chapter  14
26 Pages

Fascist diplomacy and Fascist war

Foreign and military policy were the key activities of the FascistState. It was predictable that the Fascists, nursing the grievances of Versailles, would be expansionist, and fairly brutal in their methods. But Mussolini was also erratic. He was no diplomat, and seemed incapable of taking a long-term view. Far from being the cold, toughminded realist of Fascist mythology, Mussolini was a shrewd, insecure journalist, ever liable to be carried away by his own bellicose mythology, and ever seeking further military glory on the cheap. He relied on intuitions, not appraisals; he mouthed slogans instead of analysing situations; he was obsessed with his own prestige rather than his country’s interests – or rather, he identified the two. As his rise to power in the 1920s had shown, Mussolini knew how to manoeuvre, how to play people off against each other, how to threaten and bluff, how to make propaganda, how to exploit temporary advantages; but he knew little of other countries, and he ignored the underlying strategic realities. For him, foreign policy could not be a cautious matter of making compromises and gaining limited advantages. It was an exhilarating game, played for high stakes. It was also a marvellous way of rousing and transforming the recalcitrant Italian masses. As he told his Foreign Minister in 1937, ‘When Spain is finished, I will think of something else. The character of the Italian people must be moulded by fighting.’1 And so it proved.