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Il Duce When He's Needed

The Banality of Evil? Don't Forget the Incompetence and Stupidity

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 13, 2005.

I’ve long been an advocate of retiring Hitler and his Nazis from public discourse, primarily because their utilization is, at best, hyperbole. More often, it reflects a history and factual ignorance that’s rather stuttering. Politicians in the US always make dramatic comparisons to the evil of their political foes, but it doesn’t wash. It’s like calling someone Satan. Doesn’t stand up.

I’m reading a novel by Umberto Eco, and in it he is discussing the comics of his Italian childhood during the Fascist period. Like everywhere else at the time, Mickey Mouse was a big star in Italy. Eco recalled a series of adventures involving the Mouse and his cow, dog, and duck friends and how it all changed in the weeks after Italy and Germany declared war on the United States. For University of Colorado history majors, that’s December, 1941.

A new story arc appeared when Mickey Mouse was killed in the strip. Not died, which would have been traumatic enough, but killed. Mickey was the enemy. This would compare today to Freddy Krueger making a guest appearance on Barney’s unannounced last show. But the comic strip itself continued under a slightly different name, and his goofy, innocent counterparts turned into humans, until the comic bore no resemblance to its original self. Sad, but also ridiculous in both intent and execution. Fully in keeping with a nation led by a strutting delusional Duce from one disaster to another. As with Freedom Fries, words fail.

Mussolini, Italy’s wannabe Caesar come again, is something of a mystifying figure, both frightening and ludicrous. He was a dictator, yes, he had personal enemies killed, yes, and he inflicted great horror on Ethiopia and the Balkans and Libya, but most often on his allies the Germans who had to routinely bail him out for his rather stuttering and utter military incompetence. Il Duce had a secret police, and strict laws, but during the entire time of his regime, which was over twenty years, Italy utilized the death penalty exactly ten times. I believe the Nazis and the Japanese, his alleged allies, executed one, maybe two more people through their systems. So did the United States.

Politicians in our nation have always and currently, with supposed reluctance, compared the actions of their opposition to Hitler and Stalin. I’m not sure that these types are the most applicable caricatures to politicians in the United States. They’re hugely evil, and they become unrecognizable characters in popular memory. Not human. Evil incarnate. As such, they fail for instruction, because we don’t want to claim them as human.

It’s the buffoonish Mussolini, and the lesser thugs like Peron and Franco, who ought to serve us more often. These second tier fiascos were far more human: their personal insecurities and massive incompetencies clearly visible, often to everyone but themselves. It was hard to hate Mussolini when your first reaction to him was to laugh aloud, watching him in feather duster hats that make Shriner headwear seem dignified and virile, surrounded by women taller than he, in boots with clear lifts, and with a military record so dismal his own soldiers laughed about it. And with that uplifted chin he thought looked defiant and Caesarish, with his hands on his hips, and cocked leg, Mussolini recalled nothing so much as an enraged dust bunny, or a high school band instructor so mad he could just spit.

Posture, pose, bombast, and failure to produce. Nobody can say Adolph and Joe didn’t carry through on their threats. But Benito always talked himself into ridiculous positions and then fell on his face.

As such, I find him a more applicable creature for current political needs.

President Bush is nothing if not a caricature of what he thinks a modern Teddy Roosevelt, himself a caricature, would act like. His world is full of manly declarations about loyalty and dedication, love of God and country, peace and good will, yet his actions often fail to convince, and his personal honor code is, let’s say, loosely enforced. He said he would fire anyone who leaked the name of a CIA agent to Robert Novak. But now it’s admitted to be key advisor Karl Rove, nicknamed by Bush “Turd Blossom” at one point. Bush told his press secretary to directly deny that Karl Rove was involved. Now, they cannot talk about "the ongoing investigation."

Bush claimed that setting a timeline for troop removal from Iraq was stupid and he hadn’t done it. The British said otherwise, and now the Pentagon admits it.

Bush announced Mission Accomplished more than two years ago. It wasn’t, isn’t, won’t be in even a middle distant future. We haven’t nailed al Quada, whose enthusiasts just blew up the London subway, because we’re destroying our military in Iraq in a replication of Vietnam. Invade, establish bases, defend forever. We have made fools of ourselves with idiot prison camps. But really, this isn’t Hitler.

It’s Il Duce that comes to mind. Incompetent, strutting, and clueless.