What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
By Patrick F. Cannon
Really, things were a mess. At first, there were the heady days, then the days when heads rolled – literally. Out with the old! In with the new! But who’s new? Robspierre’s? Marat’s? Madame LaFarge’s? After the guillotine broke down and the assassinations subsided, the exhausted French turned to their savior, a young Corsican general named Napoleon Bonaparte. At last, here was someone who could bring order out of the chaos!
And, you know, he did.
He built roads and canals; and an ingenious system of semaphore communications. He established a code of laws and an administrative system that still organizes and governs France. He also crowned himself Emperor of France, and placed lesser crowns on the heads of his brothers and other relatives. Oh, and in some 20 years of more or less continuous warfare, he caused the death of approximately three million French soldiers and a like number of civilians. For these accomplishments, he is still revered in France; a visit to his tomb is a must for every citizen. The famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris lists his many victories (Waterloo is naturally missing). As you can see, he was the greatest!
Another great man emerged from the chaos in Italy after World War I. Now, it’s true that the land of the Caesars ended up on the winning side, due mainly to the intervention of the British and Americans, but in many ways it was a Pyrrhic victory. The country, united for only 50 years, was broke and disorganized. Communists, anarchists, socialists and other dreamers roamed the streets demanding whatever it was they typically demanded.
When they tried to use the railway system to gather in the largest cities, however, they often arrived too late. Sensing their frustration, a minor journalist named Benito Mussolini entered the fray, promising to cause the trains to run on time, which also endeared him to Italy’s travelling salesmen. As all the usual party names were already taken, Mussolini came up with Fascist, named after some kind of Roman weapon gizmo. As a reward, he was given the title “Il Duce”, which may mean “the Dutchman”, but I’m not sure.
Alas for suffering Italy, Benito dreamed of reestablishing the Roman Empire. Early success with the spear-throwing Abyssinians emboldened him, but it was pretty much downhill after that. While 306,000 of his soldiers died during World War II, these numbers paled when compared with the millions of more prudent Italians who surrendered. For his trouble, Il Duce was killed in 1945 and hung like a side of beef in Milan. While Italy is still somewhat ungovernable, it’s a great place to visit, and I’ve heard the trains run on time to this day.
Difficult as it is to believe, to the North some Germans looked enviously at Il Duce’s iron grip on Italy, as compared with the non-Teutonic mess of the Democratic Weimar Republic. When a Mussolini copycat named Hitler emerged, German industrialists like the Krupp’s looked at him as someone who would put an end to this democratic nonsense, and send the Communists and Socialists packing. Once he got into power, they could be the puppet masters holding the strings! What, they theorized, could possibly go wrong?
Copyright 2018, Patrick F. Cannon