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II

It was not the attitude of the élite of Italy towards Mussolini that impressed me most. It was the almost frantic enthusiasm of the crowds in the streets that was most significant. I saw thousands of men and women waiting in pouring rain outside a building where they knew him to be. They waited for hours. They must have been drenched, but still they waited. Finally,


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when he came to the balcony and saluted, there was a storm of cheers. There was a manifest desire amongst the crowd to show him how they admired and trusted him.

Several attempts have been made to murder him. Autocrats are ever in danger of assassination. I have heard it said that his life is constantly menaced, and that there are scores of men ready and eager to kill him. That may be, but, judging by what I saw, I would not give two pins for the life of any man in the crowded streets of Rome who attempted to take the life of the Duce.

I was singularly fortunate on my visit to Italy in renewing my acquaintance with Sir Philip Dawson, who represents West Lewisham in the House of Commons. I had travelled with him previously in Central Europe and was much impressed by his facility in conversing in various European languages. He can speak German, French and Italian as fluently as English, is well acquainted with many Continental statesman, and has a profound knowledge of the inside of European politics. He spent five years at school as a youth in Italy. Subsequently he practised as an electrical engineer in Milan. He is at present the leading member of a well-known firm of consulting engineers in London, and during recent years has been a constant visitor to Italy.

Sir Philip and I were close companions during our stay in Italy, for we were keen on seeing, not the Italy of official functions, but Italy as it is known to the people of Italy. We went about together over a great deal of the country. We frequented restaurants and cafés; we went to places rarely visited by foreigners;


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we travelled in popular conveyances and talked to all kinds of people. We ate the food and drank the wine of the country. I realised that Italy is indeed the home of pasta, and nowhere else is it so well prepared. The countless strange but interesting dishes and insidious wines were not to me so impressive as the numberless reminders wherever one went in public or private of Mussolini.

It is not the statues and busts of him, it is not pictures of him in shop windows and private houses, it is not references to him in the Press, but it is the recently completed public works and those in progress, the industry of the people and the cleanliness of the cities, all of which are attributed to him. As one passes beautiful ancient buildings that are being freed of the shambles that choked them for centuries, the Italian tells you, “It is done by Mussolini.” Where old, insanitary dwellings have been taken down and roomy, well-ventilated, handsome workmen's homes have been erected in their place, an inquirer learns that it is the work of the Duce. When driving along the Appian Way, across the Campagna, skirting the Alban Hills and continuing parallel with the coast or along other ancient Roman roads, we are told that the reconstruction work and other improvements to be noticed have been the result of Mussolini's instructions.

We visited the ruins of the Colosseum built over 1,800 years ago, saw the circular tiers of seats rising to 160 feet to accommodate 50,000 spectators, inspected the arena where gladiators and wild beasts fought and where, when it was flooded, mimic, but not bloodless, naval battles were fought, and we were reminded of the ancient prophecy:




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“While stands the Colosseum Rome shall stand,
When falls the Colosseum Rome shall fall,
And when Rome falls with it shall fall the world.”

Many years ago the building was preserved from falling into utter ruin by buttresses built against the sides, but it remained for Mussolini to complete the work of preservation and restoration. He had done much in that direction, and further work was in progress. The arena is sanctified by the blood of the early Christian martyrs. For centuries a large and beautiful cross erected in their memory stood in the middle of the arena, but it was removed in modern times. It was replaced by him in 1926.

For twenty centuries two ships of the Roman Emperor, Caligula, lay at the bottom of the lake of Nemi. The draining of the lake and the uncovering of the vessels was a difficult and stupendous work, but it was accomplished. Italians speak of the feat with pride, and tell visitors that it was Mussolini's idea and that it was he who saw that it was realised.

