Murray Polner: Review of Romano Mussolini's My Father Il Duce: A Memoir by Mussolini's Son (Carlsbad, CA: Kales Press, 2006)
Romano Mussolini, the late and respected Italian jazz musician who once played with Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton, was Benito Mussolini’s faithful and loving son. Alexander Stille, in his sharp and corrective Introduction (which J.B. Bosworth, the eminent scholar of “Mussolini’s Italy,” the title of his recent book, rightly blurbed as a “brilliant introduction with its sensitive contextualization”) describes Romano as “A gracious, smiling and unpretentious man” whose facts in this book however, are “highly suspect and often flat-out wrong.”
Dad, writes Romano, was an optimist and dreamer. To his son, he was more farsighted than Hitler when he allegedly worried about the U.S. joining in the war but nonetheless naïve enough not to understand that by 1943 many of his erstwhile supporters were scheming to surrender to the Allies. Romano also writes about Dad’s love for his wife Donna Rachele (who died in 1979) despite decades of his adulterous behavior. When she had had enough, he begged for her forgiveness, which she granted. “That’s the kind of man your father was,” Donna Rachele proudly told Romano.
Only in passing, as Stille points out, was Mussolini’s illegitimate child briefly mentioned by Romano. His father ignored the baby, Benito Albino, and had his fascist secret police send the mother, Ida Dalser, to a mental institution, the better to shut her up. Romano writes too about his beloved sister, Edda, and her husband Count Galeazzo Ciano, Il Duce’s swashbuckling propaganda and foreign minister-- the author, Stille reminds us, of an extremely revealing diary of fascist Italy. Mussolini’s rivals toward the end of the war executed Ciano for committing “treason” while Romano depicts his father-in-law as allegedly helpless to intervene. When Bruno, his daredevil pilot son was killed in an air crash, Mom told Romano that Il Duce “had a face marked by suffering.”
Others, though, saw him differently. Unlike his public persona, with his jutting jaw and all those photo ops on that ubiquitous Roman balcony— it was nothing more than a false image of toughness with the “carefully contrived swagger and braggadocio of a Benvenuto Cellini”wrote Dennis Smith, one of his biographers. The real Il Duce was a onetime socialist editor who developed an admiration for war, the combative spirit and dreams of empire. He boasted of restoring the glory of the Roman emperors to an Italy still divided between north and south and rich and poor, and comprising a goodly number of dissenters and nonconformists, many of whom his secret police would intimidate, torture and kill.
Stille, who has written widely about Italy and Italian political life, notes that Fascist Italy sent 200,000 Italians to fight on the eastern front with the German legions “completely unequipped for the Russian winter. Mussolini actually complained that not enough Italian soldiers were dying, as would befit a great nation at war.” In any event, many of them never did return home. Mussolini’s invasion of Greece compelled the Germans to rush divisions needed on the eastern front to rescue the Italian army, yet another example of how fascist Italy’s fantasy of imperial hegemony was a cruel fraud. Virtually all of this is missing from Romano’s narrow and personal account. Omitted are the Second World War’s 50-60 million dead, which Mussolini’s alliance with Hitler helped produce.
And perhaps that’s why his book sold so well in Italy and why it appealed to that nation’s contemporary neofascists.
What Romano is blind to is Italian fascism itself, which Stille properly portrays as “The suspension of civil and political liberties, the absolute rule of the fascist party, and the cult of personality around Mussolini with its absurd slogans such as ‘Mussolini is always right’…. The system had no accountability; mistakes and atrocities could be swept under the rug.”
Yet, during his heyday, Mussolini had many, many admirers at home and abroad. A former U.S. ambassador was alleged to have helped write Mussolini’s “autobiography.” In the post-WWII era, the Italian dictator—like another dictator, Francisco Franco-- found people willing to forgive him his sins. After all, they argued, he wasn’t as “bad” as Hitler or Stalin.
“My Father” merits an English translation only because the publisher had the good sense to invite Alexander Stille to put it all into context. It could also have used an index.
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Lisa Kazmier - 3/12/2007
“That’s the kind of man your father was,” Donna Rachele proudly told Romano.
This speaks volumes to the delusions of the Mussolini family. Since Mrs. Duce was in la-la land, so was her son. Did anyone ever break it to Romano that Duce was hung upside down WITH HIS MISTRESS?! So much for the wife's successful protest. Duce was a classic womanizer. Tell the wife anything to "make nice" and just resume doing whatever he wanted. Apparently this would be a surprise still to the Mussolinis. Hellloooo! Intro to the obvious. D'oh.
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