Let me start with some surprising facts. Italy lost upwards of 750,000 soldiers and citizens in the First World War, when it was ruled by a series of liberal governments, a figure that is 50 per cent higher than the number of military and civilian casualties it suffered in the Second World War, when it was ruled by Mussolini’s Fascists. Italy did not, following Christopher Clark’s formulation, ‘sleepwalk’ into the First World War but rather entered into it, on 24 May 1915, in a deliberate act of aggression. At the time, there was talk of this being ‘the Fourth War of the Risorgimento’. By 1919, the state had been enlarged to include Trento and Trieste, bringing those regions’ Italian speakers home to the patria. However, Italy’s expanded borders now contained many German and Ladin speakers in the Alto Adige (or Südtirol) and Croat and Slovene ones in Istria and the Carso, the area north of Trieste. Its liberal wartime governments were preoccupied with these lands. But they did not neglect what were already being called the ‘Third Italy’ or the ‘Third Rome’ – territories on the Adriatic coast and in Ethiopia and Asia Minor that would form the basis of a future empire.
In October 1922, Benito Mussolini, the self-styled Duce of Italy’s Fascist movement, became the country’s prime minister and on 3 January 1925 he declared his government a dictatorship. Over the years that followed, the Fascists formulated what they described as ‘totalitarianism’. In 1926, Mussolini created a Special Tribunal to try