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Excerpt from The Culture of Make Believe

Lamont and Mussolini (p. 544)

From chapter "The Closing of the Iron Cage"

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the United States governments (both nominal and de facto, political and corporate) strongly supported Mussolini’s Fascist regime in Italy. On the day of Mussolini’s coup, which ended Italian democracy, the American ambassador wrote his father, “We are having a fine young revolution here. No danger. Plenty of enthusiasm. We all enjoy it.” Fascism was praised by the ambassador as a growing, vibrant party willing to take action against the country’s enemies, which included not only socialists, communists, and anarchists (that these would be considered enemies of the people we can take as a given) but also republicans. The ambassador recognized that government by the Fascists meant a dictatorship, but justified the end of democracy by saying that “People like the Italians . . . hunger for strong leadership and enjoy . . . being dramatically governed.” As fascist repression became more obvious, the embassy noted with approval that “there has not been a single strike in the whole of Italy” since the end of democracy. President Hoover’s secretary of state Henry Stimson later recalled Mussolini as “a sound and useful leader,” and Franklin Roosevelt called him “that admirable Italian gentleman.”

J. P. Morgan and Company, controllers of a good portion of the de facto government, were even more enthusiastic about Mussolini. Having been in Italy during the coup, Jack Morgan commented, “We had the great satisfaction of seeing Mr. Mussolini’s Revolution.” Judge Elbert Gary of Morgan-controlled United States Steel thought that perhaps “we, too, need a man like Mussolini.” Long after Mussolini’s terrorism—including the murder of children—became undeniable, Morgan and Company continued to loan the Fascists hundreds of millions of dollars and to otherwise support the regime. Parmer Thomas Lamont became, to use his word, a “missionary” for fascism. Lamont sent a letter through a mutual friend, giving the dictator lessons in public relations: “If Mr. Mussolini declares that parliamentary government is at an end in Italy such a declaration comes as a shock to Anglo-Saxons. If, on the contrary, Mr. Mussolini had explained that the old forms of parliamentary government in Italy had proved futile and had led to inefficient government and chaos; therefore they had to be temporarily suspended and generally reformed, then Anglo-Saxons would understand. Again, when Mr. Mussolini announces that the mayors of interior cities will be appointed by the Fascista government, Anglo-Saxons jump to the natural conclusion that such a step means that the interior cities are to be deprived of all local self-government. If, at the time of such announcement, Mr. Mussolini had explained that in most cases the mayors of the interior cities were simply the appointees and tools of local deputies, and were conducting the affairs of the municipalities so badly, that, for the time being, the central government had to intervene, then again such an explanation would have seemed reasonable.” Lamont arranged favorable editorials in newspapers, and protested against reporters who were, in his words, “antifascist.” He established an American press service for Italy. As Mussolini was in the process of invading Ethiopia, where Fascist troops killed a half million people, Lamont stated that the dictator “should be presented to the public not as a warrior or in warlike attitudes, but in pastoral, agricultural, friendly, domestic and peaceful attitudes.” He then drafted Mussolini’s press release, in which with unintended accuracy he compared the Fascist use of mustard gas against unarmed Africans to prior events in the United States, “where just a half century or more ago the vast resources of Western America were developed by American emigrants.”

Comforting though it may be, it would be entirely inappropriate to cling to the false hope that Lamont and the corporations he worked for were aberrations, in part because, as shown above, Lamont’s views mirror those held by much of the ruling class (and the metabolized working class). Further, his views were directly in line with the fundamental movement of civilization: that of centralization of power. Lamont was perceptive enough to comprehend, though certainly not aware enough to articulate, that fascism is the alpha as well as the omega of civilization, that civilization begins with the totalitarian impulse and accelerates toward that ultimate goal. Finally, the monumental power Lamont wielded guaranteed him a position in the center of the stream of history: In 1937, Ferdinand Lundberg wrote that Lamont “has exercised more power for twenty years in the western hemisphere, has put into effect more final decisions from which there has been no appeal, than any other person. Lamont, in short, has been the First Consul de facto in the invisible Directory of postwar high finance and politics, a man consulted by presidents, prime ministers, governors of central banks.”