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Benito Mussolini

In a delightful memoir of a boyhood spent in Mussolini’s Italy, Umberto Eco recalled that the heady days of the Liberation in his small town near Milan were encapsulated in the taste of Wrigley’s Spearmint, given by an African-American GI (New York Review of Books, 22 June 1995). After the years of ‘palefaces in blackshirts’, these Americans appeared like exotic time travellers from the future. At the same time, the boy discovered that, unlike the long-winded Duce, large slabs of whose bombast schoolchildren were expected to commit to heart, the leader of the local partisans addressed the cheering crowd in the piazza with a few well-chosen and rhetoric-free words. Equally astonishing was the discovery that newspapers could carry opinions other than those mandated by the state.

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One thing is certain: Mussolini would not like this book. Indeed, it is exactly the sort of writing that would rouse Il Duce’s ire. In the last disintegrating days before his ignominious end, when Mussolini realised that his erstwhile allies, the Germans, had outmanoeuvred him, that members of his inner circle were frantically making arrangements to flee Italy, and that partisan uprisings had set Lombardy and the Po Valley alight, the archbishop of Milan offered what was supposed to be a soothing observation: that Il Duce should take heart that he would be remembered by history. Enraged by this assurance, Mussolini declared: ‘History, don’t talk to me of history. I only believe in ancient history, in that which is written without passion and long afterwards.’

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