Introduction: Benito Mussolini (02:40)
This episode of “The Dictator’s Playbook” examines the life and reign of Italy’s Benito Mussolini. He wrote the playbook on how to destroy democracy and was the architect of a fascist movement that plunged Europe into darkness. His ideas continue to inspire anti-immigrant nationalist movements of today.
Mussolini's Upbringing (02:30)
Mussolini was born into poverty in Predappio, Italy in 1883. He had violent, disruptive tendencies from a young age; he was expelled for knifing a classmate at 11 and had several run-ins with the law. He eventually focused his anger on his country’s backwardness, and he was drawn to an extreme brand of socialism.
Drawn to Futurism (02:51)
Mussolini was hired to edit Avanti, Italy’s leading socialist paper, in 1912. He later became drawn to the ideas of the futurists who envisioned a society built on speed, power and violence. They and Mussolini cheered the outbreak of the Great War, leading to Mussolini being expelled from the party and founding Popolo d'Italia.
Mussolini Starts Fascist Movement (03:55)
Mussolini was drafted in 1915 and witnessed the power of nationalism on the battlefield. He returned to Milan after being wounded in 1917 and used nationalism as the foundation of a political philosophy he called fascism. His ideas found fertile ground among returning veterans, and he built a following of violent, true believers, called the Blackshirts.
Creating an Enemy (04:10)
Mussolini had a gang, but he wanted an army. He wrote an appeal to the nation to fight the communists and took his message to the streets, holding rallies and giving speeches. His message appealed to industrialists and land owners, who offered financial support.
Matteotti Murder (12:22)
Mussolini was elected to Italy’s parliament in 1921. He used violence and intimidation to seize power at pivotal points, including the 1922 March on Rome, during which he strong-armed King Victor Emmanuel into naming him prime minister; the 1924 elections, during which fascists took over parliament; and the assassination of opposition leader Giacomo Matteotti.
Mussolini had obtained nearly complete control of Italy by 1929. He played an intimate role in crafting fascism’s message, coming up with timely slogans and crafting a fascist 10 commandments that included the edict “Mussolini is always right.” The dictator built a cult of youth, replacing old textbooks with pro-fascist versions.
Cult of Personality (03:45)
Mussolini fabricated a heroic image of himself as a modern-day Caesar, and he galvanized followers with bombastic speeches. He capitalized on the increasingly popular medium emerging of radio. Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany in 1933, using many of the tactics Mussolini pioneered.
Italo-Ethiopian War (10:04)
Mussolini was anxious to use war to distract from the economy and ordered the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Hitler was inspired to launch his own bid at empire with the invasion of Poland. Mussolini declared war on Germany’s enemies, but Italy’s military was decimated and suffered several major defeats before the Allies invaded in 1943.
Mussolini's Downfall and Legacy (07:38)
Mussolini was removed from power and detained before he was rescued and installed as Hitler’s puppet in Italy. The dictator attempted to escape to Switzerland but was caught by Communist partisans and executed, his body put on public display. Mussolini’s home town has become a destination for neo-fascists.
Credits: Benito Mussolini (00:32)
Credits: Benito Mussolini
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