even if it is rough and not completely to your satisfaction, why would he go there?

      You’ve posted four times now and still haven’t provided your supposedly superior translation.

      Even if this was the result of a leftist reporter playing gotcha as you imply … well, he got gotcha’d and that’s just too bad. At a ceremony to honor Holocaust victims … you don’t utter a peep of agreement that, yeah, maybe Hitler was kind to his secretaries and doted on his dog … and yes, he did some terrible things … but he did have a softer side … but that doesn’t excuse what he did … blah blah blah … Come on!

      “exactly like American Jews deserve no sympathy for voting democratic 70-80%”

      Are you insane? It’s a free country! They can vote for whomever they like, whether you or I or anybody else likes it or not.

      I think they are misguided, but so what? And that has absolutely no bearing on my support of Israel.

      Should I not support Allen West because 95% of African Americans supported Barack Obama?

        Henry Hawkins in reply to LukeHandCool. | January 28, 2013 at 5:13 pm

        Are these posts from abroad or from a broad?

        fromabroad in reply to LukeHandCool. | January 28, 2013 at 5:21 pm

        “You’ve posted four times now and still haven’t provided your supposedly superior translation”

        It is not the translation, it is the complete context of the rest of the speech. I am not ‘providing’ anything to you, either you understand Italian and find it yourself or I am not doing your homework.

        “Even if this was the result of a leftist reporter playing gotcha as you imply … well, he got gotcha’d and that’s just too bad. At a ceremony to honor Holocaust victims … you don’t utter a peep of agreement that, yeah, maybe Hitler was kind to his secretaries and doted on his dog … and yes, he did some terrible things … but he did have a softer side … but that doesn’t excuse what he did … blah blah blah … Come on!”

        So you disqualify everything done by the founding fathers because they had slaves? When you talk to a black person about g Washington you tell him he was the devil incarnate because he had slaves?

        “Are you insane? It’s a free country! They can vote for whomever they like, whether you or I or anybody else likes it or not.”

        Yes it is a free country also for me and for me Berlusconi. Or are you applying the leftist mantra of free speech for me and not for the?

        Secondly as with any other EU country the majority of anti Semitic attacks come from Muslims. If the Jews listening to Berlusconi feel outraged beyond comprehension they are free to vote the Muslim loving, Palestinian enabling Italian leftwingers. They deserve no sympathy from me (as it is perfectly within my rights).

        More left=more islam=more problems for the Jews

        BTW no Jewish org said anything about it. It is just political opponents that are making a fuss over it.

        Still if you do not understand yet you have been played no no other explanation is possible.

          LukeHandCool in reply to fromabroad. | January 28, 2013 at 6:02 pm

          “It is not the translation, it is the complete context of the rest of the speech. I am not ‘providing’ anything to you, either you understand Italian and find it yourself or I am not doing your homework.”

          —It ain’t my homework. It’s so important to you that his real meaning gets across … but then it isn’t so important. “I am American so I know what I am talking about … and that’s what we call a cop out.”

          “So you disqualify everything done by the founding fathers because they had slaves? When you talk to a black person about g Washington you tell him he was the devil incarnate because he had slaves?”

          —No, I marvel at everything they did despite their having slaves.

          “Sorry, Dear,” as you so colloquially say, but the correct analogy to this news event would be at some event honoring the suffering of slaves with a politician in attendance offering the wisdom that “Slavery was wrong, but the slaveholders fed them, and housed them … and some slaveholders were friendly at times with their slaves.”

          Now, even though something might have some bit of truth to it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily important … further, mentioning it might even make some people wonder, “Why the hell is he saying that?” Get what I’m saying? As you would say, “Context.” Only, you won’t provide it.

          “Yes it is a free country also for me and for me Berlusconi. Or are you applying the leftist mantra of free speech for me and not for the?”

          —I never said anyone wasn’t free to say stupid things. And they also aren’t free from being criticized for such.

          “Secondly as with any other EU country the majority of anti Semitic attacks come from Muslims.”

          —I agree. But how is that a defense of what S.B. said?

      No, most of us cannot read Italian.
      So, I would suggest (request?) that you either (1) provide us with a translation, (2) start an English-language blog in which you translate and analyze Italian news and politics, with the purpose of enlightening us, (3) give us links to some existing English-language blogs about Italy, or (4) persuade a friend to start blogging.

BannedbytheGuardian | January 28, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Thanks Fromabroad.

When I think Jews & Italy , I don’t put Mussolini at the centre but more likely the Vatican’s 1900 year battle. The last Jewish boy stolen into Catholicism was an elderly priest in 1940. I wonder what went through his mind. I certainly hope he died before he saw the Ustashi in Coatia .

I am lucky to know several family descendents of Italian prisoners of war brought here in 41. The prisoners had a great time & were let out into the community to work on farms . They ended up marrying & staying on.

It was not the same with the Japanese In the next camp. There were thankfully not many because the soldiers preferred to kill them ASAP.

Now back to Bunga Bunga . you guys sure do things different.

Bravo Italia.

    no Jewish org in Italy said anything about it, regardless of the fake outrage of silly people on this board who know nothing of the situation of 100 years ago or now.

    As expected the”Righteous indignation” was solely from leftist political opponents and ignorant people like lukehanduncool. Compliments champ, you are in good company. If you support American conservatives this way say hello to another 8 years of Hillary.

      “Should we explore your time with slavery and the Jim crow laws? Do you really want to lower the argument this much?”
      A much better counter-example would be American president Woodrow Wilson, who was something of a fascist himself, and who had his own gangs of Black Shirts beating up political opponents. The fact that today’s liberals still venerate him is indicative of just how corrupt and depraved the left is: Any thug will remain a hero as long as the left can get away with it. Then, if the truth becomes widely know, that hero will magically cease to be on the left.

BannedbytheGuardian | January 28, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Hey Joel – cheer up.

Selassie is a god & will return & Right everything.

Now where was dat reefer . Phooey one of my 23 wives musta stole it . And me beanie .

But we ‘ all goin to Ethiopia.soon . very Soon . de dey iza commin.

Mister Natural | January 29, 2013 at 6:57 am

the liberal/progressives in europe and the us of a thought il duce was way cool for awhile back then.
from the brit staged version of the porter classic:
“You’re the Great Houdini! You’re the top!
You are Mussolini!”

    Yes, American “progressives” admired Mussolini. In fact, there is a statue honoring fascist aviator Balbo in Chicago–and a street named after him.
    The New Republic magazine was founded to advance progressive politics, and spent a lot of time praising Mussolini.

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