Mussolini’s Secret Weapon: Castor Oil November 3, 2014Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
Castor oil is a vegetable oil that in Beach’s parent’s generation was used as a panacea for problems of the digestive tract. Unlucky children who had complained of a poorly stomach, perhaps with the foolish idea of missing school, were given a table spoon. Castor oil has no miraculous effect on the body but it does work as a mild laxative. So how could castor oil (olio di ricino in Italian) become the most valuable weapon of a dictator with the renown of Mussolini? There are many rumours – none of which can be substantiated – that castor oil was used by Gabrielle D’Annunzio’s dreadful regime at Fiume in 1919: this rumour is repeated again and again and seems in D’Annunzio’s style, but there is no early source. There are stories, too, that castor oil was used by the blackshirts in Italy’s low grade civil war in 1919-1921, where it came to be known as ‘the golden nectar of nausea’: and here there is some solid documentary evidence. Roberto Farinacci, for example, the worst of the fascist leaders, and later Ras of Cremona, allegedly tried to write, in 1919, his final thesis in a law degree on the use of castor oil against subversives! The illustration above shows how castor oil was believed to be capable of converting even communists.
What is clear is the method. An enemy of Fascism would be bound to a chair. His mouth would be forced open and an entire bottle of castor oil would be forced down his throat. The result, of course, was chronic diarrohea. There are, in Italian, some websites claiming that death sometimes resulted from severe dehydration. This, frankly, sounds like exaggeration, though some bonus kicks or beatings might easily have taken a disoriented socialist, say, to his tomb. The point of the punishment was three-fold: low grade violence (we ultimately control your body); humiliation (you need a nappy); and a short spell of imprisonment (you are effectively immobilised for a week).
Now any regime that bullies its population with the threat of forced laxatives is necessarily unpleasant: and fascist Italy proved mean spirited, often provincial and intolerant of difference and eccentricity. However, compared with Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union castor oil was totalitarian pampering. In the years from the March of Rome, 1922 to Italy’s foolish entry into WW2 10 June 1940 sixty five men were executed in Fascist Italy (there were also a dozen or so extra legal killings). In modern Texas (with a population over half the size of 1930s Italy) twenty to thirty individuals are executed a year. Fascist Italy was not a place to bring up kids, or to experiment with free love or for men to dress up as women or for drunken attacks on the government. But it was not a genocidal society. In fact, the disappearance of castor oil proved an ominous sign in 1940. It was taken off the shelves as Italian planes needed the oil for war service and from then on the treatment of subversives was less imaginative and more unpleasant.
There are two memorable cinematic versions of castor oil treatment. One appears in Fellini’s Amarcord, where the hero’s father is given the castor oil treatment by local Fascists – Amarcord is perhaps Fellini’s worst film, but gives some glancing expression to the sterility of Fascist life; another comes from Il ritorno di Don Camillo, where the priest, a fascist and the communist mayor all unwillingly drink castor oil: Don Camillo drinks on the instructions of Christ in one of the best DC scenes.
Other unusual punishments: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
29 Nov 2014: KMH writes ‘In defense of castor oil I bring to mind its recommendation by the well-known mystic Edgar Cayce: (from the ARE web site) “Castor Oil was recommended by Edgar Cayce for treating many ailments that resist traditional therapies. It can be applied as a balm for skin problems, a soothing tonic for alleviating allergies, and as a “castor oil pack.” Known to conventional medicine only as a strong laxative, this extract of the castor bean is a safe, gentle, easy-to-use remedy for virtually any illness-when it is used externally What Is a Castor Oil Pack? A castor oil pack is an external application of castor oil to the body. A piece of wool (or cotton) flannel is saturated with castor oil and applied to a specified area with, or without, heat.The Cayce readings recommend castor oil packs in general to improve assimilations, eliminations, and circulation (especially of the lymphatic system) and in particular to breakup adhesions of the lacteal glands. Although this therapy may seem unusual, it is one of the best documented. It was recommended, as part of a holistic approach, for epilepsy, gallstones, scleroderma, constipation (and other intestinal conditions)—just to name a few.” Although Cayce was quite controversial with his reincarnational accounts, his medical advice seemed to actually help his clients, although I doubt it was the panacea its proponents claimed for it.’ Thanks KMH!