For generations mysterious, corrupt terrorist secret societies existed in Italy. There was the notorious Mala Vita with its various grades and extensive ramifications. The Camorra, who held sway in Naples, were plunderers and batteners exacting money from shopkeepers. Perhaps the worst of these organisations was the Mafia in Sicily, with its members pledged to protect each other when charged with crime and to exact vengeance for any punishment inflicted. The Mafia even extended its operations to America, with serious consequences. About the end of the last century the society murdered the chief of police at New Orleans. This so angered the public that a mob broke into the


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jail and shot or hanged several Italians who were accused of committing the crime. Diplomatic relations between Italy and the United States were broken off, and not restored until the United States paid 25,000 dollars for the benefit of the heirs of the lynched Italians. When Mussolini came into power the Mafia still created fear and insecurity in Sicily. Despite threats against him, he took severe measures. Men were executed, but he effectually stamped out the evil. There is no longer any dread of the Mafia. I was told the society has ceased to exist.

Vast areas that were allowed to become mere useless swamps, but are now smiling farms, were pointed out as the reclamation work of Mussolini. Since he came into power 6,000,000 acres of land had been drained. For 250 days of the year 50,000 Italian workmen were employed on drainage works. Statistics say that in 1922 the production of wheat was just under 44,000,000 quintals, but in a few years the production amounted to 73,150,000 quintals. Italians asserted that the large reduction in the quantity of cereals imported into Italy during the previous ten years was due to the encouragement and assistance given by Mussolini to agriculturists.

On entering Italy by train I could not but notice the brilliant uniforms of men at railway stations. There were Carabinieri, a kind of police wearing blue swallow-tailed coats, blue trousers with a red strip down each leg, three-cornered hats and armed with swords and revolvers. They were invariably to be seen in pairs. The railway officials also wore smart well-fitting uniforms. On each railway station there were two or more members of the Fascist organisation.


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Dressed in serviceable black shirts, they looked almost drab beside the gorgeousness of the other uniformed men, but it was clear to any observer that it was the Fascists who were of real importance. They saw that the railway officials did their work promptly and efficiently. They stood on one side. They only interfered when some difficulty arose. A widely circulated official Fascist publication, L' Italia Fascista in Cammino, states: “Under the Fascist régime, the railway staff works 50 per cent. harder, the expenses for damages, etc., of goods have decreased from 7.31 per cent. to 0.12 per cent.”

It may be mentioned that hydro-electric power development has taken place on an immense scale, and the electric locomotive operates on the whole railway system of Middle and Northern Italy. The hydro-electric power of the Italian electric stations in 1922 was 1,300,000 kw., and ten years later it was 4,300,000 kw.

Mussolini, referring to the work of the last ten years, says: “Achievements have been attained not only in the field of material activities, but also, much deeper, in that of spiritual activities. A great transformation brought about in things is useful and interesting, but the supreme object of the Fascist revolution is the change in the temperament, in the character, in the intellectual outlook of the Italian people.”

That the people of Italy have been raised in their own self-respect and have become more industrious is commonly commented on by those acquainted with the Italy of ten or twelve years ago and the Italy of to-day. But the Italian citizens of the future are also of deep concern. There is an organisation similar to our


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Boy Scouts known as the Balilla. They wear black shirts with trimmings of white and greenish-grey breeches. In it boys between the ages of eight and fourteen are enrolled with the approbation of their parents. There is a senior body called Advance Guards into which they pass to continue their physical and moral training between the ages of from fourteen to eighteen, when they go into the Fascist militia. When in Italy I saw at the Forum Mussolini a wonderful display of this organisation of Italian youth. We quite understood that, as Lord Rennell, who is an authority on present-day Italy, has said, this organisation “is producing a new type of youth, smart in appearance, eager for instruction and inspired by ideals of manliness, comradeship and duty.”

Photograph Facing Page 342: Sir John Kirwan and Sir Philip Dawson, M.P. Leaving the Capitol, Rome, after the opening of the Eighteenth Conférence Parlementaire Internationale du Commerce, April, 1933, by the King of Italy.



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