On July 22, 1943, with the country in shambles, struggling under the weight of war and horrific economic downfall, Mussolini received word from members of his Grand Council that he was to resign his position immediately and that the State would take over all governing affairs. Mussolini deferred response until the Grand Council meeting on July 24-25. He thought nothing of the request, nor did he pay attention to the rumblings of plots against him.
Mussolini entered the meeting with his usual self-confidence, ready to “dominate the situation in (his) usual way.”Many in the room still admired him, as Mussolini wasn’t just the face of Fascism, he was Fascism. His genius and god-like presence provided a formidable foundation for Italy for two decades. But like many leaders, his greatest strength, also turned out to be his weakness. His excessive confidence in his greatness prevented him from acknowledging or accepting help to address the challenging circumstances of the day. His speech to the Grand Council was filled with excuses and vast amounts of blame, but no solutions. Upon completion of his tirade, his Council members sat stunned and disillusioned. All hope was gone. There was only one course of action to be taken. Upon Council vote, and eventually the King’s agreement, Mussolini was voted out of office. With no options available, Mussolini resigned.
Continuing to ignore all warnings by those closest to him, Mussolini was arrested under the guise of protection from harm, for he was the most hated man in Italy. Following his arrest, he was taken to a number of remote locations for his imprisonment, from July 25, 1943, to September 12, 1943. Once Hitler received news of Mussolini’s arrest, he hatched a plan to free his friend. After months of investigation, a small team of German soldiers located Mussolini and rescued him from his exiled location.
Mussolini quickly discovered freedom from captivity led to captivity of another sort, as obligation to honor Hitler’s commands was non-negotiable. Mussolini initially desired to retire from public life, but Hitler knew he could trust no other person to lead Italy. Mussolini’s restoration to power required him to arrest, prosecute, and execute the July 25thtraitors that sought his removal. Being Italian to the core, it troubled Mussolini to wage vengeance upon his countrymen. But he knew failure to do so would lead to Italy’s destruction, so he obliged.
Under German occupation and Mussolini return, Italy was no longer a Fascist state, but a militarized one. Such oppressive measures could only be endured for so long, for under the surface resistance forces were plotting and positioning themselves for a takeover. Between 1943 and 1945, the complexities of leadership took a great toll on Mussolini’s ability to respond. He was noted as being out of touch with reality, a dreamer. Mussolini himself even claimed to be more “mad poet” than statesman. He reflected often on his successes and failures, the greatest of which was surrounding himself with idolaters who continually marveled at his genius.
In his last days, after numerous political and military challenges, Mussolini found himself not surrounded by idolaters, but by anti-fascist and communist sympathizers involved in two Italian anti-fascist resistance groups. On April 28, 1945, resistance leaders “rescued” Mussolini and Claretta, his mistress, from their rural hideaway. Their mission was to execute and bring Mussolini back to Milan. The abductors drove Mussolini through the local village and stopped at Villa Belmonte. The prisoners were then forced out of the car. Mussolini remained calm. When faced with a machine gun, he pulled back the lapels of his jacket and spoke his last words, “Shoot me in the chest.”
The first shot killed Claretta. It then took two shots to kill Mussolini. The executioners mocked the dead, smoked cigarettes, and left the bodies at the gates of the villa. A van soon arrived to transport the corpses to Milan’s Piazzale Loreto. Mussolini’s body was set aside, while Claretta’s body was thrown atop a pile of other corpses. Young men came and kicked Mussolini in the face; a mother of five shot him five times- one shot for each of her dead sons. As the crowd gathered, they chanted “String them up.” Mussolini was strung up first by his ankles. The crowd went wild. Claretta was strung up next. Silence fell over the crowd. This may have been caused by her peaceful, gentle facial expression, or the crowd’s realization that the man they once revered with cheers, is now the man they cheered with detest.
Before his murder, Mussolini mused, “Life is only a short span of eternity. After the struggle is over, they will spit on me, but later perhaps they will come to wipe me clean. And then I shall smile because I shall be at peace with my people.”He also remarked, “No one can defy fate twice and everyone dies the death which befits his character.”
Mussolini was a hard man who lived a hard life. His people did spit upon him, but more, they defaced and humiliated him. His death was grotesque. Can peace ever come from such horrors? I do not agree with his sentiment that everyone dies a death which befits their character, for countless godly men and women have died deaths more horrific than that of Mussolini.
Death will take us all. So how do we die a good death regardless of the circumstances?
Furthermore, I continue to wonder at the fickleness of the human heart, and how in an instant, throughout the generations, for the righteous and unrighteous, we shout, “Hosanna in the highest,” one day, and “Crucify him,” the next.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners.
 Christopher Hibbett. Mussolini: The Rise and Fall of Il Duce. (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 1962, 2008) 178.
 Ibid., 173-194.
 Ibid., 192-235.
 Ibid., 236-240, 251.
 Ibid., 277, 256.
 Ibid., 278.
 Ibid., 333-334.
 Ibid., 334.
 Ibid., 279.
 Ibid., 328.