His wife made this comment upon learning of her husband's brutal death, brutal by any standards even for those condemned to hell. April 28th marks the anniversary of Benito Mussolini's execution in 1945. I had a particular rationale at the time several years ago when I decided to publish My Father Il Duce: A Memoir by Mussolini's Son Romano Mussolini with an introductory essay by Alexander Stille. My rationale turned out to be flawed as I later discovered. However, new, accurate insights have since evolved.
My thinking previously was that we could learn a lot about the murderous dictator by peering behind the public veil and seeing instead his unguarded family life. My thinking was that by humanizing this despot, we would better be able to know how to defend ourselves against other inhumanities.
The dictator's last surviving child was widely regarded as a nice man who never strayed into politics. Romano had up to that point remained silent as he focused on building a solid reputation as an acclaimed jazz musician. His memoir broke the silence with personal revelations that his father was flawed in character, deeply insecure, filled with self-doubt, and depressed. He further revealed that his father's reckless womanizing deeply hurt his wife and family. Notably, Romano put forth that his father wanted to free himself from his alliance with Hitler but did not know how to.
Aside from this relatively modest criticism of his father considering the extent of the dictator's unspeakable inhumanities, Romano was not strong enough to weigh the scales of justice. He went on to tell of his love for his father and generally to defend him. You may be asking yourself, "Well, what did I think he would write about?"
Actually, based on what I knew of Romano's good nature and the best-selling status this memoir had achieved in Italy under the title "Il Duce Mio Padre" (Rizzoli) before the English translation was even completed, I thought Romano would have some deep wisdom about growing up under the black cloud of the Mussolini name.
But, as admitted to, I was largely wrong in my thinking. What I learned instead from this complex memoir is that one person's reality can be another person's delusion. To this very day, many Italian Americans and Italians themselves adore Mussolini. "He made the trains run on time" is often a phrase heard to summarize his tenure in power. On several occasions I have had Italian Americans whisper to me that their mother, father, or other elderly relative who lived during the Mussolini reign, loved Il Duce. In fact, this sentiment is frighteningly widespread as a part of a continuing resurgence in Mussolini's popularity.
Each year, celebrations are held in Benito Mussolini's hometown of Predappio to praise their fallen leader. There is even a Mussolini memorabilia cottage industry which caters to the thousands of supporters who descend upon the small town for his birthday or his infamous March on Rome. This April 28th, the anniversary of Mussolini's macabre execution, is no exception as thousands will go to Predappio to pay their respects at his enshrined gravesite.
During the Kales Press publication process of "My Father Il Duce: A Memoir by Mussolini's Son by Romano Mussolini", I spoke with Romano on the telephone a few times through a translator. He seemed nice. He was certainly gentlemanly toward me and grateful that I would publish what I considered to be an alarming, important book.
What later became most frightening to me was that I could possibly be used as a tool in propagandizing the re-emergence of his father's shadow. After I better understood this possibility, I fully intended on Romano explaining himself to hard-hitting journalists. One of the major television networks had already shown interest in booking him as a guest.
Then, after prolonged illness, that February 3rd in 2006, he passed away only two months before the scheduled publication date of his memoir. I called his residence to express my condolences. But I also knew he had reached a goal he had told me and others about. That goal was to tell his story "before it was too late."
Scrambling to address the vacuum left by Romano's passing and what would have been his own accounting of his expressed views, I was fortunate in collaborating with Alexander Stille, a scholar on Italian culture at Columbia University. Alexander wrote a brilliant contextualizing introductory essay to the memoir. Appropriately, it was a blistering attack against Mussolini as well as a compassionate understanding of Romano's feelings.
Romano had avoided politics his whole life and never spoke publicly about his father. Perhaps he saved up this complex memoir until he could wait no longer in putting off what he knew would be, and in fact did come to be, the public consequences and controversies for eternally standing by his father's side. Ultimately, he was personally unable to face the overriding truth about his father. I am reminded that almost all of us struggle with finding our way free from our own father's expectations and their larger-than-life positions inbred in our psyches.
So in part I try to make sense of Romano's complex memoir by asking myself, "How would I have turned out if Benito Mussolini had been my father?" Or, how would you have turned out?