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Staging the Fascist War

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

Series:

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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Chapter 4. Cracking Italian Morale

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Chapter 4 Cracking Italian Morale These military setbacks were enough to show that, even before the end of 1940, Mussolini’s hopes of joining in a rapid Axis victory were unrealistic, as was any expectation of being regarded as Hitler’s equal. In particular, the Regia Aeronautica’s ruinous participation in the Blitz and the lack of defences against the attack that decimated the fleet at Taranto exposed the supremacy of Italian air power as a groundless myth and showed that, as far as propaganda and war reporting were concerned, the regime’s aspirations had to bow to German priorities. The mcp (and consequently the media) limited themselves to the menial task of manipulating the evidence pro- vided by the British to prove their deeds. Inconsistent, often surreal press campaigns – such as enlisting writers and artists to recast wartime nights as occasions for enjoying aesthetic experiences – added to the dispiriting effect that lies and bombast had on people’s feelings. The aim of this chapter is to highlight the increasing difficulties faced by the Fascist propaganda machine from 1941 in conveying a consistent, reassuring message to the Italian people about the regime’s chances against the enemy. There is consensus among historians that the first substantial breach in people’s morale was opened when the Allies changed their air war policy in 1942. However, documents show that discontent was widespread among civilians as early as Italy’s first military defeats. Such sentiments were not yet a form of conscious dissent or of committed anti-Fascism, yet the military setbacks...

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