Who Controls Those who Control Us? Why a Lone man at the top is the Most Dangerous Thing in the World




In the game of chess, you win when you eliminate your opponent’s king. In the real world, instead, killing a powerful leader is rarely effective since he can be rapidly replaced by another. A more effective strategy is to influence the leader’s choices. Here, I am examining as an example the case of Benito Mussolini in Italy. Could it be that Mussolini was influenced by the British secret services in order to take decisions that damaged the country he was leading? It may have been one of the first cases of “one-man psyops” designed with the purpose of taking control of the mind of an enemy leader. Maybe something similar can explain some of the horribly bad decisions that our leaders are taking nowadays.

It never was a secret that Benito Mussolini started his political career as a shill for the British secret services with the task of pushing Italy to join the allies in World War One. Recent data show that, in 1917, he was still being paid by the British M15 to the tune of 100 pounds per week. A respectable sum at that time. 

We don’t know what role the British Services had in Italy in the events after the end of WW1, but it is likely that they continued to support Mussolini, directly or indirectly. The British wanted a stable Italy that they saw as a staunch ally and a barrier against the ambitions of rival powers in the Mediterranean sea. Italy had played that role from when it had been created as a unified state, in 1861, with the help and financing of the British.

Italy was friendly to Britain, yes, but not a disinterested friend. Italians wanted something in exchangevfor their friendship. And they had it in the form of coal. Italy had no significant coal reserves, it was fully dependent on imports. It was British coal that had created the Italian industrial economy, from the early 1800s onward. That had created a relationship between the two countries that many defined as a true brotherhood (fratellanza). But things changed in 1913, when Britain went through its “peak coal.” Production stopped increasing and was negatively affected by strikes and social unrest. 

Britain still had enough coal for its internal needs, but exports were affected. This was especially bad for Italy. The high cost of coal caused a precipitous drop in coal imports after the end of WWI. At that time, the change of mood toward the British in Italy was palpable. D. H. Lawrence reports in his “Sea and Sardinia,” published in 1921, how insulting the “English” was a common subject of conversation among Italians. 

Now, put yourself in the shoes of someone who managed the British secret services in the early 1930s. It must have been clear to them that there was a problem with Italy. An enormous problem. Germany’s coal production was still increasing and Germany could easily supply 100% of Italy’s needs. Then, Italy and Germany were natural allies. Germany had no strategic interests in the Mediterranean sea, while Italy could use Germany’s support to become the leading Mediterranean power. By taking control of the Suez Canal, Italy could effectively kick Britain out of the Eastern Mediterranean: truly a disaster for the British Empire. (Italy actually tried to do exactly that in 1940).
And then, Mussolini himself: another headache for the British who were discovering that they had created a golem they couldn’t control. In 1933-34 two more things happened that made the situation critical. First, in 1933 Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. Then, in 1934, Mussolini held a referendum that gave him a majority of 99.84% percent of the votes. The two dictators shared views and methods, and the road was now open to the Rome-Berlin “Axis.” It would be formalized in 1936.
Again, let’s see the situation from the viewpoint of the British. Facing a confrontation with Germany, it was vital for them to do something to remove Italy from the game or, at least, to weaken it considerably. But how? Directly toppling Mussolini was unthinkable. But it may well be that the British still had some direct communication channels with him (and, by the way, Mussolini could speak English). So, when you have to deal with someone who is too powerful to attack directly, you use indirect means. Find his weak spot, and set up a trap. And Mussolini did have a weak spot: his dream of rebuilding the Roman Empire. 
Up to 1934, the Imperial dreams of Mussolini had been mostly for show: people dressed like ancient Romans parading in the streets, the ubiquitous “fascio” symbol, and the outstretched arm in the “Roman Salute,” even though the Romans had never saluted each other in that way. And then, out of the blue, there came the idea of attacking Ethiopia and that, by doing so, Italy would become an Empire. It had a certain perverse logic: since the King of Ethiopia had the title of Negusa Nagast (king of kings) he could be defined as an “emperor,” Then, by defeating him, the King of Italy could take his title and become emperor. Never mind that the ancient Romans never had Ethiopia as a colony, they barely knew it existed. It was a recipe for an “instant empire.”  
The idea of attacking Ethiopia truly appeared out of the blue. I went to examine the archives of one of the national newspapers, “La Stampa.” I found that, before 1934, while Mussolini was in power, there is basically nothing about Ethiopia, except a few articles about local folklore. I also re-read D.H. Lawrence’s “Etruscan Places” (written in the late 20s). It is in many ways a strong accusation against the Fascist regime, but Lawrence never mentions Ethiopia nor the idea of creating a new Roman Empire by conquering it. 
Then, on 5 December 1934, there happened the “Walwal incident.” Italian and Ethiopian troops clashed at the border of Ethiopia and Somaliland, with losses on both sides. From that moment, the Italian press started a campaign of accusations against the Ethiopians said to be engaged in attacking the Italian possessions in Eritrea. There started to appear the idea of the “civilizing” mission of Italy in that barbarous country and, finally, the whole soup was sparkled with references to the glory of the Roman Empire that Fascist Italy was going to recreate. And, yes, also young Ethiopian women were part of the deal for the conquerors. 

