Revelations of Ciano's Diary
by Michael de la Bedoyere
HARDLY less interesting than
the contents of this fascinating Diary* is the way in which ii has been received by so many English and American reviewers. Shocked to find that Mussolini's son-in-law was an ordinary human
being. possessing considerable powers of statesmanship, an admirer of the democracies and a witty, if somewhat cynical and disillusioned, person. they have been hard put to L to maintain the fiction that here was another corrupt. untouchable, Fascist.
Some, noting Ills deep affection for his fa ther and mother, remind their readers that Chicago gangsters also had a seniimental love foe
their family., This gangster view is, of course, reinforced by anti-German quotations from the Diary to prove the existence of a typical intergangster feud. Others, picking out the faults of the ageing Duce (taken from the son-in-law's criticisms) condescend to allow Ciano the merit of having been slightly less disgusting than his fellow-gangsters. In fact all the reviews I have seen approach the book in the manner of superior beings slumming among the dirt and decay of some lesser breed whose vices they must judge as a warning to the gentle world of 1947.
To the unprejudiced mind the truth is wholly different. Ciano, in Ibis Diary, reveals himself as an intelligent Italian. bound by a normal patriotism, his environment and his reasonable personal ambition, to a regime with many faults and not a little to its credit, carrying out the duties of his office conscientiously and humanely, yet shrewd enough to realise that all was far from well and that his country was being driven by its leader along an increasingly dangerous and desperate path against which he exerted himself, not in terms of democratic moralising, but of such practical action as seemed feasible in his circumstances. In other words, he behaved in very much the same way as any other decent man or decent politician with the sense to understand the stupidity, the vanity and the careerism of the majority of those with whom be was surrounded.
The Albanian Aggression
Faults he had in plenty, but one is surprised, in view of the general quality of his mind, that he seemed to have no scruples about the Alb
anian expedition. He could condemn the Germans for precisely the same kind of aggression and admire the democracies for the way in which their word could be relied upon. In his favour, it must be said that he in no sense shared the German brutality, but whether in regard to the Albanians or to others he insisted on decent treatment and could even manifest an understanding of the pathetic in the nonsense of puppet regimes. Admitting the evil of such aggression, it still remains true that the highly civilised, still Catholic (for all his faults) Italian Ciano belonged to a different world from the majority of the Nazi leaders, and most of all Ribbentrop whose vulgar and vain barbarism none realised better than his Italian opposite number.
When we emerge from the plane of moral judgment and consider Ciano's record as a statesman and man of the world. we can have little but admiration for his understanding.
On September 15, 1939, he wrote that Hitler, being incapable of moderation, "Britain will go ahead, will carry on the war implacably to thc end, until her own defeat or that of Germany. I anticipate a hitter, hard, very long conflict, which will end in victory for Great 'Britain." Not a bad prophecy for 1939 from the heart of an Axis capital ! One could quote numberless equally shrewd judgments which, in fact, reflected Allied propaganda rather than Fascist.
Mussolini's Socialism In his relations with his fatherin-law. Ciano devoted all his talents to undermining the Duce's childish desire to gratify his vanity by gaining glory for Italy in war—a vanity largely induced by jealousy of the junior Hitler. But it is most interesting to observe (and this point has not been noted by the reviewers) that as Mussolini grew older and wilder. AG he reverted to the SocialUM of his youth. He became increasingly anti-monarchist, anticlerical, anti-class, anti-tradition, and dreamt again of leading a tough. hard-working, self-sacrificing proletariate emancipated from the weaknesses and corruptions of the past. Ciano, as a civilised man, battled against this over-simplicity of the progressive, socialist vision, defending monarchy, church. the peoples natural leaders, existing institutions, all of which were being endangered by this reversion to political and military infantilism. A typical reaction was the entry about the Pope's Christmas Allocution in 1941: "The Pope has delivered a Christmas address, and naturally it did not please Mussolini, because he found that out of the five points it contains, at least four are directed against the dictatorship of the Germans." The same entry concludes: " Isabella Colonna told me last evening that she had recently spoken with Cardinal Maglione, who told her that at the Vatican the Russians are preferred to the Nazis."
Italian Humour Let me end with quotations which illustrates the typical Italian ability to laugh at themselves: " I have protested to the Nuncio about the publication in the Osservature Romano of some photgraphs showing that our prisoners in Egypt are having a great time—football, concerts, gaiety. Mussolini is concerned about it. 'It is a known fact,' he says. ' that they are inclined to let themselves be taken prisoners. If they see that their comrades are having such a good time over there, who can hold them back.' " And on another occasion Ciano noting that all the Italian admirals and ships were at sea wrote: " God help them ! "
* Ciano's Diary 1938-1943. (Heinemann, 21s.).