Front Our Diplomatic Correspondent At the time of writing Italy's decision about entering the war has not been taken.
From information received from some of the last Englishmen to leave Italy and reach this country I am able to give some kind of picture of Italy during this critical time.
The impressions I derived were threefold. The first is that the Italian people remain dead against the war. The second is that the final decision will be made by Hitler, not Mussolini. The third is the deep sense of disappointment among Catholics about the way things have developed.
Among the younger people, brought up in the Fascist way, there is an air of fatalism. The Duce will decide, and decide for the best. But positive enthusiasm for the war is only to be found in the actual leaders and their immediate followers.
" Victims " of a Police State
The intellectual, the ordinary man in the street, and the poorer classes are dead against it. The regime lately has been stiffened, so that the feeling of being the victims of a " police State " is rapidly increasing. It is being noticed that all the social improvements boasted of by the regime have stopped, the money and organisation being required for the war. Poverty in the Trastevere in Rome, for example, is as bad as anywhere in the world. There has also been a considerable deterioration in public morals, laxity of outlook and action in regard to family life being notorious.
Such signs point to an internal weakening of the country, compensated for by increased police and Fascist supervision. On this account alone it would not be extravagant to prophesy an actual fall of the Fascist regime should war endure and not he conspicuously successful.
German influence has increased lately at such a pace with the entry of officials and tourists that I have heard the Duce described as Gauleiter Mussolini. So complete has this penetration become that there can no longer be any question of Italy deciding on her own account. The most she would dare to do is to postpone from week to week the critical decision, should Germany insist on her entry.
Mussolini Worked for Peace
As for taking the Allies' side or responding to their offers, the time for that is gone. No one who has admired Italy in the past and seen the good points of
the Fascist regime can help feeling sorry for this virtual reduction of Italy to the status of a vassal State.
Ever since the German alliance Mussolini has worked for peace. but the senior partner has proved much too strong, and now the new Italy appears before the world not as a great and courageous country, but as a petty land seeking in despair its way out of a trap, hoping against hope that it may obtain some spoils without having to risk its skin to get them. Even if war comes Italy will do everything to localism it outside Italy. Even if the Allies are beaten, Germany will do little sharing.
In the third place many Catholics have expressed deep disappointment at the relative failure of the Papacy and the Church to influence the German-directed Fascist leaders. In particular the agreement whereby the Vatican newspaper has ceased to comment on the war has been felt as disastrous. It seems to put an end to all hope of a leadership that might have weighed against Germany. " What a shock we Italians would get if the Pope made the grand gesture of leaving Rome to mark his displeasure," was an Italian comment.
Further news has now come of the arrest of priests for preaching the truth, and of the suppression of a Catholic paper.
Though people abroad had set some hope on the attitude of the House of Savoy, Italians themselves were sceptical, for its real influence is not very great. The Church and the beloved Papa could alone have shocked the regime Into a different attitude. Yet the Pope, with so many responsibilities, cannot be governed by the needs of any one country.
Too Late From all this it is easy to understand why Italy has not responded to approaches from England and France. It was ton late. They should have come much earlier and in much more generous fashion in order to wean Italy from German influence while there was time. To-day it is inconceivable that Italy can be tempted to walk out of one camp and into another. And so long as she endeavours to keep a middle path, with Germany still victorious in the west, she can do no more than obey Germany's will, at most delaying the execution of Germany's decisive command to share the risks of war. The plain fact Is that we shall not exert any real pressure on Italy except in one way: by proving that ours is the winning side.