Monday, May 01, 2006

"The lighter side of fascism" sounds a subject for P.J. O'Rourke, but one has to admit that there is comic relief to be found here -- and not just from the anti-regime jokes that hearteningly persisted throughout. Even the story of Italian imperialism in Africa, though replete with shocking cruelty, was part opera buffa, as shown by the life of Italo Balbo, a fascist leader who began as a saber-rattling patriot and ended -- in more senses than one -- as governor of Libya. This had been Italy's first African acquisition, in 1912, fully 10 years before Mussolini came to power, and Italian rule was a farce throughout. Fascism boasted of how its empire would enrich the patria, but the Italians managed to rule Libya for decades without ever noticing that it contained a vast oil field. Then in 1940, Mussolini cynically and opportunistically declared war on France and England and began his doom. Shortly afterward, Balbo became one of his country's first victims of the war when his plane was shot down -- by an Italian anti-aircraft battery whose gunnery was better than its aircraft recognition. Sometimes you do have to see the funny side of things.
-Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "Sham and Bluster"

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