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Staging the Fascist War

The Ministry of Popular Culture and Italian Propaganda on the Home Front, 1938–1943


Luigi Petrella

Historians regard the Italian home front during the Second World War as an observation post from which to study the relationship between Fascism and society during the years of the collapse of the Mussolini regime. Yet the role of propaganda in influencing that relationship has received little attention. The media played a crucial role in setting the stage for the regime’s image under the intense pressures of wartime. The Ministry of Popular Culture, under Mussolini’s supervision, maintained control not only over the press, but also over radio, cinema, theatre, the arts and all forms of popular culture. When this Fascist media narrative was confronted by the sense of vulnerability among civilians following the first enemy air raids in June 1940, it fell apart like a house of cards.
Drawing on largely unexplored sources such as government papers, personal memoirs, censored letters and confidential reports, Staging the Fascist War analyses the crisis of the regime in the years from 1938 to 1943 through the perspective of a propaganda programme that failed to bolster Fascist myths at a time of total war.


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I owe a huge debt of gratitude to many people, although naturally the responsibility for what I have written is mine alone. I am beholden first of all to Claudia Baldoli, who supervised the doctoral research upon which this book is based, for her dedicated and friendly advice. Tim Kirk was kind enough to follow my work with patient solicitude and invaluable suggestions. Matt Perry and Perry Willson read my manuscript and made extremely helpful comments. Megan Trudell’s assistance was critical in facilitating my English writing. I am grateful to Robert Gordon and Pierpaolo Antonello for accepting the book for their series and for helping me improve it. My thanks are also due to the three anonymous reviewers who read my book on behalf of the publisher and provided fruitful suggestions. Hannah Godfrey, Alessandra Anzani and the whole team at Peter Lang, Oxford, have been a pleasure to work with. During my research I benefitted from the kind cooperation of librar- ians and archivists in Italy and Britain. I am especially obliged to those from the following institutions: the Archivio Centrale dello Stato and the Archivio Storico dell’Aeronautica Militare in Rome; the National Archives at Kew, London; the Biblioteca della Casa della Memoria e della Storia, the Biblioteca della Fondazione Lelio e Lisli Basso-Issoco, the Biblioteca di Storia Moderna e Contemporanea, the Biblioteca Militare Centrale, the Biblioteca Luigi Chiarini at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, the Biblioteca Statale Antonio Baldini, the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale and the Biblioteca della Camera dei...

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