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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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Chapter 7. The Collapse of the Regime


Chapter 7 The Collapse of the Regime The epilogue of the Fascist war was precipitated by the Allied decision to intensify air raids on Italy as part of a strategy to paralyse the country’s eco- nomic and military structure and break people’s morale. In the last phase of the war, when the collapse of the home front added to catastrophic defeats in the Mediterranean, Russia, North Africa and on Italian soil itself, the role of the Italian propaganda machine was largely irrelevant in countering enemy psychological warfare and it caused widespread resentment among the public, which increasingly turned to foreign sources for information about the war’s developments. With the worsening situation on the home front in 1942, mostly due to enemy air raids, the weakness of Italian propaganda appeared increasingly connected to the broader failure of Fascism. Even in 1943, when the Allies were aware that killing thousands of civilians exposed them to condemna- tion, the mcp persevered in fabricating stories and hiding facts instead of creating a plausible and coherent narrative. It was unable to orchestrate effective campaigns and did not manage to stir up waves of hatred against the enemy, instead producing propaganda that was often instrumental in arousing disillusion and anger against the Duce. The purpose of this chap- ter is to detail mcp activities in the final phase of the Fascist war, analysing the work of the Ministry’s apparatus, the output of the different media branches, the reaction of the public, and the political and institutional...

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