- My Father, Il Duce: A Memoir by Mussolini's Son
Part of responsible participation in a civilized, democratic society entails the duty to learn objectively—even dispassionately—from a wide array of sources. This means that we are often open-minded to what would appear, at first glance, the antithesis to the human values that we prize in ourselves, and for which we look as we sift through history. Unfortunately, this reasoned look at even the darker side of human events in history involves often [End Page 154] entertaining the ideas and perspectives of those whom we would normally find abhorrent, thereby seeming to offer legitimacy to their views. However, our intellectual curiosity should never be mistaken for our endorsement of them; rather, it is precisely what allows us, for good or for naught, to see the value in every document from a period as providing us with greater understanding, of being somehow representative of an era. Somehow, but in what way? And what can we glean from a slanted memoir on Mussolini's life written by his son Romano?
This book begins with an introductory essay by Alexander Stille, a bold move on the part of Kales Press. On the one hand, few have been as critical and intolerant of corrupt politicians and extreme forms of government (cfr. Stille's Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism  and his recently published The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful Country with a Fabled History Was Taken Over by a Man Named Silvio Berlusconi ), so an introduction by Stille would seem counterproductive to encouraging readership. On the other hand, without this essay few historians would find that the memoir stands up as anything other than unbridled revisionism. Stille's essay will encourage seasoned and novice historians alike to research beyond the scope of the memoirs in order to reconfirm for themselves that which deviates from corroborated facts. In that sense, readers may become more diligent in attempting to separate the wheat of fact from the chaff of familial propaganda and legend, and therefore revisit all of the surrounding history to better understand the context. Indirectly, Romano Mussolini (together with Stille's essay) may spur more, not less, examination of the period.
Having read My Father, Il Duce, I would tend to agree with what Stille writes in his introduction: "While Romano's narration of historical facts, including those of which he was a first- or a second-hand witness, is highly suspect and often flat-out wrong, the feelings of filial affection and love are real and entirely comprehensible" (xi). This is a fair enough statement, though I would even add that instead of Romano's facts being "highly suspect and often flat-out wrong," and instead of being an apologist for fascism and for his father, he simply chooses to avoid altogether most of his father's crimes against Italians, Ethiopians, Albanians and others. An example of the son's selective compassion is when, after ignoring, or glossing over, events—most of which were designed by his father—that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands, only when such destruction is directed at his own people—when all around him the Allies were bombing the cities—does he suddenly care about the dead who "numbered in the thousands" (55). [End Page 155]
Perhaps Romano is more interested in documenting—as the title would suggest—his relationship with his father, and, therefore, only that which occurred in his immediate purview. But even if that were the case, his memories appear at best as self-deception, and at worst dangerously disingenuous. Even at a distance of roughly 60 years from his father's death, Romano holds fast to his father's ideals and dreams, as if he were a living document attesting to the power of Mussolini's cult of personality over the Italians of his day. In that regard, this could be a case study, after the fact, of that very cult. We should not forget that even as...