The Italians, bored with the war, and bullied on all sides by the Fascist party, are beginning seriously to wonder
IS MUSSOLINI ALWAYS RIGHT?
This has become a national slogan. It can be read in Italy everywhere; in posters, in schoolrooms, in text-books, etc. In Fascist Italy things may be going to the devil, but all is well, because, of course, " Mussolini is always right."
In order to keep on being always right, Fascism has to seek its main support from its secret
Quantities of secret service men keep a relentless watch, day and night, over the population of Italy, hoping to catch the slightest word or attitude that may seem suspicious. It even happens that if two people are seen talking together on a street corner, a plain clothes man takes them aside, and if both versions of their conversation do not coincide, they arc sent to jail. These members of the secret police often mix with the population dressed up as workers in overalls, beggars in tatters and even as pi iests. I know of a case where a secret agent in Rome was in love with a girl whom he courted.
One day, when dressed as a priest, he had the misfortune to meet her. The girl, who at first could scarcely be.
neve her eyes thinking that her suitor was a real priest who used to wear
civilian clothes to court her, got oft at the next stop, shouting to him " sporcacione," which in plain English means " you pig." And that was the end of a romance !
The 0.V.R.A. (Opera Volontaria Represione Antifascismo), which is the Italian Gestapo under the direct orders of Mussolini, is a secret State police organisation for political purposes, including among its members ladies of the aristocracy, students, bankers, servants, street sweepers and even prostitutes. In fact, a variety of pelsons who are freely paid and even lavishly compensated for spying and reporting what they hear. These people usually vituperate the Fascist regime and Mussolini, enticing others to do the same so that they may denounce them.
The police arc very diligent in punishing the whisperings of Roman wit, which have replaced the famous " pasquinades " of days gone by. in a country where freedom of speech and of the press is not permitted. But the people's sense of humour can't be hushed and public opinion finds an outlet in piquant jokes. A popular
story is that Mussolini, wanting to know the state of public opinion in Italy, sent forth his secret service agents to investigate among the people, asking them if they were happy. The answer invariably was " Well, we can't complain."
Shopping a Nightmare
Scarcity always, and even complete lack of commodities dining long periods at a lime are being strongly felt by Italy. Long queues wait before the stores. The milk supply is insuffi. dent and the monthly ration of soap creates serious problems because its is hardly enough to cope with the family washing or toilet needs for one week.
The lack of charcoal—which a large part of the population uses lot cook ing—added to that of wood, has forced more than one housewife to break up chairs and other pieces of furniture in order to cook the family's meal. Winter without heat is intolerable.
The ration of bread is one-fifth of
what it average Italian needs to eat, i
and t s a mixture in which there is everything except wheat. Its colour is not inviting. War-time spaghetti k blackish and has an undefinable taste. Only two kilograms per month are allowed each person under the war regulations.
Meat is only sold once a week, the ration being about one hundred grammes per person. Fats for cooking are almost unobtainable. Clothing and shoes are extremely scarce. All leather and wool have been requisitioned by the Government.
In spite of thc efforts of press propaganda to the effect that coffee is a " bourgeois " habit, and therefore unfitting in Fascist Italy, Italians try to console themselves for the lack of this favourite beverage by drinking a brew obtained from toasted barley to which they add lemon rind or aniseed to take the taste away. Coffee is sold secretly at five cents a bean; thirty-five coffee beans are supposed to make one small cup. With these verses the Italians cheer themselves: When I was King There was plenty of coffee.
Since I have become Emperor The only thing left is the aroma.
Since we have taken Albania Even the aroma is gone.
If we take another State We will also lose the surrogate.
King's Position The prestige of the House of Savoy is very much compromised in Italy partly due to the King's attitude towards Fascism, and partly because the Crown Prince was Commapder of the army corps which attacked France when she was already defeated. Italians can't help but realise that this was a " stab in the bark."
However, the King is frantically applauded when he appears on the screen, while the public abstains ostensibly from clapping when Mussolini is shown. This is one of the wary few ways in which the Italians can express their feelings without going to jail.
The Jewish persecution in Italy has contributed towards increasing the dislike for Fascism, not only because the racial prejudice is alien to the Italian way of feeling. but also because the Italian people knew from the very beginning that the anti-Jewish laws were imposed upon them by the Germans, and this hurt their pride.
