Brain Pickings

April 30, 1945: Mussolini Executed

Fifty-four seconds on the outermost fringes of our moral comfort zone.

On April 27, 1945, Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was captured by Communist partisans while attempting to flee to Switzerland with his mistress, Clara Petacci. He was executed the following day, shot alongside the other members of his 15-person train of Socialist officials. His body was taken to Milan as public proof of the dictator’s death, hung upside down on meat hooks, then stoned by spectators. On April 30, the day that Mussolini’s comrade Hitler committed suicide in his bunker, American TV station Universal broadcast a short newsreel about Mussolini’s gruesome execution, deeming it “a fitting and glorious end.” More than half a century later, as we grapple with new punishment dilemmas surrounding the age-old dichotomy of good and evil, the footage pushes us to the most uncomfortable precipice of our moral tolerance, raising the difficult question of whether even a bloodthirsty despot deserves the very inhumanity for which he is being punished, and what that makes of his executioners.

For a dimensional exploration of what turns a human being into an inhumane tyrant, see R. J. B. Bosworth’s biography, Mussolini.

Published April 30, 2013




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