The Italians conducted a mercilless campaign in Libya to supress rebels, including the use of poison gas. This was generally seen as an internal colonial matter. This changed in 1935 when the invaded Ethiopia, using modern weapons, again including poison gas, to attack a largely unarmed country. The Ethiopins had defeated an Italian Army in 1896 and Mussoline was determined to redeem what he saw as a blot on the national honor. Marshal Pietro Badoglio commanded the Italian invasion force. He extensevly used poison gas. (The Allies in 1943 made a deal with Badoglio to overthrow Musolini.) The Italian Ministry of Defence did not admit until 1995 that poison gas had been used by the Italian Air Force. [Del Boca] The Italian invasion was widely condemned at the League of Nations more than 50 other countries. The invasion gave rise to world-wide indignation, but nor military support for Ethiopia. Criticism was especially heated in Britain which, still thinking about World War I, people were truly shocked by Italy's use of poison-gas as well as deliberate bombing of Red Cross hospitals and ambulances--especially the British Red Cross Unit. [Waley] The British pushed for scantions. The French played lip service, but were more interested in Italaian support for their efforts to limit Hitler. An oil embargo which might have affected the Italian war effort was not approved, provably for that reason. [Davidson, p. 130.] The Italians were condenmed by the League of Nations and then walked out of the organization. Mussolini was offened at this treatment. Hitler made it cleart that Germany symphithized. The Italians beginning in 1936 made major contributions to Franco's rebellion against the Spanish Republic. Finally the Italians invaded Albania in 1939, their finally action before entering World War II in 1940.
Italy which was allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary decided to remain neutral when war broke out (1914). This was a critical decesssion as an Italian attack from the south might have been sufficient to have brought a German victory in the west during the first few months of the War. A debate developed in Italy between the nationalists who wanted to ebnter the war and the Socialists and others who were against the war. The followung year the Allies convinced Italy to join them, offering financial assistance and territorial concessions at the expense of Austria-Hungary. Italy declared war on May 23, 1915. The glorious expectations turned into a cosly stalemate. Four indesivive battles on the Isonzo River followed with Austro-Hungary (June-December 1915). The Italian goal was to take Trieste, a largely Italian city on the Adriatic. The city was important to the Austria because it was the Empire's only important port. Without Trieste, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was largely land-locked. The War proved to be much more costly than the Government expected. The Austrian-German victory at Caporreto shocked most Italians. The huge casualties disolusuioined the pubkic and the the financial impact destabilized the Italian economy. And despite the losses and cost, Italy achieved only limited territorial gains. The promised territories did not materialize. Itlians thought that the Allies at Versailles Peacre Treaty humiliated them.
The psychological impact of Caporetto and the huge losses during the War had a huge immpact on Italian thought following the War even though Italy was on the victorious side. The huge financial cost of the War resulted in extremely high inflation and wide-spread unemplyment. . Few Italians felt that they had won the War. Italians expected, however, a great reward for their effort. This did not, however, materialize.
Italy did not receive the Adriatic coast that had been promised by the Allies in the Treaty of London. Italy did receive the Souther Tyrol. Italians saw this as a poor reward for what their contribution. The major figures at Versailles were the Big Three: (Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau). They virtually ignored Primeminister Orlando. This further alienated Italian public opinion. They began to see this as humiliating and an affornt to the Italian nation. Many nationalists thought that Orlando failed to stand up for Italy. This was the foundation for Fascism in Italy.
Fascism first developed in Italy during the period of economic dislocaion and social unrest which followed World War I. The Fascists coined the term "totalitarian" and while Musollini may have expired toward that goal, he never created a truly totalitarian state. Rather Fascist Italy was a personal dictatorship and authoritarian state. Unlike other political movements, Fascism does not appear to have develoed out of any clearly discernable 19th century tradition. The Fascists first appear after World War I in 1919 and led by Mussolini managed to seized power in 1922-25. The poltical orientation of Italian Fascism was initially on the Socialist left, but with a strong nationalistic strain. From the beginning the Fascists believd in using violence to achieve thir goals, but their were also elements of idealism and anti-materialism at least in the ideology. Fascists supported Italian colonialism, but initially supported Communist ideals such as opposition to imperialism and racism. Mussolini as il Duce shifted the party to the right in a series of practical and profitable compromises with the country's important institutions. Italian Fascists invented the term "totalitarian" for Fascist Italy, hoever, Mussolini never carried out a comprehensive Fascist revolution. Rather he ruled as an authoritarian leader in a state that some limited pluralist features. After Mussolini's elevation to power, Fascism began its development of a authoritarian form of social organization. Within a few years, representative democracy in Italy had been replaced by a centralized autocracy which at its apex was the absolute dictatorship of Mussolini in whom were concentrated all the principal functions of Government. Directly under him was the Grand Council of Fascism, constituting the political general staff of the regime and of the Fascist Party. The Fascist Party was legally identified with the state, and all other parties were outlawed.
