KRISTINA RUTH ’15
On October 21, Christopher Duggan, author of “Fascist Voices” came to Trinity to discuss the effects of fascism in Italy during the 1930’s. Duggan’s book not only discusses fascism from the political side, but also delves into the journals of Italian students, professors, and soldiers. All of their accounts praised Mussolini and his efforts for the fatherland, especially during the war. Looking back, many wondered how a government could have such a strong influence on so many people. What was it that made fascism so appealing?
During this time period, “40 percent of Sicilians over the age of six were illiterate.” Many people, especially in the South, did not vote and were uninvolved in politics. Their scope of knowledge about government policies was very limited, however as long as they had a secure and stable government to protect them they did not care about the corruption that took place behind closed doors.
Duggan described their view on politics perfectly by saying, “In a world where natural and man-made disasters could strike at almost any time-death, disease, injury, drought, famine, earthquake, landslide, conscription, arrest, brigandage or lawlessness-any force, human or supernatural, with the capacity to stave off misfortune could be looked to with a potent mixture of hope, awe, enthusiasm and solicitude.”
Duggan discussed how Mussolini was viewed as a god-like figure, using his charisma to create an untouchable image that made people want to follow his lead. In 1938, a university student, Maria Teresa Rossetti, wrote about her experience as a student during this time. She emphasized the importance of her faith and passion for the Duche and fascism. Another university student, Athe Gracci, also wrote about her devotion for both politics and Mussolini. Their journal entries and letters to the Duche were a way for them to indirectly become involved in politics, expressing their devotion for the nation. In addition, Dugan discussed another diary entry, which emphasized the Duche’s role as a father figure during difficult times.
The people were constantly told that Mussolini was reading their letters, staying on top of local issues, and making sure that the people were taken care of. When conditions are poor, and previous governments have abused people, they tend to look for a leader that seems stable and has an legitimate agenda. This is exactly what Mussolini did. He made sure to incorporate his views in all aspects of society. The newspapers, schools, and the Catholic Church all supported his leadership. How could people rebel against a leadership that is reinforced in every part of the community? A Neopolitan woman wrote a letter to Mussolini during the 1940s expressing her belief that he truly was an “Apostle of God”.
In the lecture, Duggan explained that despite the influence that Mussolini had on the people, the tide began to change as Italy became more involved with Hitler. Eventually skepticism began to arise as the Duche’s actions began to be more self-driven. His alliance with Hitler made the common people afraid of what could potentially happen to Italy as a nation if they continued to help Germany take over innocent nations that had never posed any threat to them before. At this point, the people “endured fascism rather than supported it,” says Duggan. As people became more aware of Mussolini’s true intentions, they began to lose faith. There were some people that continued to be faithful to his cause up until he was killed, but that was only because they were unaware of the actions he had taken behind the scenes.
So was fascism really that influential? Because of the nation’s illiteracy rates and poverty rates, Mussolini had an advantage that most political leaders did not have. He was able to mold a particular society by portraying himself as the hero who would save the people from poverty and degradation. Eventually, Mussolini’s true colors shined through and his actions in the war exposed him as the manipulative dictator that he really was. In the end Duggan explained that it wasn’t fascism itself that was appealing but rather the idea of it.