Mussolini’s years in leadership found him to be an able diplomat. In 1923, some Greeks murdered an Italian general and three soldiers over Graeco-Albanian concerns. Italy gave Greece an ultimatum; war was imminent. Greece ultimately conceded to Italy’s terms and war was averted. But the nearness of the possibility of war alarmed Mussolini, causing him to take a more nuanced political posture in the years to follow.
Mussolini spent his first ten years building his Fascist state, with little interest in Europe or Africa. Leaders in Europe and America lauded Mussolini’s Fascism as “a form of government of the very first order of excellence.” They were captivated with Mussolini’s ability to “change the lives of human beings, (including) their minds…hearts…and spirits.” In 1927, Churchill even remarked how charmed he was with Mussolini, finding him to be gentle, simple, and detached from all except the well-being of the Italian people.
Mussolini’s passive political position changed in 1935 when, with the political support of both Britain and German, Italian forces quickly invaded and conquered Abyssinia, where ten months earlier, Abyssinian and Italian soldiers clashed on the border of Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland. The victory was swift, decisive, and brutal, causing the international community to take notice. The brutality of the conquest caused condemnation from other nations. Mussolini had a clear conscious though, noting Britain and France had conquered peoples in similar ways. Still, the League of Nations placed sanctions on Italy for the aggressive actions. As a consequence, Italian national unity strengthened and support for Mussolini became unwavering. Furthermore, Italy now captured the attention of Adolf Hitler, planting seeds in which the Italo-German alliance would grow.
The relationship that developed between Mussolini and Hitler was unique. Hitler admired Mussolini and was deeply influenced by Fascist ideology. Mussolini was less impressed with Hitler. Confirmation of his dislike and mistrust was confirmed when he met Hitler for the first time in June of 1934. Mussolini walked away from their meeting noting “(Hitler’s) quite mad.” Still, Hitler worked diligently to gain and maintain Mussolini’s friendship. In 1936, Hitler showered Mussolini with recognition of the Italian Empire. Flattered, Mussolini took to the microphone, declaring to Italy and the world the creation of “a Rome-Berlin axis around which all European states that desire peace can revolve.” Little did Mussolini know how these words would seal the fate of Italy in ways he could not have predicted.
Mussolini’s emotional connection to Hitler and Germany continued to strengthen. In September 1937, Mussolini visited Germany. His arrival was celebrated with a “calculated display of power, regimentation, and organization” by the German forces. Upon witnessing such dedication and “militaristic industry,” Mussolini was smitten. Where Hitler was once deemed a clown by Mussolini, now Mussolini could only sing Hitler’s praises. Together Italy and Germany would stand against the threat of Socialism.
The funny thing about political romances is that rarely do they end well. In the years to come, Hitler’s influence over Mussolini would prevail. Not only did Mussolini implement German military protocols in his Italian forces, but he also allowed anti-sematic sentiments to invade Italian life. Italians quick push-back on such sentiments only provoked Mussolini to condemn the weakness of Italians for Jews and reiterate reasons for his political alliance with Germany. This alliance was tested on a number of occasions as Hitler was not inclined to ask permission before making a military move, even ones with which his closest allies disagreed. Still, Mussolini remained steadfast in his commitment to Hitler. Hitler in turn promised to support Italy, even if the world was against her. Hitler knew Italy was a weak military presence, yet a strong ally, one he could not afford to lose.
Mussolini bought into Hitler’s flattery and capitalized on Germany’s strong military presence to counter Italy’s weakening military forces and struggling economy. But the more he doubled down in his support for Germany, the closer Italy moved toward war, and the more precarious Italian support for Mussolini and Fascism became. In time, as with all complicated love affairs, everything would soon crumble, causing extensive damage and leaving nothing but a pile of rubble behind.
I continue to be amazed how easy it is to extrapolate realities from Mussolini’s life into the American church, and my own leadership experiences. I so wanted to make him out to be the bad guy. True, he was evil and ruthless, but he was also strategic, thoughtful, and reserved. He chose his alliances carefully and utilized the technology of the day to communicate his intentions. Are we really any different? Am I really any different? Maybe? Ministry leaders often utilize similar tactics and motives. The only difference is when they slap Jesus on it, all is considered well. But is it really? Who do we truly love if we’re willing to hand over our souls, our Jesus, in exchange for alliances with empire, capitalism, or contemporary Christian culture that promise platform, position, and power?
 Christopher Hibbett. Mussolini: The Rise and Fall of Il Duce. (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 1962, 2008) 66.
 Ibid., 76.
 Ibid., 74.
 Ibid., 74.
 Ibid., 68-71.
 Ibid., 71-77.
 Ibid., 77.
 Ibid., 79-80.
 Ibid., 84.
 Ibid., 84.
 Ibid., 85-89.
 Ibid., 89.
 Ibid., 91.