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Fascist Colonial Policy

Irredentalism is the traditional national policy of uniting all Italian territory under foreign dominion with the Italian realm. The outbreak of the Great War saw Italy, a member of the Triple Alliance, neutral. Austria's predicament was her late ally's opportunity to breathe on the banked fires of irredentalism. A direct request was made to Austria for the cession of Italy unredeemed in her possession. Resistance to these demands converted the irredentalists into interventionists, of whom Mussolini's speeches and D'Annunzio's writings most influenced public opinion.

The Fasci di Combattimento grew logically out of d'Annunzio's whirlwind campaign, which put Italy into the war on the side of the Allies. The program of these bodies was at first concerned with the recovery of Italia Irredenta: Trieste, Istria, Fiume, Dalmatia and certain ports in Albania, and hence their members were and still are extreme nationalists. They formed the backbone of d'Annunzio's following in Fiume and since undertook that violent Italianization of the Slav population in Trieste and Istria which aroused so much ill feeling in Zagreb and Belgrade.

In a speech delivered before the Senate on December 11, 1924, Mussolini declared himself explicitly for peace: 'As to wars for the conquest of territory for colonization, we cannot and should not think of them.' And in a later speech delivered before the same body he pointedly suggests as a solution of Italy's problems a revision of the mandates assigned by the Peace Conference: 'I think there should be enough intelligent people, [among the nations] for room to be made in time and with a good grace, for this is the way to protect peace and make it just and lasting. It is not possible to condemn a people like the Italian people to vegetate. I believe that the States with which Italy was allied in the Great War will come to see that Italy's legitimate claims must be met. In any case it should be clearly understood that nothing should be given to any one until the Italian share has been satisfied.'

Italy, as one of the Allies, demanded that a preference be given her over Germany in any future assignment of mandates. The assignment of all this colonial territory to mandataries was, except in the case of Southwest Africa, was made without raising any question as to what European countries were best fitted to carry civilization into backward and sparsely populated lands, namely, what European countries have a surplus population and have, therefore, the power to colonize, and thus educate native populations and redeem them from savagery. France has not possessed this power since the earlier days of North American colonization, and Great Britain has largely lost it. Yet these are the two countries which obtained the great African mandates. Furthermore, if they had surplus populations, these would not be able to resist the African climate in most of the mandate territories. Italy, on the other hand, had a large exuberance of population, particularly in her southern provinces whose people were, of all the European races, perhaps the best suited to resist the African climate.

The distribution of the mandates was made at Paris in May, 1919, for former German colonies, and at San Remo in April, 1920, for former Turkish territory, and the distribution followed, with only slight modifications, the precise lines already determined in advance and in detail by Great Britain and France in secret treaties and agreements made between themselves. The Principal Powers Allied and Associate, in official phrase 'assigned' these mandates in Africa and former Turkish territory, but in reality they only ratified and legalized a partition of the colonial reAvards of victory made long before by Great Britain and France, which two powers had distributed the mandate territories by themselves, between themselves, and for themselves alone - without any regard to their ability eventually to colonize them.

The Italians considered that they had not received their share of territory as a result of the Great War, and it seemed that there is reason in their complaint. They felt they needed additional territory more than any of the other Allies, and Italy looked to the Allied Powers, and chiefly to Great Britain, for some remedy for this deficiency.

The events surrounding the conquest of Ethiopia in 1935-36 are often seen as marking the high point of consensus for the Fascist regime. While there was an undoubted consensus for the war in some areas of society, among other groups there existed strong doubts and serious reservations. Through an examination of the grande adunata nazionale of 2 October 1935, which preceded the invasion, the Giornata della fede of December 1935, and the reactions to the war once it was ended, many ordinary Italians were not convinced by Fascist imperialism, which failed dramatically to realise its many promises. Thus the much-vaunted "spontaneous enthusiasm" for the war was in part manufactured by the regime itself, with people - of necessity - going through the motions of enthusiastic participation and observing the formal public rituals required by the regime, while doubting in many cases that the war, the conquest of Ethiopia, and the disruption of European stability provoked by the war, could produce lasting benefits for Italy and the Italians. Unlike the Germans under Hitler, many Italians remained unconvinced by the politics of expansion and found it difficult to believe that Empire could resolve the problems of a people whose requirements were much more linked to the difficulties of everyday existence.

Benito Mussolini had risen to lead Italy in 1922 by promising to restore its ancient power and prestige. By 1940 Mussolini planned that, while Britain concentrated on defending itself against Hitler's attempted invasion, Italy would conquer its colonies in the Mediterranean, which Mussolini called mare nostrum ("our sea"), beginning a new Roman Empire. Thus, the war in the Mediterranean theater took place on the deserts of North Africa, the waters of the Mediterranean and the hills of Italy, and involved both Italy and Germany. When Germany invaded Romania in 1940 without informing Italy, Mussolini felt that Hitler was trying to keep southeastern Europe for himself and invaded Greece on October 28, 1940, to protect Italian interests. But Italy lacked supplies and organization, and the action soon became a humiliating failure.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:00:51 ZULU