Sunday, July 29, 2007

July 29

Today is the birthday of Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, whose unfortunate mother brought the eventual fascist into the world on 29 July 1883. Shortly after his 39th birthday, Mussolini ascended to the office of prime minister, invited by King Victor Emmanuel III to form a government that would avoid the perils of communism and socialism. Mussolini, himself a former socialist party member, had broken with the movement during the Great War over the question of Italy’s involvement in the conflict -- involvement that Mussolini endorsed vigorously.

As founder of the Partito Nazionale Fascista, Mussolini organized a squad of goons known as the squadristi or camici nere (“blackshirts”) intimidated and brutalized anarchists, communists, trade union leaders, and political rivals, employing torture and terror to suppress opposition. By 1928, the Fascists stood as the sole legal political party in all of Italy, and the blackshirts had morphed into a violent secret police force. From there, things got considerably more ugly, as Mussolini concocted an imperialist foreign policy that led to a horrific and one-sided colonial war in Ethiopia, where Italian forces deployed chemical weapons and slaughtered insurgents and civilians in ghastly quantities.

When World War II erupted in the fall of 1939, Mussolini had just turned 56 years old -- a fact that Il Duce preferred to downplay because he disliked the idea of growing old. Less than a week before his 60th birthday, Benito Mussolni was removed from office and placed under house arrest at a resort in central Italy. Rescued by German commandos who flew gliders into the Apennine Mountains, Mussolini served the rest of his life as the head of an exiled puppet government in Northern Italy.

In late April 1945, Benito Mussolini was captured by his fellow Italians and executed by firing squad. His body, along with that of his mistress, was taken to Milan and displayed in public, suspended upside down on a meat hook.