Monday, April 14, 2014

Italian forces in WW2 were not soft and Mussolini wasn't a clown, revisionist historian claims

He was the butt of British jokes and even his German allies portrayed Mussolini as a clown.

But now a British historian claims the Italian fascist leader was actually a mentor to Adolf Hitler - and says claims that his troops were cowards are a myth.

Dr Christian Goeschel of Manchester University, says that the real Il Duce was a guiding light behind the rise of Hitler - who idealised his Italian counterpart and did not see him as a political stooge.

In his new book called 'Mussolini and Hitler - a Fatal Friendship,' Dr Goeshel will attempt to set the record straight. The book is due to be published by Yale University Press in 2016.

Most films and books portray Mussolini as a fool. However, Dr Goeshel says Mussolini was not the bumbling clown that history has portrayed him as in popular culture.

Dr Goeschel, an established authority on Hitler and Nazism, was concerned that little new research had been published on Mussolini since the early 1960s.

Even on TV, anyone associated with Mussolini has been depicted as slightly foolish.

However, when Dr Goeschel started his research in 2010 a different picture of both Mussolini and the Italian war effort emerged.

He travelled up to four times a year to Italy's Central State Archives in Rome to view the official records not normally seen by the public.

While the public have access few bother to make the journey to the outskirts of Rome to view the material.

Mussolini had an incredibly tight control over the Italian press and there was little press freedom and many comic strips even praised him for his achievements.

It meant that there was hardly any satire allowed under Fascism.

Fascists were notoriously weary of modernity and comic strips - which didn't fit well with Italian culture at the time.

In fact, comic strips were regarded as Anglo Saxon democracies.

Even harmless American hero Mickey Mouse was banned  - although it is said that the mouse was a favourite of Mussolini's children who enjoyed watching it

During the second world war, foreign comics were completely banned and Italian authors were not allowed to use speech balloons.

However many foreign comics in the UK and US depicted Mussolini as a clown.

He found written correspondence between Hitler and his role model Mussolini showing the boot was very much on the other foot in the early years of their relationship.

Very early on, Hitler had requested a signed photograph from Mussolini. But Hitler was then an unknown figure and the Italian dictator did not bother to reply.

The Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 was directly inspired by Mussolini's power grab the previous year. But Hitler messed his own attempt up.

It was not until 1931, two years before Hitler completed his rise to power, that Mussolini deigned to send the future Fuhrer a picture.

He signed it with his name and date - June 1931 - but there was no personal message.

Great friendship: In 1931, Mussolini sent the Fuhrer a picture of himself which he signed and dated

Nevertheless, Hitler responded with a fawning letter expressing his gratitude to 'his Excellency Mussolini' for the photo, adding: 'It is a great honour.'

Dr Goeschel said: 'It is only a small detail but I think it is highly significant. 'A correspondence then began between them - which had devastating consequences for Europe.'

Dr Goeschel,35, says the Italian Fascists were a senior partner to Hitler until the mid-1930s, and helped the Nazis rise to power with helpful advice, such as gaining the support of the Middle Classes.

Mussolini only came under Hitler's spell in the later 1930s - when everything started to go wrong for the Italian leader.

Dr Goeschel added: 'We and indeed many Italians tend to play down the role and importance of Mussolini and Fascist Italy, often seeing it as more benign than Hitler and the Nazis.

'The romantic view of Italy has completely overshadowed 21 years of dictatorship. Right from the beginning, they used political violence against opponents.

'Mussolini also breached the Geneva Convention by using mustard gas in Abyssinia and there were war crimes in Libya and Croatia.

'The Italian fascists killed few people than the Nazis did. But that does not mean it was a more benign regime.'

He added: 'Now the time has come to look at this material with a fresh eye and look at it more systemically. My aim is not to be moral judge but tell the true story.

'We need to probe more deeply into this because it is a very powerful myth. Italy has managed to wash its hands of what happened.

'After the war, there was concerted Italian effort to disassociate themselves from the Nazis.

'But the way we deal with our past has implications for modern politics: the Fascist salute can still be given in Italian football games with impunity; fans can throw bananas onto the pitch.

'Some contemporary Italian political parties have a lineage which can be traced directly to the Fascists.'

Jokes about Italy's lack of military prowess and faint-heated approach to combat also did not stand up to scrutiny when he examined records of campaigns such as North Africa, Greece, the Balkans and Russia.

He said: 'It was a very famous assertion that the Germans had to bail out the Italians out.

'But this notion is a post war myth - perpetuated by German war veterans who regarded the Italians as lazy and cowardly.

'The records show the Italians fought courageously and brutally - but were let down by bad leadership.

'Italians also fought on the Eastern front - and testimony by Russian POWs said they were just as brutal as the Germans.'

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