Less than one year after the Walwal incident, Italy invaded Ethiopia with a force of nearly 700,000 men an enormous effort for a relatively poor country like Italy. After about 8 months of fighting, Ethiopia surrendered and the King of Italy happily (presumably) took upon himself the title of “Emperor of Ethiopia.” The enthusiasm in Italy was beyond what anyone could have imagined: true enthusiasm, not just propaganda. How this mad idea could be swallowed so enthusiastically by most Italians is one of the greatest mysteries I encountered in my life. Apart from raping Ethiopian women (which was surely done on a large scale) what did they think exactly to accomplish? But let me not harp on that. 
Just consider the story from the viewpoint of the British. For them, it was an incredible success. First of all, they had been able to deflect the Italian strategic effort toward an objective that, for the British, had no importance. Second, they were forcing Italy to keep a large military force in a region where they had no direct connection with the mainland: it could be resupplied by sea, and only as long as the British allowed it. More than that, the costs of the military campaign and of maintaining the occupation of a land that remained hostile were a tremendous burden. The British then proceeded to further cripple the Italian economy by imposing economic sanctions and zeroing coal exports to Italy. The reaction in Italy was expressed with the slogan “noi tireremo diritto” (“we’ll keep going onward”). But it was a devastating blow. Remarkably, the Italians had inflicted all the damage on themselves by themselves. 
A few years later, when World War Two started, the Italians were woefully unprepared. Their military equipment was obsolete, their economy weak, their troops insufficient. At the start of the war, the British proceeded to mop up the Italian forces in Ethiopia: an easy task since the Italians rapidly ran out of supplies. In the meantime, the Italian attempt to march on Suez in 1940 was a major catastrophe. But imagine that they had been able to deploy in Egypt the 120,000 fully equipped troops stranded in Ethiopia. Then, maybe history would have been different. But so it goes. 
Now, the big question: how did the British accomplish all this? It may not have been so difficult. The secret of propaganda is no secret at all: just repeat the same thing over and over, letting no contrasting voice appear. Then, you can dominate minds. You saw how well it worked during the past two years with so many good people just because they were repeated the same things over and over on TV, and they had no contrasting sources of information.
Dictators are not necessarily better than ordinary people at eschewing the destructive action of propaganda. They may, actually, be an even easier target, being often isolated in a knowledge bubble that admits no contrasting voice. We know that, by the 1930s, Mussolini was a lone man at the top, surrounded by yes-men, sycophants, and profiteers. He had no real friends who could tell him things that he was not happy to hear, so he was the perfect target for a one-man psyop (using a modern term). Already in 1925, Britain had agreed to sign a treaty known as the “Anglo-Italian Agreement” that said, essentially, “if you want to invade Ethiopia, go ahead, we won’t move a finger to stop you.” Mussolini may have thought that the British were afraid of him and that they were trying to appease him with concessions. In any case, waited to be strong enough before acting on this treaty but he did as the British probably were expecting he would. Perhaps, there were other factors (*) but we’ll never know for sure.. 
The story of Mussolini’s attack on Ethiopia is an example of a deception technology that consists in convincing an enemy leader to engage in an attack that he believes will be a cakewalk. Then, sitting back and enjoying the fireworks before intervening for the killing blow. It may have been used against Iraq at the time of Saddam Hussein. And it may have been used in recent times. Note that I don’t mean that a leader who squanders his country’s resources in a senseless campaign shares the evil attitudes of Benito Mussolini (a racist, bloodthirsty psychopath). It is just that all strong leaders are potential victims of this kind of “one-man psyops.” As you know, history rhymes and one of these rhymes goes, “a lone man at the top is one of the most dangerous things in the world.”

