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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 3: Adjusting to Reality: Home Front and Air War


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Adjusting to Reality: Home Front and Air War

Italy’s entry into the war charged Pavolini and the MCP with the task of giving people the illusion of triumphal successes in the battlefield, but sources show that fear and insecurity spread among civilians from the first air raids on the Italian cities. The media did not manage to conquer those feelings. Even sensible general directives (for example those coming from Pavolini recommending to avoid ‘lyricism’ and emphatic headlines or not to underestimate the enemy) often produced opposite outcomes in the daily routine of newsrooms accustomed to work on the basis of established procedures of overzealous self-censorship. The irregular and sometimes inconsistent directives from propaganda controllers reflected similar attitudes within the regime and of Mussolini himself, while the enemy became gradually more effective in conveying, by means of leaflets and ‘Radio Londra’ broadcasting, a direct and simple message: that there was no aggression against Italy and Italians were being forced to pay for a choice one man had made. The huge military setbacks of autumn 1940 would make that message even clearer.

In the first year of war, the organs of Fascist propaganda and the media cooperated in the attempt to make credible the image of a country determined to stay resolute and impassive in the struggle against the enemy. Their efforts aimed at refuting evidence that war was a disruptive break with deeply rooted rhythms and habits that both...

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