We have developed some basic information about early Itlalian aggressions in the period leading to World war II. Italy had attempted to seize Libya in a war wwith the Ottoman Empire just before World War I (1912). Fighting occurred their by Libyan nationalists during and after World War. Mussolini was determined to supress resistance to Italian rule. The Italians conducted a mercilless campaign in Libya to supress rebels, including the use of poison gas. This was generally seen as an internal colonial matter. The world view changed in 1935 when Mussolini decided to invaded Ethiopia, using modern weapons, again including poison gas, to attack a largely unarmed country. The Ethiopians had defeated an Italian Army in 1896 and Mussoline was determined to redeem what he saw as a blot on the national honor. Marshal Pietro Badoglio commanded the large Italian invasion force. When Italy was condemned in the League of Nations, Mussolini was outraged. Mussolini supported Francisco Franco and the Nationalists in the Spanish Cuvil War (1936-39). Finally the Italians invaded Albania (April 7, 1939). Italy had been deply involved in Albania since the end of world War I. Mussolini had been attempting to seize Albania for years. While the world's attention was focused on Germany and Czechoslovakia, it seemed the perfect time to act. There was virtually no international consequences. Britain and France still hoped that Mussolini could be disuaded from joining Hitler it the war that was now clearly coming.
Mussolini hesitated on joining his Axis partner Hitler when World War II broke out with the German invasion pf Poland (September 1939). Only after the spectacularly successful German Western Offense did Mussolini declare war on the allies as France was near collaspse (June 1940).
Mussolini after the Wehrmacht had essentially defeated the French Army ordered the Italian Army to attack France in the south. Despite the situation in the north, the French Army stopped the Italians in the south. And Hitler refiused to allow Mussolini to share inthe booty when the French surrendered.
Italy's last independent action of the War was the invasion of Greece. The Italian invasion of Greece to be the most poorly planned Axis offensive of the War. Italy after entering the War performed poorly against nearly postrate France (June 1940). Italian operations against the British in North Africa fared even worse. Rather than focus the country's limited military assetts, instead Mussolini without consulting Hitler ordered an invasion of another country that was neutral at the time--Greece. The idea of launching a war over extremely rough terraine in October when the military would face difficult weather conditions is ludicrous in itself. Even more unbelieveable is that Mussolini ordered the invasion at a time when the British were pressing the Italian forces in North Africa and half the Italian Army had been demobilized to bring in the harvest. (The High Command and taken this step in part to prevent any adventuresome action by Il Duce. Hitler learned about the Italian invasion on the train at night as it was headed toward Florence and the neeting with his ally October 27). He was furious and railed against Mussolini to his advisers. Hitler loved delivering facti-acompli to others, he did not enjoy receiving them. THe next morning Il Duce was waiting for Hitler at the Florence train station which had been decorated for the occassion. After delivering a Fascist salute, he exclaimed, "Führer, we are marching. This morning a victorious Italian army has crossed the Greek frontier." Hitler congratuated Mussolini, but had misgivings which proved well founded, undoing the carefully orchestrated NAZI diplomacy of many years. The Italian troops were beaten back and the Greek troops overtook over one third of Albania.
Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.
Del Boca, Angelo. I gas di Mussolini. Il fascismo e la guerra d'Etiopia.
Waley, Daniel. "British Public Opinion and the Abyssinian War 1935-6".
Woolbert, Robert Gale. "Italian Colonial Expansion in Africa," The Journal of Modern History Vol. 4, No. 3 (September, 1932), pp. 430-445.
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