I already examined the fateful years when Benito Mussolini led Italy to utter defeat in World War 2. My previous posts can be found at these links

(*) We may speculate about the role of a specific person who convinced Mussolini that attacking Ethiopia was a good idea. Margherita Sarfatti (1880-1961) was his longtime lover, confident, and mentor from when they met in Milano in 1911. Sarfatti was a Jewish intellectual, an artist, and a writer and she is sometimes credited with having “created” Mussolini’s public image. But she was three years older than Mussolini and, with time, her influence on him started to fade. In that fateful year, 1933, Mussolini took another woman as mistress, Claretta Petacci, 28 years younger than him. In the same year, Sarfatti also saw the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany and she couldn’t have missed what it meant for her and for the European Jews in general. It was only in 1938 that Sarfatti was forced into exile. But we may perhaps imagine that in 1933 she still had a chance to influence Mussolini and deal a deadly blow to him. Did she titillate his vanity by telling him that he could really become the Emperor of a newly created Roman Empire? Was she influenced by the British secret services in order to do that? We shall never know, but one thing is sure: Sarfatti perfectly understood the mechanisms of political power and she was a master propagandist. As an example, here is a piece she wrote — it seems — while the Ethiopian invasion was ongoing: I do not hesitate in classing it as one of the best pieces of propaganda ever written. Read and savor it in all its details: it is truly a masterpiece if you remember that propaganda is aimed at simple minds using simple concepts. 




When the Abyssinians came upon us treacherously at Uol-Uol, the Duce curbed his anger and said: “in Geneva in Switzerland, there is the league of nations that we Italians also founded, so that justice and good agreement between the peoples may be created. Let’s hear what they think they are doing in Geneva to give us satisfaction “

Instead, Geneva washed her hands in her lake: “I don’t know anything, the rifles may have fired by themselves”. “Oh yes?” said The Duce. “Is this your way of understanding justice? It is no longer the time to make fun of Italy, now we are in the 15th year of the Fascist era”.

And he called all the generals of land and air, and the men of the sea, and said, “We must settle old and new accounts with that land of wild slaves. This is the coast of Africa, March down from the North and up from the south, and go and get me all of Ethiopia, with the capital Addis Ababa. I will take care to provide you with men, weapons, ships, orders, and food”.

“All right,” said the admirals and the land and air generals. “It will be done. Long Live The Duce! Long Live The King!”And all the youth of Italy ran under the tricolor flag with the insignia of the Fascio Littorio, to volunteer in Africa for Italy.

Margherita Sarfatti




Quando gli abissini ci vennero addosso a tradimento a Uol-Uol, i Duce frenò la collera e disse: «A Ginevra nella Svizzera, vi è la Società delle Nazioni che abbiamo fondato anche noi italiani, perchè metta la giustizia e ll buon accordo fra i popoli. Sentiamo cosa pensano di fare a Ginevra per darci soddisfazione »

Invece Ginevra si lavò le mani nel suo lago: «lo non so niente, i fucili avranno magari sparato da soli». «Ah si?» disse il Duce. «È questa la maniera vostra di intendere la giustizia? Non è più il tempo di prendere in giro l’ltalia, adesso siamo nell’anno XV dell’era fascista». 

E chiamò tutti i generali di terra e d’aria, e gli ammragli del mare, e disse: «Bisogna regolare i conti vecchi e nuovi con quel paese di schiavi selvaggi. Questa è il cuore dell’Africa, Marciate in giù dal nord e in su dal sud, e andate a prendermi tutta l’Etiopia, con la capitale Addis Abeba. A darvi gli uomini, le armi, le navi, gi ordini e i viveri penso io».

«Va bene», dissero gli ammiragli e i generali di terra e d’aria. «Sarà fatto. Viva il Duce! Viva il Re!» E tutta lo gioventù d’Italia correva sotto la bandiera tricolore con l’insegna del Fascio Littorio, a battersi volontaria in Africa per l’Italia.

Margherita Sarfatti


Originally appeared on The Seneca Effect Read More