Yesterday, I had a piece in USA Today about how Putin, Hitler, and Mussolini all invoked FDR as a role model to one extent or another in the early 1930s (for Hitler and Mussolini, today for Putin). This e-mail came in response to a Corner post highlighting it:
Dear Mr. Goldberg,
Just one observation regarding your above-referenced The Corner posting today, Jan. 8th.
A few words about Benito Mussolini. Apart from having made the trains to run on time, Mussolini was the only European statesman who looked Hitler straight in the eye and said: “No!”
That was back in July 1934, when a gang of Austrian Nazi thugs taking advantage of the turmoil roiling Germany when Hitler & Co. wiped out the domestic opposition, actual or potential, as well as paying off some personal grudges, burst into the Chancery in Vienna and shot Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss down in cold blood, killing him instantly, hoping in the ensuing confusion to seize power and join Austria to Germany.
Without hesitation, Mussolini mobilized the Italian armed services and told Hitler straight that Italy was prepared to go to war to ensure Austria’s independence and Hitler backed down, the first and only time he was known to do so. It wasn’t till afterwards that Mussolini realized that if it had come to a shooting match, he’d have to fight Germany single-handedly; neither Britain (then still Great) nor France would have joined him. When he realized at that meeting in Stresa in April 1935 with both British Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald and French foreign minister Pierre Laval, that those two were anxious to give Germany everything she demanded, hoping thus to appease her and leave them alone, did Mussolini have second thoughts and by 1937 he decided to join Italy’s fortune to that of Germany. The rest is history.
Ah yes that meeting in September 1937 when Mussolini made his pilgrimage to Berlin to confirm his juniorship in the Axis (a term coined by him) to Germany. I happened to be in Berlin that month and the radio played that triumphical march from Aida by Verdi ad nauseum. Incidentally, I, a Jewish lad of 12, saw both of them together for a couple of minutes or so. It was astonishing how little they were guarded.
On a more personal note, in the ’20s, Mussolini’s daughter Edda fell in love with a Jewish lad and wanted to marry him. Mussolini had no problem with that, it was the other side that nixed the idea; they didn’t want their precious son to marry a Shicksa even if her father was the dictator of Italy.
Me: If only the reader had had a premonition and a gun!
Just for the record, I knew about the fact that Mussolini was the first world leader to stand-up to Nazi aggression. In fact, I spent months reading and writing about this sort of thing when I first started only to have all of it fall on the editing room floor or be reduced to a couple paragraphs.