Out of the Mouths of Bab…buini: Berlusconi on the “Good Works” of Mussolini
Italians have been talking about it for twenty-four hours, but this morning’s New York Times finally reports that, on the occasion of this year’s Days of Remembrance in Milan, ex-Italian prime minister and perpetual candidate Silvio Berlusconi seized the occasion to remind Italians not to be too hard on old Benito Mussolini. After all, he did a lot of good stuff, too:
ROME (AP) — Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy praised the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini for having been a good leader in many respects, despite his responsibility for anti-Jewish laws, immediately prompting expressions of outrage on Sunday as Europeans held Holocaust remembrances…. The racial laws “are the worst fault of Mussolini, who, in so many other aspects, did good,” [Berlusconi] added. (“Berlusconi’s Praise of Mussolini Leads to Calls for Prosecution,” New York Times, 28 January 2013, A-3.)
What the Times doesn’t report is that Berlusconi, responding to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement that Germany bears “an everlasting responsibility” for the “appalling tragedy” of Nazism, also added, “[Italy’s government] does not have the same responsibility. These are completely different responsibilities. For our part, we co-existed [with the Nazis], without being fully aware.”
The outraged responses began pouring in. Here are only two of my favorites.
The first is a Facebook post from a dear friend:
“In all honesty, I’d be a lot less worried at this point about the “declarations” of Hizzoner Burlesque-oni and much, much more worried about the people who, having heard what he said, thought to themselves, “Wow, he’s not all wrong!” or “Come on, just think about it,” or “Right-fucking-on!” Because he’s not the problem; they are. And however few of them there may be, there are still too many; and I’d like to know who they are, how many of them there are, and who they vote for. I would, if that demand weren’t just a little on the Fascist side.”
The second is from the fabulous Roberto Benigni, who is the Italian right’s worst nightmare: a great big leftie with a wide public audience and a much better grasp of language than the lot of Neanderthals on the other side of the aisle:
“What I’m talking about is this: if we can’t even criticize Mussolini, what does a person have to do before we can criticize him? Does he have to fuck goats in the middle of Via Frattina? Berlusconi said, “He did good things as well.” Of course, he did. So did Adolph Hitler or Stalin. Surely they built a bridge or a road. Even the Monster of Florence must have told someone “Good morning” once in a while. But saying that Mussolini did good things would be like if the plumber came to your house and installed a perfect set of new pipes, but in the meantime, disembowled your dog, raped your grandmother, and murdered your mother. You’d be fucking mad, but he’d say he did some good things, too.”
And therein lies the essence of the relativist approach that seems to have the entire Western world in its grasp. History is just one big Scales of Justice. You put the bad things on one side and the “good things” on the other, and in the end there’s no judgment for anyone ever. It’s all relative.
Crimes against humanity are defined by which humanity you play for.
Update: I wouldn’t want a silly thing like facts to get in the way of a nice, healthy revision of history, but here are a couple of things to know. Mussolini came to power as a dictator in Italy in 1930; he promulgated the so-called “Racial Laws” (his Manifesto della Razza) in 1938. They quickly led to the following measures: Jews could no longer send their children to public or private Italian schools or be employed in any capacity in any Italian school as teachers; all textbooks by Jewish authors were removed from Italian classrooms; marriages between “Aryans” (that is, Italians) and “non-Aryans” became illegal; Jews could no longer perform military service or hold any state employment and were banned from working as doctors, journalists, engineers, architects, and in a number of other professions; Jews could not own most land or buildings, and citizenship was revoked from Italian Jews who had previously become citizens; these newly “foreign” Jews – with the exception of those married to Italian citizens – were then expelled from the country. Italy and Germany did not become allies until two years later, in 1940; and Germany did not occupy Italy and prop up Mussolini’s “Republic of Salò” until 1943. So there was at least a little time in there for Mussolini and his government to become “aware” of what he was doing. Meanwhile, historian Meir Michaelis, among others, has demonstrated that Nazi Germany did not directly interfere in Italy’s domestic Jewish affairs until the fall of Fascism in 1943 and argued, inter alia, that the passage of racial laws in 1938 was “solely due to [Mussolini’s] itch to emulate Hitler and his exaggerated sense of ideological solidarity with the Reich.” (See, e.g., Jews in Italy under Fascist and Nazi Rule, 1922-1945, Joshua D. Zimmerman, Ed., Cambridge University Press; an excerpt of the Introduction is available online: