Telling the World by John Knott depicts the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini during his 1932 address in the city of Turin, Italy. The speech occurred in the midst of the tenth anniversary of the Fascist Party’s March on Rome in October 1922, when Mussolini was appointed as Italy’s fascist head of government by King Victor Emmanuel III (De Grand 513). The Italian dictator’s balcony, illustrated in Knott’s cartoon, evokes the baroque architectural style of Turin’s buildings. As Mussolini stated in his speech, “Turin is a Roman city,” and according to his regime, 1932 was Year X of “The New Era” in the “Third Rome” (“Benito Mussolini” 273). However, by the time of Mussolini’s visit to Turin, Europe was still reeling from the consequences of World War I. Despite fervent calls by European allies for the cancellation of German war reparations, emphasized at the Lausanne Conference in the summer of 1932, the United States refused to accept the mandatory condition that all European debts to the U.S. be cancelled as well (Bemis 55). This decision, combined with the League of Nations’ insistence that Germany was to be denied juridical parity, only served to aggravate tensions in the region. Furthermore, looming over the world and compounding the western dilemma was The Great Depression, a burdening force which would not cease for a decade.
In Knott’s cartoon, Mussolini is holding a globe before him as he asserts his position on the world’s affairs. His discontented expression and clenched fist indicate that he his making demands to resolve conflicts threatening his regime. Depicted on the globe, Africa and Europe face the audience, as North America is subjected to the Italian dictator’s scrutinous glare. This scowling expression carries a direct challenge to the United States, “. . . the ship of reparations and war debts entered the port of Lausanne. Are the great people of the star-spangled republic going to send this vessel, which was filled with sorrow and blood of so many peoples, back to the open waters?” (Mussolini 1932). In this statement he addresses the imperious nature of the U.S. pursuit of war reparations from Europe, and its significance in impacting western politics. Mussolini’s Turin speech took place only a month prior to the US Presidential Election of 1932. According to “Mussolini and the Crisis,” the Dallas Morning News editorial accompanying Knott’s cartoon, then-candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt was thought to have been more sympathetic toward the idea of debt cancellation than his opponent, Herbert Hoover. Mussolini appeared to time his appeal to the US in order to influence the vote of Italian Americans toward Roosevelt (Dallas Morning News 2). The Lausanne Conference was a pivotal point in the decision to end or continue war debts, and the United States was the eminent faction in determining the outcome. Unfortunately, The Great Depression was well entrenched in America during this time, leading the struggling nation to assert its demands for reparations to a continent likewise hindered by economic downturn.
The historically industrial city of Turin was home to many unemployed and disgruntled labor workers at the time of Mussolini’s 1932 address. As the Dallas Morning News editorial begins, “Premier Mussolini took his life in his hands when he addressed the semihostile citizens of Turin” (2). Workers throughout Italy directed their blame and animosity toward the current political institutions whose policies they believed were failing to remedy the country’s postwar ailments (Atkins 271). Adding more pressure to the desperate nation and to Mussolini’s government was The Great Depression, which had begun with the Wall Street collapse only three years prior.
Italy’s involvement in World War I came at an immense cost. Though neutral at its commencement, the Treaty of London eventually situated Italy in the conflict alongside France and Britain, with promises from the Entente powers that Italy would be compensated with sought-after territories in Austria-Hungary and Africa (Karabell 96). By the war’s conclusion, however, Italy’s military was nearly decimated; and the country was economically, politically, and socially ravaged (Atkins 270). Further deteriorating postwar conditions in Italy, its efforts as one of the Allies against the Central Powers were minimized at the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, and Italy received meager recompense for its losses (Atkins 271). Postwar debt, high inflation and unemployment, as well as low morale resulting from enormous war casualties, left the population embittered and desperate for change (Atkins 271). Hostility and violence in the country, along with radical war-induced nationalism, instigated the formation of an aggressive political party grounded in Mussolini’s fascist ideology (“World War I” 2765).
