How did Benito Mussolini's foreign policies contribute both to the success and the downfall of fascism in Italy?
Scholars have long noted the irony in Adolf Hitler’s having designated his regime and vision for Germany as the “Thousand Year Reich.” Twelve years later, the “Thousand Year Reich” was rubble and Germany split between the Soviet Union and France, Britain and the United States. The reason for mentioning Germany’s experience is to illuminate the fundamental flaw in any suggestion that Benito Mussolini’s foreign policy included anything that could be categorized as a “success.” As Hitler and the Nazi regime he commanded succeeded in rebuilding Germany and restoring its sense of glory, its policies, especially in the area of foreign affairs, resulted in a level of devastation that the German people could not have imagined.
Such was the case with Mussolini. His establishment of a fascist regime and attempts at restoring Italy’s long-lost glory as a world power – never actually Italy so much as Rome – did for a few years expand Italy’s influence beyond its borders. Its invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, an attempt to relive Italy’s military conquest of that desperately poor region in the Horn of Africa in 1895, symbolized the dictator’s thirst for foreign conquests, but the Italian military sorely lacked the strength needed to effectively enforce Italy’s will outside that country’s frontiers. In fact, the conquest of Ethiopia, brutal though it was, failed to impress many nations regarding its abilities to project power.
Mussolini’s most dramatic, and inevitable, foreign policy decision involved Italy’s alliance with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Again, it is hard to argue, given the scale of destruction inflicted upon Italy by both sides during the course of the Second World War, that Mussolini’s foreign policy strengthened the cause of fascism at home. While Hitler certainly made for a powerful ally, the short-lived experiment in Italian fascism was a direct result of that alliance. By designating itself a major component of the Axis powwers at war with the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, France and the rest of the Allied nations, Italy found itself at the center of a long and destructive series of battles on its own soil, especially at the hilltop monastery known as Monte Cassino. Italy’s surrender to the Allied powers in 1943 resulted in its occupation by the German Army to the north and the U.S. Army to the south, with the Italian population – now firmly disenchanted with Mussolini and fascism – caught in the middle.
Mussolini’s foreign policies can in no substantive way be seen as strengthening fascism in Italy, except for a very brief period of time following the initial alliance with Nazi Germany. In fact, those short-term gains were more than overcompensated for with enormous levels of destruction that took many years to repair and rebuild.