Not less harmful to Fascism has been the persecution of the Jews in Italy in its relation with the Vatican. By issuing the arbitrary matrimonial laws against the Jews, the Concordat has been violated, a " vulnus" or wound as the late Pope Pius XI defined it in public, has been inflicted and nothing has been done to heal it.
War Casts its Shadow Events of the war have carved more deeply into the split between the Army and the Fascist Militia, increasing the general feeling of uneasiness and lack of confidence in the Government and opening the way eventually for a coup dYtat to do away with Fascism and create a military dictatorship.
This, however, has been counterbalanced by the hold which the Germans have over Italy. No doubt Hitler could lend a strong hand to Mussolini in case of internal troubles.
It is the general opinion in Italy that Mussolini was certain that war was to end at the beginning of autumn, 1940, with a German victory. By entering the war at the last moment. Mussolini thought he was going to get what he wanted almost without a loss
to himself. I remember at the time Italian soldiers being trained in the streets of Rome for " police and traffic service in territories of occupation." It had been taken for granted by the Fascist Government that the French territory claimed as Italy's share was going to be occupied merely by walking in. But events took a different course, and when Mussolini realised that he was being left out. he hastily launched his wanton attack between two armistices, when France had al. ready fallen, advancing a few kilometers into French territory, and occupying only one-half of the small town of Mentone. for whose bathe it was hardly necessary to train soldiers, and still less to boast about it in the press.
It is not because Italian soldiers lack courage and bravery that they suffered the series of defeats on every front. Some of the causes for this are the lack of proper mental preparedness for this war. Mussolini's zigzag policy has sapped the faith of the Italian people. For instance, the gradual but constant elimination by the Duce for the past twenty years of every capable man who has been in the limelight has shaken their faith. And Italy lacks raw materials, which makes its equipment for war deficient.
The Italian is essentially a hardworking, frugal, peaceful, kindly person, who was dragged into the Ethiopian war, the war in Spain, the occupation of Albania. In order to do this, Fascism demanded from him tremendous sacrifices for which he never received anything in return as had been promised, Indeed, twenty years of Fascist din and clatter, of oppression and coercion has reduced the population to a state of weariness and indifference.
The Italian people realise only too well the benefits that would have derived from a neutral Italy in the present conflict. They did not want this war, and at any rate not on the side of the Germans, whom they naturally detest. One must ban in mind that for centuries the Italians have considered Germany their traditional enemy and history has confirmed this fact. What is more, Mussolini is now forcing the sons of men who fought in the last war against the Germans and the Austrians to forget the graves of their fathers.
Lack of Equipment
Lack of equipment is having its dread effect, I saw soldiers in Rome who wore no tunics under their coats, buttons missing from their trousers, hardly being able to walk because their shoes were too tight. know of a regiment in Turin whose men were unable to change their underwear for three consecutive months because they had none to put on instead, and if they attempted to have it washed, it was so bitterly cold that it would not have dried overnight.
In Albania the scourge of lice in the Italian army is a very serious problem, and nothing has been done to alleviate these conditions.
in the Aflican front many of the planes in use are so old that pilots who came to Rome on leave told me they had sometimes felt as if their machines would fall apart while they were flying.
Radio communications between airplanes and naval units proved so defective that during the battle of the Ionian Sea several bombs were dropped on Italian warships by their own aviation, because the pilots costfused them with British units and failed to receive the desperate learning sent by wireless from the Italian fleet.
This is what happened in the case of Marshal Balbo, whose machine was mistaken for an enemy plane and was shot down by the A.A. of the warship San Giorgio at Tobruk, causing
his death. However, gossip in I tidy claims that this was a put-up job, because of rivalries existing between Mussolini and Balbo.
Albanian and Greek Tragedies The rush and turmoil in sending Italian troops and war material to Albania was such that when it was realised that preparations had been inadequate even to face the Greeks, sonic business men who had parked their car by the docks at Brindisi fowl* upon their return an hour later that it had been hastily loaded on board a departing steamer for the Albanian coast.
It is rumoured persistently in Italy that the Greek generals had been paid millions by Count Ciano to let the Italian army occupy Greece—and we know what happened I