HST 504 – Week 7
World Disarmament Conference
Il Duce: The Rise of Italian Fascism
Italy emerged from the Great War as one of the main victors.
Rome had decided early in the war that siding with Britain and France would reap more benefits,
especially along the Adriatic Coastline, the traditional sphere of influence of the Austrian
And so Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary and opened another front in the war.
The next years had a gruelling effect on the Italian society and economy, as the two powers were
deadlocked in trench warfare (as on the Western front).
When war finally came to an end, Vittorio Orlando wanted to reap the full rewards of victory,
especially in view of the human losses and material damage in Northern Italy.
In Paris, the extensive promises to Italy made in the Treaty of London were reversed.
Woodrow Wilson preferred to support the South Slavs of the Balkans than to satisfy the Italian
desires on Dalmatian territories.
As if that was not enough, none of the German colonial possessions were granted to Italy. Rome
could not replace Vienna as the paternal overseer of the Balkan Peninsula.
Disappointed and angry, Orlando promptly left Paris and went home to an even more fuming
It was unbearable to consider that all the suffering and sacrifices had been for nothing. In 1919,
in opposition to the decisions being made in Paris, a volunteer army of Italian nationalists seized
the city of Fiume.
The Italian government did not seem capable or willing to take action or to respond to the
By the early 1920s, as democracy and parliaments failed to stabilize the economy and resolve
national problems, alternative ideologies and leaders began to emerge on the political scene.
Exploiting the mass discontent, Benito Mussolini appeared as one of the key voices criticizing the
Paris Peace Settlement.
He called for national unity, elimination of elitism, and patriotism. By helping to organize armed squads of war veterans known as the Blackshirts, he was
seemingly restoring order and law amidst the postwar chaos.
In 1922, he organized the “March on Rome,” ousting the existing prime minister and assuming
power under a Right-wing government.
Declaring himself the supreme leader (Il Duce), Mussolini dramatically transformed Italy’s
domestic and foreign policies.
Mussolini had much greater expansionist aspirations than the Italian economy and military could
Through manipulation of the media and effective myth-making, he managed to convince Italians
(and many of the Great Powers) that Italy would be capable of recreating the glory of the Roman
He dreamed of extensive Italian control over the Adriatic coastline and in Africa. Already in 1923,
he triggered the Corfu Incident in order to curtail Greek ambitions.
By the mid-1920s, Italy had assumed the role of one of the guarantors of collective security by
becoming a signatory of the Locarno Treaties.
At the same time, Rome turned Albania into a puppet satellite and ruthlessly consolidated power
in Libya (and also Somalia).
By the late 1920s, Mussolini was not only perceived to be the leader of a powerful state, but also
was admired for creating order in Italy (no matter how superficial that order was).
Since perception is everything, into the early 1930s, all the other European Great Powers
attempted to woo Italy into all sorts of alliances.
But such an inflated self-image pushed Mussolini towards even greater objectives in the 1930s.
New Uncertainties: International Relations after Locarno
Locarno Treaties created an illusion of collective security.
It seemed that all the European Great Powers had accepted the international states system
established in Paris in 1919 and that Germany was reconciled to her position.
The reparation question had been resolved through the Dawes Plan and the League of Nations
was working to resolve disputes.
By the latter half of the 1920s, the economies had recuperated significantly. These were indeed