Rise of Mussolini and Fascism
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Mussolini aligns with Hitler
We've already seen that by 1925 Benito Mussolini was the absolute dictator of Italy. He was now Il Duce, or the leader. And him and the fascists would then proceed to consolidate more and more power. And they would use the threat of force. They did use the state security apparatus to enforce their will. They took over the press. They banned all other parties. But there was also a popular sentiment that was supporting them. People wanted a strong-- or there were elements in Italy that were in favor of a strong leader, a charismatic leader, like Mussolini. But then as we get into the '30s, in particular the mid-1930s, Mussolini starts to become more aggressive in terms of foreign policy. And this eventually leads to him becoming less and less popular. And also leads him to getting more and more aligned with the Germans. You might remember, going into World War I, he actually wanted to fight in World War I on the side of the entente, which Italy eventually does do. And throughout this entire period, he does not want to rock the boat with Great Britain and France. But as his imperial ambitions grow, he'll find that he has more in common with Nazi Germany-- or he's finding more sympathy with Nazi Germany-- than he is with the British and French. And so we go to 1935, so we're obviously skipping a huge gap right over here. But as we get into 1935, Mussolini feels that it's time to really exercise his imperial ambitions. Italy already had holdings in northeast Africa. It had colonies in Eritrea, Italian Somaliland. And he had aspirations to take over Ethiopia. Ethiopia, at this point in time, was one of the few African nations that was not essentially colonized, or not being controlled, by a European power. It was at the time Ethiopia was called Abyssinia. And so in 1935, the Italians invade Abyssinia, invade Ethiopia. And not only is it a very aggressive invasion, it's also a very cruel invasion. They use chemical warfare. It's very ugly. Many, many, many civilians die. And this isn't taken well by the other powers of Europe, in particular Great Britain and France. But you might remember, based on what we learned about in Nazi Germany, that they were in no mood to start wars. They were kind of in an appeasement mode. And even with Italy they were willing to make a secret agreement, the Hoare-Laval. And this was a secret agreement that actually would have allowed Italy to maintain control over significant chunks of Ethiopia. But this was eventually leaked to the public. And the British and French public at this time did not tolerate this. And so this whole incident, the Italians invading Ethiopia, the unpopularity of this amongst the civilians in Great Britain and in France, this further distanced those countries from Italy. And the only major nation that was not opposed to Italy's invasion of Ethiopia was Germany. And so this started to bring Mussolini-- who in the 1920s did not think much of Hitler-- started to bring him closer and closer and closer to Hitler. And their invasion of Ethiopia would continue into the start and through World War II. And it's a famously cruel attempted colonization, or invasion. But these trends continue, his imperialistic tendencies, his alignment with more and more nationalistic nations in Europe. In 1936, you have the Spanish Civil War breaking out. And Mussolini decides to support the Nationalists led by Francisco Franco, who eventually comes to power. But Mussolini decides to support him. And this isn't a super popular thing amongst the Italians. They're like, what are we doing in these other countries trying to fight other people's war? But he decides to support the Nationalists. And once again, this brings him closer to the Germans and further away from Great Britain and the French who are not supportive of Francisco Franco. Then you forward to 1937, and as you remember Mussolini was vehemently anti-communist, vehemently anti-socialist. So were the Nazis. So were the Japanese. And so in 1937, Italy joins the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany and Japan. And this is essentially the nascent Axis powers. And this literally stands for anti-International Communism. So they're going to join together and aggressively fight communism wherever it might show, international communism. And this would eventually be the basis of the Axis powers as we go into World War II. And so then we get into 1939. And by 1939 Germany is already aggressively expanding its territory. It had already executed on the Anschluss. It had merged with Austria, or you could say it had unified with Austria. It had already taken over the Sudetenland. It was in process of taking over a significant part of Czechoslovakia. And Mussolini wanted in on the action as well. So in 1939, he decides to invade Albania. And this, right over here-- in case you don't know where Albania is-- this is a map of Europe at the time. And Albania is right over here. They're able to overrun Albania very quickly. The king deposed the king. And so Mussolini is exercising, once again, his imperial ambitions. He's getting closer and closer to the Nazis, who are frankly the main sympathizers with what Mussolini is trying to do. And so by May of that year-- the invasion of Albania is in April-- but by May of that year you have a final formal military alliance with the Nazis called the Pact of Steel. And as you might remember, this is only a few months-- so this is in May-- this is only a few months before the Nazi invasion of Poland, which is the catalyst for the beginning of World War II in Europe. Italy didn't immediately enter World War II in September of 1939 when the Nazis invade Poland. Similar to what Italy did in World War I, it was waiting to see which side seemed to be in a better position. By 1940, it felt that a Nazi victory was imminent. And it decides to declare war on Britain and France. So declares war on Britain and France. And this is the formal entry of the Italians into World War II as part of the Axis powers.