Rezension: Luigi Petrella, Staging the Fascist War

Luigi Petrella, Staging the Fascist War. The Ministry of Popular Culture and Italian Propaganda on the Home Front, 1938–1943, Oxford: Peter Lang Ltd 2016.

Rezensiert für den Arbeitskreis Historische Friedensforschung bei H-Soz-u-Kult von: Luca Fenoglio, Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Leicester.

Luigi Petrella’s book analyses the Fascist Ministry of Popular Culture’s (MPC) “representation of the home front” during the Allies’ air war against Italy in 1940–43. It exposes the gap between the realities of Italians’ experiences “under enemy bombing” and Mussolini’s and Fascism’s claims to having forged a Fascist “new man” and having imposed “Italy’s primacy in the ‘domain of the air’” (pp. 3–4). By focusing on Fascist propaganda’s failures “during the years in which the regime was most significantly tested” (p. 3), the book aims therefore to bring a corrective to what Petrella considers the prevailing “un-nuanced representation of the determining contribution that propaganda made to [Fascism’s] fortunes” (p. 213).

Petrella revises the arguments that place the beginning of Italians‘ loss of faith in a victorious outcome of the Axis war in 1942, when Allied bombings across the Italian peninsula grew more intensive [1], and argues instead “that fear and insecurity spread among civilians from the first air raids on the Italian cities” in the summer of 1940 (p. 77). Thus, by the time of “Italy’s first military defeats” in the winter of 1940–41, “discontent was widespread” (p. 107) among Italian public opinion, only to progressively and inexorably expand until Mussolini’s arrest and the ensuing collapse of the Fascist regime in July 1943.

How could this happen? Drawing on newspaper articles, newsreels, radio broadcasts, movies and theatrical plays as well as instructions from party officials and confidential reports from police informants, the seven chapters of the book retrace the gradually expanding gulf between the “appearances” (p. 23) of a feared and technologically advanced Fascist aviation (Ala Fascista) and of invincible anti-aircraft defences propagated by a submissive information system during the 1930s, and the increasingly grim reality of Italians’ everyday life under British and later American bombings from 1940 onwards. The book describes the ever-increasing difficulties that the Fascist propaganda machine spearheaded by the MPC under Alessandro Pavolini (October 1939 – February 1943) [2] and briefly under Gaetano Polverelli (February – July 1943) faced in reconciling the need of minimizing the effects of bombings on civilians’ everyday life, for example by sweetening Italians’ experiences during blackouts or in overcrowded and often unsafe shelters, while simultaneously preparing Italians to adjust to the demands of total war on the home front. These inherent and never resolved tensions within the MPC’s message lead Petrella to conclude that the “uneven and often inconsistent directives from propaganda controllers reflected similar attitudes within the regime as a whole” (p. 215; cf. also pp. 77, 193). weiterlesen

[1] Gloria Chianese, Art. “Bombardamenti”, in: Victoria de Grazia / Sergio Luzzatto (eds.), Dizionario del Fascismo vol. 1, Turin 2002, pp. 176–179.
[2] Philip V. Cannistraro (ed.), Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy, Westport and London 1982, p. 593.

Empfohlene Zitierweise
Luca Fenoglio: Rezension zu: Petrella, Luigi: Staging the Fascist War. The Ministry of Popular Culture and Italian Propaganda on the Home Front, 1938–1943. Oxford 2016 , in: H-Soz-Kult, 14.07.2017, <>.