A Head Turn that Ruined the Twentieth Century July 14, 2010Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
If you want to rewrite the history of Western Europe in the 1920s then you could do a lot worse than get rid of ‘the Roman Lawmaker’, Benito Mussolini.
Just imagine – as Beachcombing has often done – the overweight dictator dropping dead in 1926, ‘Year One’, as it was portentously called, of the Fascist Era. Fascism might have abandoned its authoritarian pretensions and returned to being a parliamentary force. Benito’s ghastly right-wing socialism would never have been exported into Weimar Germany: Hitler might not have come to power there. And, even if Germany had gone to war in 1939, a mildly nationalist Italy would never have joined ‘Attila’ in his projects for world domination, particularly as one of the regions to be dominated was Italy itself.
Indeed, a lot of twentieth-century history and many twentieth-century deaths depended on il Duce walking around on his own two legs until 1940.
Yet Mussolini, as it happens, only just made it. In 1926 three assassination attempts were made on the Italian prime minister. Two of these were, viewed retrospectively, failures waiting to happen: 11 September of that year Gino Lucetti hurled a bomb at Mussolini’s armoured car, while on October 31 Anteo Zamboni, a brave fifteen year old, shot at the Duce as Mussolini marched in a parade in Bologna.
These two attacks give some idea of the capriciousness of early Fascist Italy. Lucetti was sent to prison for 30 years: in almost any western democracy in that period he would have been sentenced to death. Zamboni, on the other hand, was ‘lynched’ on the spot. Follow this link (if you have the stomach) for a very unpleasant photograph of the adolescent’s corpse after the crowd – general public or drafted black shirts? – had finished with him. Today Bologna has a street named for the teenage anarchist.
April 7 1926, Violet Gibson, a fifty year old maiden aunt and the daughter of an Irish Lord, Edward Gibson (obit 1913), went for a walk in central Rome. God had recently been speaking to Violet and she had a pistol in her pocket. In Piazza del Campidoglio she came upon Mussolini, who was saluting the crowd. She slipped past his security guards, as only maiden aunts can, and got within a foot of the Italian dictator, shooting at his head. A slight movement on Mussolini’s part – he was turning to greet another part of the crowd – saved the Italian: the bullet grazed his nose – see the bandage on the photo above – sending out a fountain of blood. Then Violet’s second bullet stuck in the chamber…
Mussolini’s guardian angel was on steroids in 1926 and the dictator’s life was saved.
It would be pleasant to write that Italy was as lucky. But Addis Adaba in ruins, Kesselring in Rome, murdered Italian servicemen in Cephalonia and bombed out Milan all now awaited the unhappy country.
Violet was lucky and yet unluckier. The crowd beat her before she was arrested – her fate was almost that of the young Zamboni. The Italian authorities, however, with a judicial respect for mental illness that has characterised the peninsula since the Renaissance, quickly surrendered her to the British who had Violet placed in an asylum. She had already walked down the long white corridors of mental institutions earlier in her life and she would now spend the rest of her days (obit 1956) in an asylum in Northamptonshire (UK). Beachcombing suspects or rather he hopes that she had no regrets.
Beachcombing knows of no other failed (but convincing) assassination attempts that came as close to changing history – at least not in the modern world. Any suggestions would be gratefully received. drbeachcombingATyahooDOTcom
And just a final flight of fancy. Beachcombing would not particularly have enjoyed seeing the assasination attempt – needles make him queazy, never mind loaded firearms. But he would have paid a discreet amount to be passing afterwards as Mussolini fell into a tempestous rage. Il duce, it seems, was furious not that someone had tried to kill him, not even that his would-be assassin was a woman – this appealed to his indescent romanticism, but that it was an ‘ugly’ foreign woman, the kind that treated his beloved Italy as a cheap Baedeker, who had lifted the gun!
The vanity of dictators…