Although he did not explicitly mention France, Mussolini certainly held a vendetta against the country, as evident in his Turin speech. As “Mussolini and the Crisis” editorial points out, Turin is located near the Italian border with France, and Mussolini appeared to choose this city for his address in order to send a provocative message (Dallas Morning News 2). Much of Italy, including its head of government, still resented France for the outcome of the Treaty of Versailles. France gained a great deal of territory while Italy received little of what it was promised in comparison. This issue was also of great concern for Mussolini when considering the state of Germany in the European scene.
The League of Nations, founded by the Treaty of Versailles, was hesitant to grant Germany juridical parity within the organization, despite that it was a member. Its most prominent and influential member, of course, was France. Mussolini feared that France sought hegemony in Europe through its recent territorial acquisitions and its refusal to treat Germany as an equal country. In his Turin speech, he emphasized the importance of German parity in the League of Nations as necessary to prevent hegemonies in Europe, and indicated that Italy was prepared to resist any attempts by France to establish hegemony over another European country. This decision to side with Germany was a prelude to the fascist alliance that would form between the two countries in the second World War.
The complexities of western political affairs in the 1930s cannot be understated. By October 1932, Europe had already begun to brew a second world war. The Allies refused to acknowledge the impact of their decisions in formulating the rise of the fascist dictators Mussolini and Hitler. Poor and desperate populations suffering from economic depression rallied behind the aggressive, nationalistic political parties that sought to take advantage of power vacuums left by World War I. At that time, Fascism was a promise to put the unemployed to work, but also an engine of resentment fueled by losses in the Great War. In time these factors would culminate in a conflict far more catastrophic than the one that caused it.
Atkins, William Arthur. “Strike Wave: Italy.” St. James Encyclopedia of Labor History Worldwide, edited by Neil Schlager, vol. 2, St. James Press, 2004, pp. 270-273. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3408900274/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=6601c1eb. Accessed 29 Apr. 2018.
Bemis, Samuel Flagg. “Lausanne Agreement.” Dictionary of American History, edited by Stanley I. Kutler, 3rd ed., vol. 5, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003, p. 55. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3401802329/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=8407df53. Accessed 27 Mar. 2018.
“Benito Mussolini.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., vol. 11, Gale, 2004, pp. 272-274. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3404704665/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=98c7abb0. Accessed 25 Mar. 2018.
“Comparison with the League of Nations.” Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, edited by Melissa Sue Hill, 14th ed., vol. 1: United Nations, Gale, 2017, pp. 7-9. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3652100020/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=7a09ea1b. Accessed 25 Mar. 2018.
De Grand, Alexander. “Fascism and Nazism.” Encyclopedia of European Social History, edited by Peter N. Stearns, vol. 2: Processes of Change/Population/Cities/Rural Life/State & Society, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001, pp. 509-517. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3460500112/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=5c8cbac6. Accessed 25 Mar. 2018.
“Fascism.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by William A. Darity, Jr., 2nd ed., vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2008, pp. 102-105. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3045300802/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=f4ab522f. Accessed 29 Mar. 2018.
Karabell, Zachary. “London, Treaty of (1913).” Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa, edited by Philip Mattar, 2nd ed., vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004, p. 1446. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3424601697/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=d1d0e452. Accessed 29 Apr. 2018.
Knott, John. Telling the World, 25 Oct. 1932.
“Mussolini and the Crisis.” Dallas Morning News, 25 Oct. 1932. Page 2.
“Mussolini’s Speech, Turin 1932.” Readable, www.allreadable.com/1267LckD.
Mussolini’s Turin Speech, 1932. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgmcoUjHNBU.
STRANG, G. (2001). IMPERIAL DREAMS: THE MUSSOLINI–LAVAL ACCORDS OF JANUARY 1935. The Historical Journal, 44(3), 799-809.
“World War I.” Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction, edited by John Merriman and Jay Winter, vol. 5, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006, pp. 2751-2766. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3447000917/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=d2f9a9b5. Accessed 29 Apr. 2018.