America's Mussolini; the United States and Italy, 1919-1936

Jordan, Laylon Wayne, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Younger, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia
Graebner, Norman A., Department of History, University of Virginia

The present work grew out of a Masters' essay submitted to the College of William and Mary in 1968 under the title, "The American Image of Mussolini: Public Opinion and the Press in Italian-American Relations, 1922-1930." In its present form, under-the title, "America's Mussolini: The United States and Italy, 1919-1936," it has been much expanded in depth and breadth, though the emphasis on public opinion is perpetuated. In brief, the present work attempts to answer the questions: What were the communal American attitudes and conceptions of Italian character and destiny in the halcyon days of Mussolini's rise and consolidation in power, and what was the nature of inter-national relations between the United States and Italy in the same years, 1919- 1936? Although Italy, Mussolini, and Fascism occupy a central position in this study, it is not about these things except as they were objects of American attention or protagonists or opponents in American foreign relations.

After the Russian Revolution and the rise of Hitler in Germany Mussolini's Fascist dictatorship was the most talked about, most written about international political phenomenon of the times. In the United States, as elsewhere, great effort was expended and streams of ink and tons of paper were consumed in the attempt to take its measure. The early Mussolini, who veritably personified Italy and Fascism to the outside world, enjoyed a cosmic reputation that was tailor-made to evoke admiration among Americans, whose basic criteria was pragmatic and materialistic. A self-made man, a political exemplar of the success- story hero, Mussolini was much respected in the United States (as, indeed in Europe) for his anti-Communism, his emphasis on problem-solving, and his vaunted ability to get things done. Still, the American image of Mussolini and his Italy was not monolithic. In proportion as Americans were loyal to the liberal faith in democracy and individualism they were ever the Italian dictatorship's reproachful critics.

Between 1922 and 1935, relations between the United States and Italy, notwithstanding the different character of their governments and grounds for conflict over such issues as war debts and immigration, were uncommonly cordial, and after 1928 the two nations, within limits imposed by isolationist sentiment in the United States, cooperated in world politics. The Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-1936 stands out as a benchmark in Italian-American relations, roughly marking the point at which the Americans, hitherto favorably inclined where Mussolini was concerned, were collectively disenchanted. Americans could not defy Mussolini and Fascism in Italy; but the extension of Fascism into non- Italian areas, first into the African kingdom of Ethiopia, constituted naked acts of aggression that made a moral choice unavoidable. The Italian "rape of Ethiopia" was succeeded by a period of worsening relations between Italy and the United States which led finally to war.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Mussolini, Benito -- 1883-1945, Italy -- Foreign public opinion, American, Italy -- History -- 1914-1945

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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