The Who2 Blog

Benito Mussolini, Unhappy Birthday to You

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was born on this day in 1883. He caused plenty of havoc in the next 61 years.

Benito Mussolini tends to be the Forgotten Fascist these days, even though he ran Italy for two decades. As bad-guy dictators go, he’s been overshadowed by his World War II ally, Adolf Hitler.

But it was Mussolini who gave us the word “Fascist” in the first place. That was the name of his political party, the one that “glorifies the state and nation and assigns to the state control over every aspect of national life.”

He also gave us the nickname Il Duce (“the leader”) and the well-worn phrase “Mussolini made the trains run on time”:

In 1936 the American journalist George Seldes complained that when his fellow-countrymen returned home from holidays in Italy they seemed to cry in unison: ‘Great is the Duce; the trains now run on time.’ And no matter how often they were told about Fascist oppression, injustice and cruelty, they always said the same thing: ‘But the trains run on time.’

The war didn’t work out too well for Il Duce or Der Führer. By the time Hitler shot himself in his bunker in Berlin on April 30th of 1945, Mussolini was already dead, having been caught trying to escape to Switzerland on April 28th:

On 27 April 1945, his convoy was stopped at Musso, near Dongo, by Partisans. He was immediately recognized with his girlfriend Clara Petacci. On the morning of 28 April 1945, Mussolini and Petacci were shot and killed. Other members of the convoy were killed later that evening. Their bodies were displayed the following day in Milano.

“Displayed” is the polite way of saying “strung up” — Mussolini’s body was hung by its heels, in rather gruesome fashion, for all to see. He was three months short of his 62nd birthday.

See our biography of Benito Mussolini >>

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