“The Trial of Mussolini” by ‘Cassius’

A wonderful find (I’ve forgotten where from). A 1943 fictionalised transcript of the trial Benito never had, at some putative war-crimes tribunal in London. Part of the Gollancz series of anonymous books published in the war.

The first prosecution speech reads like a translation of one of Cicero’s Verrine speeches: beautiful periods construct an apparently watertight case against the dictator. But then the defence counsel tears it apart, demonstrating, by ‘interviews’ with members of the pre-war British establishment (quoting their printed words), how Mussolini was courted and praised by general conservative opinion – mainly as a bulwark against Bolshevism. Eventually the prosecution case, as originally set out, collapses, but then, in a clever twist, the judge himself calls witnesses (an Abyssinian, a Spaniard and an Italian), who damn the fascist far more effectively than the accomplished Ciceronian.

I learnt loads, from Italy’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War, to the whole pre-war global situation, when no one knew about the war itself or the holocaust, and fascism was a political movement attractive to many as a resurgence of peoples’ energies, as an escape from the enervated modern world and the threats of communist revolution or invasion.

In Cassius’s fascinating book Benito himself is allowed a speech in his own defence: pure and glorious Thrasymachus, its brutal honesty about power and realpolitik does have its own dangerous attractions. Until the judge’s everyman witnesses exposes them.

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