Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Fall

Written by: on February 23, 2021

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.”[1]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.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5] He reflected often on his successes and failures, the greatest of which was surrounding himself with idolaters who continually marveled at his genius.[6]

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.”[7] 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.[8]

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.”[9]He also remarked, “No one can defy fate twice and everyone dies the death which befits his character.”[10]

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.



[1] Christopher Hibbett. Mussolini: The Rise and Fall of Il Duce. (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 1962, 2008) 178.

[2] Ibid., 173-194.

[3] Ibid., 192-235.

[4] Ibid., 236-240, 251.

[5] Ibid., 277, 256.

[6] Ibid., 278.

[7] Ibid., 333-334.

[8] Ibid., 334.

[9] Ibid., 279.

[10] Ibid., 328.

About the Author

Darcy Hansen

12 responses to “The Fall”

  1. Greg Reich says:

    I truly appreciate the insights you have provided in your blogs. If you were to pick one big insight that you gained as you read about Mussolini what would you say it was? If you could give a word of warning to our own government what would it be?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Great questions- I think one big take away was the importance of surrounding myself with people who will not only support and encourage me, but also call me out on my crap. I think that was one of his biggest regrets. But fear does funny things to people, and when you lead via fear, then people will only tell you what you want to hear out of fear of punishment.

      For our government- my warning would be, at all cost, maintain the systems of checks and balances. When Mussolini took over, he obliterated those systems and took control of all things. No one stopped him. Or really even tried. Caving in to a bully rarely ends well.

  2. Dylan Branson says:

    “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.”

    Powerful. If Mussolini could look back on his life after his death, what do you think he would think? Do you think he would have changed any of his actions?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I think he would be disappointed how his countrymen turned on him. He honestly believed he tried to set up systems that supported the common man. There’s an interaction he has with a shepherd while imprisoned. He asks the shepherd if fascism had brought about any improvements to the sheep-farming industry. The shepherd was point blank and said No. They were taxed too high and the State stole too much wool and cheese for their own use. Mussolini seemed unperturbed with the honesty of the shepherd. It was like he didn’t even hear what the man said, because all the way until the end, he thought he was the people’s champion. I think he didn’t have any skin in the game. He sat in his bureaucratic seat and implemented his philosophical ideas and demanded respect.

      If I had to guess, I think he would choose to not enter public life, and instead just sit with his philosophy books and play his violin. Or if he did enter public life, he would surround himself with more balanced perspectives and actually listen to council along the way.

  3. Jer Swigart says:

    You chose the word “murder” to describe Mussolini’s execution. There’s much for me to read into your choice of that term. I wonder how intentional you were in choosing it and what it is that you’re expressing.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I’m not sure how cognizant I was of selecting that word over execution, except when I moved from one paragraph to the next, it felt like Mussolini didn’t receive his day in court for a proper execution to occur. When he enacted vengeance on those who voted him out of office and imprisoned him, they at least had their day in court before their execution. Was it a formality? Maybe? I can’t say. But his “execution” was conducted not under the umbrella of the established government, but rather on the side of the road with no oversight. I suppose for me, that falls more in the line with murder than execution.

  4. Shawn Cramer says:

    Here’s the intersection with death. Nicely done. I’m curious if cultures that operate more with honor/shame are more concerned with the type of death when compared to cultures that operate under innocence/guilt.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Such a good question. I actually don’t know and would have to research the issue to give you an answer. I don’t know to what degree Mussolini’s death/murder/execution was related to shame/honor. It seems during those tumultuous world war years that vengeance/justice? revolved more around ideology than shame and honor, i.e. communism, socialism, fascism, democracy and which is the best. Power and greed dominated those years- though I’m sure there could be a way to weave shame/honor vs. guilt/innocence into the mix to justify actions. Thoughts?

  5. John McLarty says:

    Ok, so what was redemptive about Mussolini? Were there any parts of him you found relatable and/or sympathetic?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      One of the things I tried to do along the way was to see the Imago Dei in him. It was challenging, but there are instances when he played his violin, or spent time with his children, or seemed to actually love one of his many mistresses (rather than just use and abuse them) where he seemed reasonable, even kind. He was deeply insecure, thus the facade of strength at all times, which I can totally relate to. His swooning over Hitler was super fascinating to me, in that Hitler was able to captivate/enchant even the hardest hearted of people like Mussolini. Mussolini knew he was being played by Hitler, yet he still was smitten with him in a super weird way. It’s easy to be captivated by a charismatic leader. All those little things helped me see that despite his arrogance, rigidity, and ruthlessness, he was still human, and thus capable of redemption by the love of Jesus. Sadly, as far as I can tell, redemption didn’t happen. But still, until his last breath, the possibility existed.

      • John McLarty says:

        That’s a great answer. Whatever led you to explore this guy at this time- must have been a Spirit-thing- certainly helped me gain some insight as to the hows and whys someone like that- who is so easy to judge through the rear-view mirror- might have the success he did.

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    The game is up. The supply is tapped out. When the people wake up and realise the cause for their depletion.

    I don’t know if it is a change of heart (i.e. fickleness) or an enlightenment for being used or for being duped.

    Trust is big. When trust is broken, something always happens. How can a broken relationship lead to a fickle heart? When there is no ‘try’ left.

    I wonder, too, how to apply this to relationship lost with God? There is a death when such a ‘change of heart’ occurs.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Mussolini over these weeks gone by, Darcy.

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